Operating without fear or favour is what the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) has recommitted to doing
in light of recent accusations and revelations that there has been political interference affecting the entity’s procedures.
This is according to the Authority’s Chairman, Rawle Lucas.
His comments come in the wake of an article published by this newspaper last week which revealed that Minister of State Joseph Harmon had halted a seizure operation, involving vehicles, a number of high-end that was being carried out against BaiShanLin.
The operation was being executed by GRA, in collaboration with officials from the Special Organized Crime Unit (SOCU). The vehicles were targeted for seizure due to the fact that the Chinese company had failed to pay the required duties within a legally stipulated timeframe.
But before officials from the GRA Customs Department and the Special Organized Crime Unit could carry out the seizures, they received a call from Harmon who instructed that the vehicles must not be removed; that the ranks should leave the company alone, and walk away from the premises.
Several attempts have since been made by this newspaper to contact Harmon on the matter, but all proved futile.
Yesterday, Lucas stated that Finance Minister Winston Jordan was aware of the matter, and has dealt with it in an expeditious manner. Lucas confirmed that the operation which was halted was carried out yesterday.
He then reflected on the Authority’s role.
“GRA is supposed to be a nonpolitical entity and independent in all that it is expected to do. I believe that that salient point was reinforced to all of our officials here in light of recent events. As Chairman, I can say that all were made to understand that they are to carry out their duties in a respectable manner and complete all assignments given, regardless of who the Government of the day is.”
The Chairman added, “The GRA is going to carry out its duties and its responsibilities, and it has recommitted to doing so without fear or favour. We are all about restoring confidence in this agency and ensuring that mistakes of the past are not repeated.”
Asked what measures have been put in place to ensure that the BaiShanLin situation does not reoccur, Lucas categorically stated, “Clear instructions have been given that all officials must, and I repeat, must complete all assignments.”
Lucas also revealed that the GRA is currently in the process of reviewing all concessions which have been granted over the years under the previous regime.
He said that this is being done to correct a number of anomalies in the system, as well as plugging up the loopholes through which the nation would have lost essential revenue.
The GRA Chairman said that this is all part of the process of addressing the issue of tax evasion.
He added, “I want to make it clear however, that in this exercise, we will not be targeting persons randomly. We are doing a general review of this system, with an aim to bringing transparency and accountability to the way concessions are given out.”
Just a few weeks ago, a forensic audit report exposed how BaiShanLin Forest Development Inc. was granted millions worth in concessions for machinery, equipment and construction materials which were just too excessive and in many instances, had nothing to do with its work.
The report also had data which were provided by the Guyana Revenue Authority.
The data show that during the period 2012 to 2015, the People’s Progressive Party/Civic administration granted BaiShanLin fiscal concessions on a variety of the aforementioned items valued at $7.5 billion, equivalent to US$37.3 million.
The total value of concessions granted amounted to $1.827 billion.
The report which was prepared by Chartered Accountant Anand Goolsarran, noted that the GRA indicated that it was unable to provide information relating to the earlier years because of computer problems.
The concessions for the equipment and other machinery were based on investment agreements entered into between the former Government and BaiShanLin for the construction of a wood processing facility in Region 10.
Goolsarran noted that up to the time of reporting, BaiShanLin had not fulfilled its obligations under the investment agreements, and was requesting an additional two years to construct the long awaited wood-processing facility. The APNU+AFC administration is yet to say whether it will grant the Chinese company a two-year extension.
In the meantime, the forensic auditor said that the investment agreements specifically provide for termination, where there has been a failure to undertake the business proposal without providing a reasonable explanation.
He said that when this happens, BaiShanLin is required to repay the value of all fiscal concessions granted.
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