By Kiana Wilburg
For over ten years, officials within the Ministry of Finance had failed to implement crucial
elements/modules of a computerized accounting system from Canada. This programme was intended to ensure accountability for how taxpayers’ money is budgeted and spent by the government.
It appears, however, that the Ministry of Finance was not the only agency that neglected its duty in this regard.
In fact, the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) failed to implement critical parts of an Information Technology (IT) system for almost a decade. The consequences of the entity’s actions in this regard only contributed to billions in revenue leakages and rampant corruption.
GRA’s Commissioner-General, Godfrey Statia is now racing to implement measures that would bring an end to unjust practices that resulted from the Authority’s past actions.
In an exclusive interview with Kaieteur News, Statia explained that the IT system referred to as the Total Revenue Integrated Processing System (TRIPS), was intended to merge all departments by having a common database, where all tax records could be scanned or entered into the system and found when needed. It was introduced with the aim of boosting efficiency in the assessment, collection and accounting for revenue.
The TRIPS comprises two core applications: Taxes and Customs, which share information with each other and each application encompasses a total of 13 modules.
The CUSTOMS Modules include; Lodgment; Data Entry; Goods Inspection/Enforcement, Valuation and Document Check, Risk Profiling, Cashiering, Release, Remissions, and Warehouse.
The TAX Modules include; Taxpayer Identification, Tax, Accounting, Audit, Reports/Notices/Certificates.
Statia noted however that since all of the modules were not implemented, the “TRIPS system was just tripping.”
Statia said that the Authority has been trying to implement TRIPS completely since 2007. He said, disappointingly, the entity spent over US$4M on the IT system and it is still not up to date.
Furthermore, the tax chief said that failure to implement all of the modules affected the entity to a large extent.
He explained, “In the olden days, it used to be a manual system, and it worked up to a particular point. So you know for sure that if TRIPS is in place, the IT system would help you to do a lot of these things. If you have the right IT software, half of your work is completed. You would be able to do proper audits and these things, and at the touch of a button you would be able to recognize what is wrong and what is right; whether a taxpayer has complied…”
The Tax Chief continued, “Unfortunately, you can’t do that with the present system, and that has gone on for the last 10 years. That was probably one of the reasons why the GRA has been in such decay. It was in a state of decay.”
Statia added, “What I did now is instead of them using an entire TRIPS system, I said, ‘No. concentrate on the internal revenue modules.’ And we are going to go to the Automated System for Customs Data (ASYCUDA). That is what we are doing.”
The – Commissioner-General said that the ASYCUDA system will cost just about US$2.5M.
As for TRIPS, he sought to stress that “We must get something out of what we have paid for, so while we are moving to ASYCUDA for customs, we will keep (aspects of) TRIPS… In that way we would be able to turn up certain things faster. For instance, we expect that people must be able to E-file their tax returns for 2018…”
Statia added, “If TRIPS used to work you could have been doing all your applications online. So you could have applied for your compliance online… but in the absence of that, we will be exploring other things in its place.”
Additionally, Statia had updated the media on the ASYCUDA system stating that Cabinet has already given the approval for the funds. The new programme is slated for implementation in a month or two.
“So with that new system you will reduce collusion and under-invoicing and you would get a smooth system,” the Commissioner General told the media.
The Tax Reform Commission which was commissioned by the Granger administration had also flagged the Guyana Revenue Authority for the non-implementation of the TRIPS system.
The comments and findings of the Commission were also in sync with that of the Auditor General, Deodat Sharma in his annual reports.
With respect to the software available, the Commission was advised that the TRIPS system has the ability to receive and store Cargo Manifests electronically, track containers from departure to arrival ports and then to final release, as well as on line and manual entry of declarations.
“We understand that although delivered, these relevant modules were never or only partly implemented by GRA for one reason or another. The revenue leakages, alone, from the non-implementation of these modules are in billions of dollars, and contribute to rampant corruption within the Customs Section of the Authority,” the Commission pointed out in its report.
It added too that the importers who engage in the under-invoicing activities are known and are allegedly in full collusion with Customs brokers, and some unscrupulous former and present GRA officers.
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