Vendetta against customs officers fuelling store owners’ shakedown complaints

– Sattaur

The owners of several businesses, including a Robb Street clothing store, have accused a senior member of the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) of using his position to stifle their trade, but GRA head Khurshid Sattaur countered that the businesses have a vendetta against officers attached to the revenue body.

According to reports, two Saturdays ago, several officers attached to the GRA swooped down on the American Eagle clothing store, located in the Court Yard Mall, on Robb Street, and informed the owners of the business that they owed the GRA significant sums of money. The store owners were subsequently forced to close the entity’s doors.

The owners of the store declined to say much on the matter when approached yesterday but it was stated by an official there that the store had closed its doors temporarily two weekends ago after GRA officers approached the store and said that they owed various sums of money in taxes. Monies were subsequently paid to the revenue body.

Several sources, including some within the GRA, stated that over the weekend a senior officer at the revenue body had been working along with other customs officers to intimidate businessmen. The sources said the senior official also operates clothing and dry goods stores in and around the city and “deliberately uses his position to get at businessmen, particularly those who he owes.” It was alleged too that the officer and others are being sheltered, while the man pockets millions of dollars each week from fearful businessmen who want to get their containers cleared.
But Sattaur stated yesterday, when asked about the allegations, “as far as I am concerned there are people out there who try to get at my officers when they are doing their work.”

He said the Robb Street clothing store owners and the customs officer in question had an “arrangement” and “it may have gone sour.” He said the GRA intervened in the matter after it became known to the body that the store owner had been defaulting on money owed to the state.

Sattaur explained that the body has uncovered various instances where persons would import clothing and similar items into the country under the impression of them being for private or personal use. He said when the items are discharged, they end up in stores and this was one of several areas which the GRA has been focusing on as part of its mandate.

He said that at the moment the GRA is installing a system where boats travelling to and from Suriname are documented on both sides of the border, to ensure greater transparency where the trading of items is concerned.

He said this is one of several duties which the department in which the officer in question operates is tasked with undertaking and he added that the move was sanctioned by the Upper Corentyne Chamber of Commerce. He said, “some people are still trying to beat the system and it is those persons, when they are caught, they try to discredit my officers.”

As regards the matter, Sattaur said that the owners of the store met GRA officers and “it was agreed that the issue will be settled.” He said the store was even sealed to this effect to facilitate the settlement of the matter.

However, he said the issue is under investigation and is being looked at to ensure that all areas of concern will be addressed profoundly. He said when those investigations are complete, they will be made public. “We have a hotline and we are open to any member of the public, you folks [the media] let them know that they can call us with any information they have,” Sattaur added.

Last Tuesday the GRA announced that two officers were dismissed and another suspended for their roles in the Jamaican cocaine bust in March this year as the agency attempts to root out corruption there.

The GRA said in a statement that the decision to terminate the officers’ services was made after a thorough investigation was conducted by its Internal Affairs Division. The investigation revealed that there were breaches of several customs laws, policies, standard operating procedures (SOPs) and employees’ conduct codes.

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