The Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) has defended the circumstances under which a senior official
there was granted a duty free waiver on a Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV).
How the matter became public knowledge also has the authority concerned, and may soon see a policy announced that will restrict the use and presence of smartphones in the offices there.
At the heart of the matter is the reported case of Customs head, Lancelot Wills.
The official applied to the Department of Public Service last year for a waiver on taxes and duties for a Toyota Harrier, which has an engine capacity of over 2300cc (Cubic Capacity).
The application was rejected by the department, which said that the vehicle was older than the 8-year restriction introduced last year by the administration.
Additionally, the 2008 model was over the 2000cc limit that Wills would have been entitled to.
However, after that rejection, the vehicle was in early January registered as PRR 7091.
Wills apparently paid just over $180,000 in taxes and duties. It appeared he was granted a concession. However, from the amount he paid, it appeared he was granted the 10 percent rate that is applied to remigrants.
After collecting the vehicle in January, someone at GRA realized that there was a mistake and attempts were made in April to correct the rate. GRA’s system, however, does not easily allow entries to be backdated. Wills was assessed more than $1.8M in taxes and duties.
There were immediate questions whether Wills could have been granted a waiver, having been initially rejected by the Department of Public Service late last year.
He was subsequently sent on leave.
On Thursday, GRA’s officials were questioned about the matter.
According to Commissioner-General (CG), Godfrey Statia, the Customs head indeed applied for a concession for the vehicle but according to the public service rules, he was not supposed to be given one over 2000cc. Statia admitted that that was the reason Wills was denied.
The top official explained that previously, only two officers in GRA were entitled to waivers with unlimited CC- he (Statia) and the Deputy Commissioner-General, Hema Khan.
Statia said that GRA has made cases for two other senior officers to also be granted waivers on vehicles with unlimited engine capacity. The two were the heads of Customs and the Law Enforcement and Investigations Department (LEID).
The reasons are because the officers require all terrain vehicles to conduct their work, which includes going after smugglers and other evaders.
According to the CG, it is difficult to go behind a smuggler with a 2000cc vehicle.
As matter of fact, Statia said, the 2000cc vehicles are not even made anymore.
As such, he decided as the Commissioner-General that since GRA is a body corporate that reports to a Board of Directors, he allowed the concession to Wills.
With regards to the initial classification using a remigrant rate, Statia insisted that this was blown out of context. He said that he signed the waiver letter on January 12, but discovered the next day that it should not have been 10 percent. He said that he wrote the Customs head the next day to fix it “immediately”.
“Unfortunately, he took two months to fix it.”
Wills asked for a payment plan to pay off the balance of $1.7M – so far only two payments have been made.
The CG was concerned that information was leaked, and sarcastically remarked that the person should have photocopied all of the documents as “only part of the story” was told.
Stressing that taxpayers’ information was privileged, he threatened that “very soon there will be no smartphones entering my building”.
He said that this will go for both GRA workers and taxpayers.
“I will be putting up a smartphone policy very soon,” he reiterated. Any staffer found leaking information will be let go,” he promised.
“It is a breach of secrecy. We have a fiduciary duty to taxpayers and whether we like it or not, Mr Wills may be a public servant, but he is a taxpayer too.”
Statia made it clear that he has no problem with the press reporting on the bad of GRA, but it must also report on the good too.
With regards to whether GRA has permission to also override the restriction of vehicles that are over eight years old, he said that the CG indeed has discretion. As a matter of fact, GRA has allowed almost 100 vehicles that were just older than eight years into the country.
GRA’s Chairman, Rawle Lucas, also made it clear that GRA systems are working and procedures were followed. He said that the mould of the past administration will not work. He stressed that it is a new day that has dawned, a new administration in place and things are being done differently.
In the past, the entity has been dogged by allegations of corruption, especially within its Customs Department.
From under-invoicing to fake invoices declaring bicycles when it is something else, the rackets have been many. The state lost billions of dollars annually, as a result.
Since taking office in 2015, the David Granger administration has vowed zero tolerance on corruption. But it is easier said than done.
Statia’s statements on GRA’s flexibility to grant duty free waivers to staffers, according to critics, would contrast sharply with 2003 laws which took the power of granting duty free concessions out the hands of Ministers and other officials. Rather, it was made law, how persons can apply. In other words, once a person meets the criteria, there is no reason to turn down that person from being granted a waiver on duties and taxes that are due.
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