Jul 11, 2016 News
Chairman of the Governing Board of Directors for the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA), Rawle Lucas, who is facing flak for his leadership at the entity, admitted over the weekend that he kept sensitive taxpayers’ documents in a private office he uses.
In a Letter to the Editor, published in Kaieteur News on Sunday, the official, who berated the newspaper for publishing one on Saturday from a staffer questioning the manner in which he attends to GRA’s business, admitted that he has been using an off-site office at Critchlow Labour College, Woolford Avenue, which is free of cost to Government.
The admission would raise eyebrows as taxpayers information are highly confidential with regulations making it clear how it should be stored, along with who accesses it.
There had been questions several months ago when investigators retrieved property belonging to GRA from the home of former Commissioner General, Khurshid Sattaur.
“The staff at the GRA headquarters is already cramped for work and storage space and it would have been imprudent and inconsiderate of me to inconvenience the staff further by occupying space there,” Lucas said in his defence for having an office away from GRA’s Camp Street headquarters.
He said that the space that he occupies at Critchlow Labour College is free of cost to the government.
“Judging from the allegations in the letter, it is obvious too that the writer has scant regard for taxpayers’ privacy and confidentiality by questioning the presence of filing cabinets in my office which are used to protect government documents and communications.”
Lucas claimed that office of GRA’s Board Secretary was broken into in an attempt to access sensitive and confidential taxpayer information which comes before the Board.
“GRA had to take extra measures to protect the office of the Board Secretary and its information from its own staff since the act was considered an inside job. I therefore do not have anything further to say about trust and confidentiality at GRA and the extent to which staff members are harassed to violate taxpayers’ privacy.”
In the letter published Saturday by the GRA staffer, the writer contended that the entity was facing tough times when it came to revenue collections.
The writer said that the Chairman was assigned a GRA vehicle for his personal and professional use with fuel, maintenance and repairs are paid for the authority.
The writer accused Lucas of abusing his authority and making decisions without the approval of the majority of the Board Members.
Lucas, the letter said, took it upon himself to appoint Lancelot Wills, an office of the Legal Division as the head of the all-important Customs Excise and Trade Operations.
“He is only required to be present at GRA once per month and is paid a stipend for his travel or taxi. Despite a vehicle being assigned to him, his personal assistant, Ms. Alfred uses a vehicle from GRA to carry out her activities.”
Lucas reportedly hired the assistant, using her at his Critchlow office, but with GRA paying her more than $200,000, equivalent to a manager’s salary. The assistant was also said to be a student of the Chairman, at the University of Guyana.
“This is a major conflict of interest and should be noted by the University of Guyana,” the letter claimed.
“Mr. Lucas compelled the GRA to carpet his office at Critchlow Labour College, purchase a sofa set, filing cabinets, refrigerator and computer for his personal use. It should be noted that Mr. Lucas is also employed at Critchlow Labour College, University of Guyana and Ministry of Foreign Affairs,” the letter said.
“He also demands a steady supply of stationery and drinking water from the GRA. It’s a misfeasance in public office for him to demand so much from GRA.”
I will respond…
The entire letter had been sent to the Chairman for comments last week, but he declined, saying he would address the issues raised when and if Kaieteur News published it.
“I will not address insinuations that come from an anonymous person. However, I feel that there is a need for the public to understand the context in which I deliver service to the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) as its Board Chairman.”
In defending his need for a car provided by GRA, Lucas said that he is paid a monthly stipend of $10,500 which is taxed. “I use the stipend that I get to buy gas and pay for basic maintenance of the car that I drive. GRA does not buy gas for me. It offered to do so and I refused the offer. I turn in the vehicle to GRA whenever I am not using it.”
He said that while the Board meets once per month, GRA sends him “substantial amounts of work” on a daily basis. “While I am prepared to serve the administration and to go the extra mile as necessary, I do not think that I should be expected to subsidize the government. It is in that context that the convenience of the car which I drive and the facilities provided become very important.”
Lucas insisted that GRA never furnish him with a sofa. “In the instances where I was given property, they remain the property of the Government of Guyana and will be returned to it once I am finished using them.”
An invaluable assistant
With regards to his personal assistant, who is stationed at his Critchlow office, Lucas said that “I requested support from GRA to have GRA’s work done and I was given the support. My assistant and I spend an inordinate amount of time dealing with GRA matters. It would have been difficult for me to understand and address much of the challenges of the organization at GRA Board meetings and to meet the many demands made of me by its management and others in the government without the valuable input of my assistant.”
He went further in the hiring of the assistant: “The issues are plentiful and thorny and her effort at analysing and summarizing documents, at researching issues and at developing briefs, is of invaluable help to me. While I might not be compensated adequately for my efforts, I remain motivated by the commitment of the dedicated staff members and dutiful taxpayers and, Ms. Alfred’s work, in this regard, should be commended not ridiculed.”
Lucas insisted that he does not mark exam papers for his students at UG- rather these are done by third parties.
Lucas said that he is quickly losing confidence in the credibility of Kaieteur News.
The Chairman came under fire last week after indications that there was no board meeting held to ratify decisions to sack three senior officials. One of them, head of Customs, Jameel Baksh, with the other Archana Joshi, who was in charge of the Human Resources Divisions.
Baksh has served over 40 years with GRA and was due to retire this year. However, he was sent on pre-retirement leave.
Promoted several levels to head Customs was Lancelot Wills, an official who served in GRA’s legal department. There are no indications again whether GRA’s board was involved in this promotion.
Lucas and GRA had also failed to announce last week that a decision was taken to sack Nityanand Narootandeo, a manager of GRA’s investigative arm. The official was told on June 27th that his services were terminated immediately without any explanations. The decision, according to his letter, was said to be made by GRA’s board. There was no evidence that the board had met to decide on Narootandeo.
Meanwhile, an ongoing search for a new Commission General to head GRA has run into delays.
A number of persons were interviewed in late June, but the team involved in the process reportedly signaled unhappiness with the candidates.
GRA has placed an advertisement again in Kaieteur News seeking interested applicants for that top post.
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