Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) discovers many frauds and schemes

GRA’s Commissioner-General, Godfrey Statia, and his senior officials during the press conference on Friday at the Camp Street headquarters.

Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) drops hammer on questionable vehicle auctions

GRA yanks licences of several private Customs warehouses

The frauds at the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) over the years have been many with all kinds of schemes discovered.

As a result, the state would have lost, overtime, billions of dollars in revenues from especially import duties.

From under-invoicing to imports being listed under the wrong codes to reduce the quantity of taxes due, GRA have been uncovering them, one by one.    

In the wake, staffers would have been sent home. In fact, GRA has admitted around 100 staffers sent home in the last 18 months alone under new management led by Commissioner-General, Godfrey Statia.

The complaints ranged from collusion with businessmen to abseentism.

One type of fraud from within its ranks that GRA had been battling is a major scheme involving ‘Want- Of-Entry’ vehicles and other imports.

These are items brought in and left on the wharves because of various reasons.

However, GRA has been discovering cases where staffers were colluding with businesses and others to sell those vehicles below values, netting the state little revenues.

In some cases, persons wanting high-end vehicles that attract millions of dollars in duties and taxes, would conspire with GRA staffers.

The vehicles are brought in and deliberately left on the wharves for a while until GRA announces an auction.

At the auction, the businessman would bid for the vehicle and normally wins because that bid would invariably be the highest.

However, that is where the trick is, officials explained. The amount that was placed as bid during those auctions are not what is eventually recorded in the books of GRA. A lower amount is entered and nobody is the wiser.

The GRA staffers would normally get a kickback and the businessman walks away paying a pittance for the vehicle.

In other cases, persons are alerted to high-value goods left uncleared on the wharves and same thing happens.

GRA would have auctioned scores of vehicles and other items it has been seizing or left on the wharves overtime.

The value of those taxes and duties if correctly collected would amount to tens of millions of dollars for the state.

On Friday, during a review of last year’s performance, GRA’ Commissioner-General, Godfrey Statia was questioned about the issue.

He noted that GRA is onto the game. In fact, steps have to taken to address the matter.
The auctions are still being held but no longer are decisions being made with a drop of that dreaded hammer.

Rather, Statia said, GRA has introduced closed tenders (written tenders) for the bidding with a team of staffers present to oversee the process to ensure transparency.

Statia, who has admitted that corruption and collusion is a continuing problem he has had to deal with in his 18-month stay so far, disclosed that the reasons for change were because of collusions between staffers and potential buyers of vehicles.

If the closed tenders process the state is unable to recoup the calculated taxes and duties, then the auction is done over again.

In fact, the many vehicles left at the wharves have come in good uses. GRA is using a number of the vehicles in its operations and has not bought one over the last 18 months.

A number of the vehicles have also been given to other state agencies for official use.
Meanwhile, GRA has also been battling fraud on another level.

In the last 18 months, inspections were carried out at a number of privately run warehouses.
The warehouses would serve as an in-transit holding area for vehicles, equipment and other items. The warehouses are designed to reduce buildups at the city wharves where charges and space have been proving a problem over the years.

Under the regulations, GRA and the private operators have systems, including locked doors, to secure the items. The reason for this is that most likely the necessary taxes have not been paid.
However, Statia disclosed, during sudden inspections, GRA found locks cut and even walls removed for vehicles and equipment to be spirited away.

Under the warehousing regulation, GRA can fine a business up to three times the value of the taxes that would have been due.

Another problem facing GRA was its inability to collect from bonds that warehouse operators were mandated to take out in case of the authority having to make a claim.

The bonds were never enough. GRA as a result was left little options.
GRA has since taken steps to correct the weaknesses, in what is just another way for the state to be fleeced of its taxes.

Posted in Kaieteur News – 28 January 2018

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