…calls for Govt. to be mindful in approach to future amnesties
By Kiana Wilburg
The period of tax amnesty which comes to an end September 30, has raked in billions of dollars for the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA). While this is a commendable feat, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has warned that this is a one-off bonanza which the government should endeavour to save for a rainy day.
In its latest report on Guyana’s economic health, the Fund said that saving the one-off gains from the tax amnesty would reduce financing needs, and also help preserve external buffers.
Significantly, the fund said that the government needs to control moral hazards associated with amnesties. It cautioned that the future amnesties can weaken compliance as such, they should not be continual.
Speaking with this newspaper yesterday, Commissioner General of the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA), Godfrey Statia, said that the government is aware of the implications highlighted by the IMF. He reminded that the last amnesty was in the 80s, while noting that further amnesties are not expected.
Additionally, the Commissioner General said that the tax amnesty helped to boost the half year arrears which came up to $6.3B.
“Arrears are taxes collected beyond the due date. So if it is supposed to be collected on April 30, and you collect it passed that date, then it is considered part of arrears. It is also arrears if it is taxes collected this year for previous years. The tax amnesty as you would be aware, allows us to collect taxes owed from previous years with the minimization of penalties.”
The tax Chief said, too, that there are sizeable arrears which were collected by the authority based on audits on certain companies.
“So the $6.3B is a mixture of all these things and we have been aggressive in going after those who owe us. Tax amnesty has been working for us and we will know the degree of its success when it comes to an end in September. The amnesty would have been a sizeable amount. It is about half of the $6.3B in arrears for the first half of the year.”
Statia anticipates that the $6.3B will grow to $10B before the end of the year since the authority has taken aggressive legal action and is pursuing several investigations against delinquent businesses. The tax Chief said that while there is a lot of work to be done, there is still much to be pleased with in terms of the improvement in the management of the entity. In two years, GRA has achieved 40 percent increase in revenues.
It was in January that the Guyana Revenue Authority announced that it would be providing a period of amnesty for delinquent taxpayers. This move by the authority was in keeping with the measures announced by Finance Minister, Winston Jordan, in his budget 2018 speech last year.
Jordan had said that the period of amnesty for taxpayers—corporate and individual— would ensure they are able to get in order, the filing of true and correct tax returns and payment of their true and correct taxes.
The amnesty is applicable to: taxpayers who have principal taxes outstanding; non-filers such as persons who are delinquent in the filing and payment; taxpayers that filed individual and corporate tax returns, but in the process would have mistakenly underreported or understated their income or overstated deductions or credits; taxpayers who filed but would have deliberately not declared or under declared their true income; and taxpayers who are already subjected to completed audits and a determination was made that additional taxes are owed to the GRA and the additional tax is still outstanding.
The Finance Minister said that taxpayers who file and pay all principal taxes on or before June 30, 2018 will have all interest and penalties waived, while those who file and pay all principal taxes between July 1, 2018 and September 30, 2018 will have 50 percent of interest and penalties waived.
The economist noted that taxpayers who expect to benefit from this amnesty must file true and correct returns. Those found to be in violation will be subject to an audit and the attendant penalties and interest will be applied. He said that GRA will be devoting increased resources to enforcement of the income tax laws.
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