It is estimated that the country’s wealthiest, particularly the self-employed, are deliberately evading taxes in a massive way, only paying about 25 per cent of their obligations.
According to tax chief, Commissioner-General Khurshid Sattaur, the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) has not been standing by idly and has been aggressively pushing to bring this “hard-to-tax” group into the net.
“You have to do a lot of enforcement activities, take them to court…” the official told reporters earlier this week.
As a matter of fact, audit and verification exercises have been successful in the agency’s collection thrust, with the Debt Management Unit realising more than $8B in revenues.
The issue has been a critical one for GRA, with increasing calls for the tax collection agency to become more aggressive. Those calls would come from taxpayers who have been compliant and who say that they are being made to pay for persons who are deliberately evading.
The Commissioner-General made it clear that the public has a critical role to play, with a responsibility to ensure receipts are collected when making purchases.
“When you go to a dentist or doctor, demand your receipts when they charge you $500,000 or $2M for an operation. Demand your receipts, because only by having your receipt they will be forced to report that income to me, please. You the tax payer out there play a very vital role in helping me to police the laws.”
He said that not reporting will only allow high-income earners to evade taxes.
According to a government statement issued earlier this week, Sattaur disclosed that several companies are currently before the courts for tax evasion.
The GRA head said employees and business associates need to be aware of the perils.
“Those people who are working for COPS, for example, would have never thought that the company would have been subject to bankruptcy proceedings by the GRA, but it happened. You have two other companies that we have asked for bankruptcy proceedings and we are fighting them in the court…they are DIDCO and Friendship Holdings. I have to make these things public because a lot of these employees who work for these entities are not even aware that their employers are tax cheats.”
Meanwhile, this year GRA is targeting $135B in collections.
“Expect a lot of that from me, to engage in sensitising the public, putting out public notices, holding more workshops, having more educational programmes, you’ll see much more of us. We’ll be more visible this year to ensure that people understand and honour their obligations more voluntarily.”
Speaking about GRA’s measures to ease congestion and waiting time for transactions, Sattaur disclosed that the agency’s online banking feature is not being embraced by tax payers, despite much clamouring for the service in the past.
”Now that we have it here, the poor showing suggests that the tax payers were maybe playing games with us. We’ve only had about 50 transactions so far with remote services provided to tax payers. It is either through the telephone, they can call in, having set up their account of course, call in to Republic Bank or they can go online to Demerara Bank and make their respective payments for any taxes. We’ve had just two persons doing that, I happen to be one of them.”
A money transfer facility operated with support from Western Union was a little more successful, with 50 persons using the service.
The GRA chief said that additional services were introduced to lessen the waiting time at the busy Camp Street Head Office. Despite these setbacks, Sattaur said the GRA is still persevering with its efforts.
“We’re going to bring GBTI and Scotiabank on board very shortly. There was a total lack of interest on the part of Citizens Bank and Baroda. These other banks, we’re working with them, and hopefully soon we’ll have engagements with them, through agreements. There’s a little cost involved, not more than a $100 per transaction, some of it we will bear for the tax payer.”
Looking forward to the future, the GRA head said that very soon, tax payers will not be required to file returns physically. Rather, an online feature will be added with a contract already signed.
The almost 250,000 tax payers that GRA has on its database will be expected to utilise the online feature.
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