police have to say why no charges – GRA boss
The Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) is taking its secrecy laws seriously.
Even when laws are found to be broken, that tax collection arm of the state is not bound to report it once it has to do with a taxpayer.
That much was made clear yesterday when top officials of the GRA answered questions yesterday, during a press conference at its Camp Street headquarters, on a current case that has drawn lines in the sand when it comes to inter-agency cooperation.
The matter at the centre of the debate has to do with an armour-plated vehicle that came under the radar of alert Customs Officers, early last month.
The officers were reportedly on Main Street, when they spotted the pearl-white Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV) near Palm Court, a nightspot. The 2014 vehicle had a PJJ number. That number had been issued about decade ago, making it impossible to be affixed on a 2014 SUV.
The officers reportedly waited, but no one came to claim the vehicle. The officers then reportedly entered Palm Court and asked the DJ to summon the driver.
A man came up and introduced himself as a close relative of Brian Tiwarie, a senior principal of BK International Inc., a contracting company that has been bidding for state projects. He was unable to produce the documents for the vehicle.
The man reportedly called Tiwarie. The Customs Officers called their superior with Customs’ Law Enforcement and Investigation Department (LEID). They were told to release the vehicle.
Kaieteur News had reported on the matter with GRA. That entity later confirmed that it had reached a settlement with BK for $31M. However, there was no word on whether a police report was made about the false number that the vehicle had.
The laws are clear when it comes it false number plates – up to two years jail and $1M in fine. Since an amended law in the late 2000s, a number of persons have been jailed for just having fake number plates.
The police themselves said that no reports were filed.
Yesterday, GRA was pressed on the issue during its press conference. According to Commissioner-General, Godfrey Statia, indeed an incident occurred on May 5, a Friday evening.
He said that he first learnt of it on a Wednesday, after reading of it in Kaieteur News. On his return from overseas, the GRA boss said that he asked that Tiwarie be summoned, along with the vehicle and documents.
He said that he told the contractor three things – either he donate the vehicle, pay up the taxes, or face GRA moving in to seize it.
Statia said that as far as he was concerned that was the end of the matter, and that instructions have been passed for the taxes and duties be paid.
“Suffice to say, if it is not paid, I would seize the vehicle myself.”
Questioned about why the vehicle was not held on Main Street, the GRA official explained that at the time of the discovery, from what he was told, his officers had no way of accessing GRA’s database to get details of the vehicle and to make the necessary checks.
He said that the supervisor agreed for the vehicle to be released, after the Customs Officers would have taken the details, and that the instructions were that the matter would be dealt with on Monday, May 8.
Questioned why the matter of the false number plates was not reported to the police immediately, Statia made it clear that GRA does not do police work.
“I have said it before and I am going to say it again…GRA does not do police work. GRA is in the interest of collecting the rightful taxes.”
The official stressed that that is where the “demarcation” comes.
“I have a fiduciary duty to the taxpayers. I am not supposed to give the taxpayers’ information to anybody out there…after all, notwithstanding, they may be a sister agency.”
Maintaining that the secrecy laws against divulging tax information is very strict, Statia explained that it was on these same grounds that he had fought against the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU), an arm of the police, which had requested tax information earlier this year. The court had agreed that GRA could not just hand over the tax information of a miner.
“That is one of the reasons I went to court in the SOCU matter. So you cannot say that I have a fiduciary duty and I am sworn to secrecy in one area…”
He made it clear that reporting to the police is not part of GRA’s function.
“The police themselves should have been doing the same checks as my officers are doing. My officers are not traffic cops. What the police should do now is seeing that Kaieteur News has raised it, they should say ‘come Mr Tiwarie, I will charge you now’. Ask the police now why no charges have been instituted.”
Statia did disclose that the number that had been affixed on Tiwarie’s vehicle was one issued to another vehicle owned by the contractor.
“All he probably did was exchange it from one vehicle to the next.”
The Commissioner-General said that the incident would not be the first, or the last, and listed several cases and instances, including even staffers, now fired, who were caught using false number plates on vehicles.
The SUV had reportedly come into the county in 2014 or 2015 and was released to BK without the proper Customs processes being followed or the taxes paid.
No duty free waiver was granted.
Yesterday, GRA Chairman, Rawle Lucas, made it clear that the Board has now taken over the monitoring of applications that have to do with Permission For Immediate Delivery (PID).
This arrangement in the past was heavily abused and was only supposed to be applicable to perishable goods or equipment, and other items that had to be released for emergency and other reasons.
He made it clear that there is no evidence that BK applied for and was granted a PID on the SUV.
The incident has raised alarming questions about the independence of GRA which is fighting deep corruption at its wharves.
The new administration had vowed to clean up the authority and had installed a new board and management, with several measures in place to widen the tax net to capture evaders.
However, there have been a few worrying incidents.
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