Rampant fuel-smuggling at Eteringbang
THE Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) on Friday disclosed that there has been “intense smuggling” of fuel at Eteringbang, Essequibo, near the Guyana-Venezuela border. Speaking with reporters on Friday at a press conference, GRA’s Commissioner -General Godfrey Statia said a team of officials from the entity has been sent to the location to continue investigations.
According to him,the GRA estimates that $20M weekly is lost at the location. “We also know there is fuel-smuggling in the Essequibo, in Morawhanna, we also plan to put a presence at Morawhanna,” he said.
The commissioner-general made it clear that he will not tolerate tax evasion, corruption and collusion, noting that unscrupulous GRA officers will be dealt with condignly. “One of our problems is that people have not been paying their rightful taxes. And sometimes in collusion with our unscrupulous officers… we intend to minimise that collusion. I will not tolerate corruption and collusion,” he said.
Statia estimates that approximately 30-40 per cent of taxes are not being paid and notes that if everyone pay their rightful taxes, there would be a “broadening of the tax base” and taxes will be reduced.
He cited the alcohol and cigarettes industry and the loopholes that exist therein, causing GRA to lose close to $2B yearly as a result of smuggling. GRA has re-established relations with the Caribbean Bank Note, and the GRA Commissioner-General said, “Very soon we will have a presence of stamps so as to minimise smuggling.”
Turning his attention to the 2017 budget which included several tax measures, he said the budget is geared at alleviating the “suffering of persons who already pay tax and try to make those who refuse to comply.”
He chided businessmen who state that they are operating at a loss and do not file tax returns, pointing out that those businesses ought to claim bankruptcy. “Well you know if you do not get enough you go bankrupt and yet they are operating for years and claim making losses. They do that not only because they are abetted by others, but by some members of staff who prepare these accounts.”
Additionally, Statia said there is need to increase the penalty for non-filing and submission of false or incorrect Income Tax Returns to the GRA. He said those who aid and abet in the process must also be penalized, or the society would become more lawless.
“When you check and see the compliance rate of self-employed compared to corporate entities and compare to employees on the whole. The compliance rate is less that 10 per cent for self-employed persons,” stated Statia.
He disclosed that incomes from self-employment activities have been declining on a yearly basis over the last few years. “We have found that some companies recognise that some companies are not targeted by the GRA and have closed that corporate activity and gone back to self-employment. They changed their status.”
Additionally, the GRA head said his entity will be placing more focus on regional offices, while admitting that the entity has centred most of its activities in Georgetown at his head office, “forgetting that Guyana is a whole tax place.”
“That is why in 2017 we are going to emphasise a lot more enforcement collection and audit activities in the regions themselves. Taxpayers have been utilising the weaknesses in our system… trust me, even by regions, there are some businesses who refuse to give the revenue staff their books and claim that their business is in Georgetown. These are some of the issues we face.”
Statia declared that until the entity is in a position to enforce its measures, “there will continue to be a lack of regard and respect for the tax office”. “We are trying to institute some respectability for the tax office,” he said.