By Kiana Wilburg
The Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) has a number of responsibilities. Some of these include ensuring that each taxpayer pays his rightful duty; the tax laws are administered fairly and consistently.
GRA’s current accounting system, the Total Revenue Integrated Processing System (TRIPS), has been working inefficiently for close to 10 years. This has caused the Authority to hasten efforts towards acquiring a more foolproof system called the Automated System for Customs Data (ASYCUDA).
GRA’s Commissioner General, Godfrey Statia recently spoke on the importance of moving from TRIPS to ASYCUDA. Statia noted that an examination of the TRIPS system had revealed that there were several problems which caused it to not work effectively.
US$4.5M was expended to bring the archaic TRIPS 1 System up to date. In fact, the GRA boss said that many of the modules paid for regarding the TRIPS 1 System in 2007 were never even delivered.
The Commissioner General said that based on the state of affairs governing the revenue authority’s IT system, discussions were held with Crown Agents, an international firm that specialises in practical and consistent solutions to financial institutions and governments.
He said that it was decided to cease all work on the Customs modules of the TRIPS 1 system; concentrate all activity on the completion of the Internal Revenue Modules inclusive of e-filing services with clear delivery dates, and hold further payments until the delivery of these modules.
Simultaneously, Statia commented that the GRA began discussions with United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) regarding the introduction of the ASYCUDA single window system.
The ASYCUDA, he explained, is an integrated customs management system for international trade and transport operations in a modern automated environment which allows for customs administrations and the trade community to comply with international standards when fulfilling import, export and transit related procedures.
Through its ASYCUDA Programme, GRA hopes to modernise Customs’ operations and improve revenue collection, facilitate trade efficiency and competitiveness by substantially reducing transaction time and costs, improve security by streamlining procedures of cargo control, transit of goods and clearance of goods, reduce corruption by enhancing the transparency of transactions, and promote sustainable development by cutting down on the use of paper, through the use of electronic transactions and documents.
The Commissioner General said that the agreement with UNCTAD has been signed, payment has been effected, and the team to run the new system has been chosen.
Statia said that training will begin shortly, and a pilot project will commence thereafter at the John Fernandes Wharf.
The Commissioner General said that testing has begun for the remaining TRIPS modules which were never implemented.
He said, “I am assured by my IT staff that they seem promising, and GRA would be in a position to offer some e-services, including e-filing, in time for the 2018 filing season.”
The failure of the Revenue Authority to implement critical parts of the TRIPS System spans almost 10 years. The consequences of the entity’s actions led to billions in revenue leakages and even rampant corruption.
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.
‘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.”
The tax chief said that the 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. At the touch of a button you would be able to recognise 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 been going 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…That is what we are doing.”
The GRA 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 and we will keep (aspects of) TRIPS…In that way, we would be able to turn up certain things faster…”
The Tax Reform Commission which was commissioned by the Granger’s 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 Manifest 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 partially implemented by GRA for one reason or another. The revenue leaks, 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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