Kaieteur News- To make use of a local manner of speaking: “Is no wonder that we deh so baad.” As reported in a banner headline by this paper on Sunday, April 11, last, the “GRA, granted $442B in tax exemptions from Jan. 2016 to May 2020 …2019 waivers four times more than 2016”. This is the equivalent of giving away the bulk of the family’s food, while leaving the children hungry and crying. Look carefully and that is what the poor children of Guyana are reduced to: being without and crying.
We say this clearly: We understand the value of tax exemptions, the incentives that they offer to attract and make it rewarding for private businesses engaged in for profit activities here.
But we cannot understand for a moment, the staggering amount of tax exemptions granted in such a short time. We go to great lengths to remind citizens that this was during part of a time, when two huge monsters controlled this country, and crippled many commercial activities.
No Guyanese should need any reminder, but the first one started with the successful parliamentary no confidence motion in late December 2018, continued with the March elections, deepened with the long post-March delays, and only climaxed and terminated with the declaration and swearing in of a democratically elected government in early August 2020. During that unending and raging 19-month interval, business did not continue at the same pace as before, and to put again in Guyanese parlance: “business was bad,” and made really bad by the general slowdown in economic enterprise by many in the private sector, and the watchful, ill at ease, foreign brigade impatient with what was holding up its imminent invasion of Guyanese shores. So, for the numbers to have been approved, as carried in the tax exemption table provided by us, fly in the face of circumstances and make little sense to us, and which was further compounded by the other monstrous development.
The second monster that has plagued this country is the COVID-19 pandemic. Today, it prowls just as restlessly and frighteningly as before. The point of this is that since late March last year, commercial activity in this nation almost grounded to a halt, with businesses shuttered and workers sent home. When combined with the election controversies, almost all were content to keep careful watch, while they adopted a wait-and-see attitude. That was not just commonsense, it is how people operate in real life when faced with chronic crises, and our disputed elections coupled with the restrictions of the virus both rose to the heights of collective countrywide crises. So, once again, we confess to being at a loss as to how this amount of tax exemptions and that alarming and suspicious quantity of waivers in 2019, could have been, or be justified. Certainly, there are problems in digesting this: for troubled 2019, and those increasing and continuing exemptions in the first five months of 2020. We look at the table from our Sunday edition article, which was referred to earlier.
Whether compared year over year, or from the starting point of 2016, these are our positions. Tax exemptions in 2019 and early 2020 for diplomats and hospitals and remigrants all declined, which add up, since there was reduced movement in those areas. On the other hand, tax exemptions for the category labelled “Companies/Businesses” in 2019 were the highest for the four-year span (full years) presented and by almost 70 percent over 2018, when there was no political uncertainty or a whiff about any pandemic. Something is not right about tax exemptions going from $104B in relatively calm business-like 2018 to an amazing $172B in highly agitated and nerve wracking 2019. And it is more of the same inexplicable things, only statistically worse, with regard to “Public Officials/Officers” in which group, tax exemptions skyrocketed from almost $600 million in 2018 to just under $2.2 billion dollars in 2019. That was a near 400 percent increase in exemptions granted.
We are wondering how that could have been, when things had slowed to a creep in this society in 2019. It begs the question, as to whether self-serving skullduggeries took place, and on an enormous scale, under the cloak of tax exemptions. We cast no aspersions, but we and all Guyana could use some enlightenment re those areas that registered steep increases in tax exemptions. It seems that we were giving out enriching tax exemptions, while a deep degree of paralysis hovered over this land. Clearly, the losses in revenue to such an enormous extent, and in some of those categories, cannot be considered reasonable when we are so poor and strapped.
Something does not look healthy or good with the picture before us. As we pointed out in our Sunday article, even “The Tax Reform Commission…has called for the review of concessions…” We note that the Tax Reform Commission included the head of Guyana’s taxation agency, Mr. Godfrey Statia, and Messrs. Maurice Odle and Christopher Ram, as well as Dr. Thomas Singh. We add our own voice alongside these learned and knowing Guyanese. We cannot afford this; and when we grant these lavish tax exemptions, there must be much more for us on the revenue side.
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