The Minister of Finance, Winston Jordan during his presentation of the State’s 2017 National Budget on Monday, announced that Chapter 81:01 of the Income Tax Act will be revised to allow the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) to garnish funds from bank accounts held by taxpayers who have outstanding arrears.
Garnishment is a legal process whereby payments towards a debt owed by an individual can be paid by a third party – which holds money or property that is due to the individual – directly to the creditor.
The Minister said that this revision will help strengthen the GRA’s revenue collection and improve compliance with demands issued by the Authority for outstanding payments.
The Leader of the Opposition, Bharrat Jagdeo, weighed in on this proposed initiative immediately after the Finance Minister finished his presentation. Jagdeo said that it will ‘negatively’ impact the private sector and investor confidence. He added also that the measure will be worrisome for ‘ordinary’ citizens.
The Minister last Monday presented a $250B National Budget which has already begun to garner both praise and criticisms.
The Minister also stated that there will be increased penalties for offences.
The penalty imposed for offenses committed against the Income Tax Act under the provisions of Section 109 to 111 he said, will be increased from $15,000 to $100,000 to force voluntary compliance while Non-resident companies failing to keep accounting records in Guyana thereby causing unnecessary delays during audit, will be subject to a fine of $1,000,000.
Guyana over the years has seen an increase in roadside shops, taxi services, liquor restaurants amongst other small establishments. Sometime ago, it was realized that some of these businesses are often non-compliant with the GRA. This had become a struggle for the authority. However, this is about to change.
Minister Jordan told the National Assembly that the law will be amended to give persons a maximum of three months from the commencement date of business to inform the GRA.
He pointed out that currently, there are no fees for the issuance of TIN certificates, even though GRA incurs an administrative cost.
Jordan proposed to impose a fee of $1,000 for the first TIN certificate and $5,000 for reprinting of TIN certificates.
Jordan also told the House that late filing of Income Tax, Corporation Tax and Property Tax Returns will now attract a fine. He said that the current late filing penalty regime does not provide for penalties to be imposed on late returns which disclose a loss.
He said that taxpayers can submit a loss or deficit return late without fear of any penalties, since penalties are applied to taxes assessed. The Minister proposed an increase to late filing penalties to 10 percent. He indicated that a flat fee of $50,000 will be applied to each loss or deficit return submitted after the prescribed time.
Jordan also addressed the late payment of tax. He said that the penalty for late payment of tax provided for under section 99 (1) of the Income Tax Act Chapter 81:01 will be repealed and a simplified interest regime enacted. Section 6 (1) (c) of the Financial Administration and Audit Act will be amended to facilitate the imposition of interest on late payment of tax at the rate of 2 percent per annum.
Jordan told the House that the current penalties for failing to keep proper books and records are lenient. He said that as a result, many taxpayers, particularly the self-employed taxpayers, fail to keep proper books and records.
The Finance Minister proposed that the penalties be increased to $200,000 or five percent of the tax assessed, whichever is greater.
Poor record-keeping has proven to not only be a problem in the private sector. In his 2015 audit report, Auditor General Deodat Sharma pointed to numerous cases of improper record-keeping at many Ministries and at the various regional offices.
There has also been an increase in the fine attached to failure to present books and records when requested. Jordan told the House that taxpayers often fail to present books, records and other information in a timely manner. He said that audits are greatly affected by the lack of evidence to justify disclosures in financial statements. Therefore, he proposed to increase the fine to $200,000 and/or six months imprisonment.
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