By Kiana Wilburg
In an effort to improve its systems needed for tax administration, the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) is hastening moves towards a paperless system. This is according to GRA Commissioner General, Godfrey Statia.
The tax chief noted that the exercise started last year. He said it included the scanning of all taxpayers’ returns. Statia said that equipment is being procured to enable a paperless operation thereby avoiding submission and resubmissions of photocopies by taxpayers.
He said that scanning will be done by GRA along with the utilisation of documentation programmes which will facilitate storage and retrieval of information with the touch of a button. This rollout is expected in mid-2018 and will continue in 2019.
The GRA Commissioner General also noted that there have been electronic manifest submissions prior to vessels reaching ports. Statia said that this is a requirement of the Automated System for Customs Data (ASYCUDA).
“GRA has seen it fit to implement this measure to allow for earlier processing, profiling and faster clearing times. This request was sent out in late 2017. The shippers and shipping associations and wharf owners have begun to comply. It is estimated that by year end, there will be an 80 percent compliance ratio for all imported cargo.”
GRA’s current accounting system, the Total Revenue Integrated Processing System (TRIPS), has been working inefficiently for close to 10 years. It is on this premise that the Authority has turned its attention towards acquiring a more foolproof system called, ASYCUDA.
Statia recently spoke on the importance of moving from TRIPS to ASYCUDA. An examination of the TRIPS system had revealed that there were several problems which caused it not to work effectively.
Statia even stated that of millions of US dollars from 2013 to 2016 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 the following was decided: 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 said 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 shortly commence, and a pilot project will commence thereafter at the John Fernandes wharf.
Testing has begun for the remaining TRIPS modules which were never implemented, he added.
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 to boost efficiency in the assessment, collection and accounting for revenue.
TRIPS comprises two core applications: Taxes and Customs, which share information with each other; each application encompasses a total of 13 modules.
The CUSTOMES 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 and these things and 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 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…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…”
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