Commissioner General of the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA), Khurshid Sattaur says the Auditor-General-led report into the polar beer scam raised system defects that had already been cited in internal reports and declared that “many of the issues were not new to us”.
He dismissed the notion that corruption is widespread at customs based on the report’s findings saying that no senior official within the revenue body was named as being involved in the polar beer scandal with Fidelity Investments. In fact, he said, the report vindicated them.
But the recommendations made in the report are being looked at, according to Sattaur, though he pointed out that “those recommendations cannot stipulate what actions we take”.
Sattaur noted his displeasure with a “few things” as it relates to the manner in which the Auditor-General led team conducted its investigation, particularly in its dealings with the revenue body.
Though he did not elaborate on what some of the things were, he said, that the GRA offered its full support to the team. However, he said the team had to follow procedures in keeping with the rules of the body.
The Commissioner General rejected the views articulated by the task force that the revenue body used deliberate tactics to frustrate the investigation, adding that the GRA cooperated to the extent required. He charged that the task force sought to work with the body at its own convenience.
“…there were going to be obvious frustrations during the conduct of these investigations but to say that we did it deliberately is not true”, he added.
Corruption remains a major area of concern for the GRA, Sattaur emphasized, noting that every day they are evaluating sectors and screening individuals to root it out. He said too, that they are strategizing ways to prevent corruption by removing certain individuals from a particular sector, adding that only recently persons were transferred within the system.
The report which has been forwarded to the Chambers of the Director of Public Prosecutions for advice on the charges recommended by the task force concluded that fake documents were submitted to customs by both the broker and Fidelity Investments Inc and charges were recommended against a top Fidelity official, a broker and 14 Customs employees from various departments who were complicit in the fraud. Some persons had been dismissed even before the completion of the report.
It also concluded that it was polar beer that had been brought into the country and not soft drinks as had been claimed by some Customs employees. Furthermore, while a price of US$2.15 per case had been listed by Fidelity, an investigative team that travelled to Venezuela found that Fidelity had been sold the beer at US$4.40 per case. The report submitted to President Bharrat Jagdeo also made a number of recommendations to plug loopholes in the Guyana Revenue Authority and lamented that key cameras had not been functioning at a time when it would have been useful for the investigation. It also found that the software suite for the GRA had been manipulated.