…Revenue Authority under pressure to monitor
It appears that a fuel vessel that has been held by authorities over the weekend was not recorded when it passed the city’s Boat House area.
In fact, it was only after it was boarded by officials from Customs and the Guyana Energy Agency (GEA) that attempts were made to do so.
The disclosures were made yesterday by Commissioner-General of the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA), Godfrey Statia, during a Press Conference at his Camp Street office.
The vessel, Jubilee, is said to be linked to a prominent businessman and a member of the legal fraternity.
On the vessel, authorities found over 200,000 gallons of fuel that had not been declared. The taxes, if that vessel had gone scot-free, would have seen the state losing in excess of $36M in taxes.
The boat is currently anchored in the Demerara River, under guard.
According to Statia, in addition to the taxes due, GRA is not above slapping the captain with a hefty fine. Last year, it fined a captain $20M for a similar incident with a fuel smuggling boat.
With up to 50 percent tax on imported fuel, smuggling has been a major illegal business with hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes lost every year by the government.
With regard to last week’s incident, GEA officials reportedly spotted the fuel boat in the Demerara River around Thursday but there seemed to have been no indications that it reported to the Boat House, located at Stabroek Market area.
Officials of Customs and the Maritime Administration are stationed there. They are supposed to record the entries. Customs is supposed to check if there are items to be declared.
On the boat, that the fuel was found, the officials who boarded it were reportedly told that the vessel had fuel for Suriname but that the captain was not around to verify this.
According to Statia, it was clear that there were “shortcomings” at the Boat House area and GRA is attempting to fix these weaknesses now.
While the Commissioner-General did not elaborate, he did disclose that persons attempted to record the boat’s entry into the system after it was boarded.
The fuel on the boat was unmarked, which indicated that no checks were made at the time of boarding by Customs and GEA.
Investigators are now checking records of Maritime Administration and that of the Demerara Harbour Bridge to determine the frequency of travel to the Georgetown port, by the Jubilee.
The idea is to determine if this was a one-time incident or whether smuggling was involved, the GRA Chief said.
It was pointed out that despite the tightening up of weaknesses, fuel smuggling is alive and well in Guyana.
However, Statia stressed, that there are several challenges. These include lack of resources- both manpower and others- and the number of actual import licences that have been granted by the Guyana Energy Agency (GEA).
There was a time when it was easier to monitor when five or six import licences were issued by GEA.
Statia said that there are almost 100 licences issued to persons and companies for the importation of fuel.
In fact, it appeared that GRA was not kept in the loop with an updated list of the number of importers.
To correct this, GRA and GEA have since signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to work together.
It makes no sense for GEA to grant import licences and Customs does not know, the Commissioner-General complained.
The fact that cheap fuel is available at the border areas does not make the job easier, he said.
The monitoring by GEA and its weaknesses are causes for alarm in recent years with new boards installed at the entity and that of the Guyana Oil Company.
With billions of dollars in fuel purchased annually, the profits are enormous for smugglers who make it through.
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