President of the Transparency Institute of Guyana Inc (TIGI) Anand Goolsarran says the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) as a state entity albeit a semi-autonomous one had no business accepting a gift from a commercial entity, one for which it has to administer taxes, since such a move could compromise its objectivity.
Chinese company Bai Shan Lin disclosed recently that it was building a car park along a section of the Lamaha Street embankment for the GRA, much to the chagrin of a number of commentators in society. The GRA defended the deal saying that a private company sought to relieve the plight of the people accessing the services of the GRA building.
Speaking on the developments regarding the construction of a parking lot on the embankment, Goolsarran, a former Auditor General of Guyana, said that this situation does not bode well for transparency.
“Government departments and agencies have to be very careful when accepting gifts from people and organisations that they have to do business with,” said Goolsarran. “In principle it is not right since it could bias the judgement of the organisation receiving the gift when considering the application of the company,” said Goolsarran.
“When the government agency or department accepts that gift they will then be hard-pressed to favourably consider the company at the next round of bidding. It is wrong in principle since the agency will lose its objectivity when the same people apply for licences,” he said.
“The government should only accept gifts from other governments directly, not from entities that have to do business with its departments. Nothing is wrong with a government to government arrangement [for gifts],” he said.
“Bai Shan Lin has to pay Corporation Tax…in a case of a disagreement how would the GRA look at this, given it had accepted the gift,” he asked.
However, Goolsarran said that the planned payment of a fee by the GRA to Bai Shan Lin for the use of the car park further complicates the issue. “The payment of a fee compounds this problem. It is contradictory…you hear it is a gift and then you hear the GRA has to pay for its use,” said Goolsarran.
He said that the GRA being a semi-autonomous body with its own Board of Directors still gets its money from the public purse and if they required a car park they could have included it in their capital budget. “But to go and ask a private company [for this] is not right,” Goolsarran said.
He pointed out that the Parliament will have to approve the funds that the GRA will eventually use to pay the parking fees.
When asked about how it was that the GRA came to be approved for using the embankment for the purpose of a car park, Minister of Works Robeson Benn said that there had been a series of meetings towards the end of 2012 between the GRA and the Ministry with a view to commencing the works on the embankment. “We had discussions late last year. We told [the GRA] that [we gave them] the rights to build on the land,” he said. He said that while there was correspondence to this effect between the GRA and the Ministry he was not prepared to make these documents public.
Approached for a comment on Wednesday, GRA Commissioner General Khurshid Sattaur said that the government on its behalf sought an allocation of $100 million but this was denied by the Opposition.
“People don’t want progress in Guyana,” he commented. “These people see an opportunity and took it. I didn’t see any commotion when [Alfro Alphonso] built a parking lot for his business,” he said. Alphonso recently opened a new fast food eatery at the corner of Lamaha and Albert streets and uses the section of the Lamaha Embankment opposite to his business as a parking lot.
He said that people must realise that Guyana is becoming a modern country and in that light, people will have to be prepared to park their vehicles and walk some distance to their destination. He said that this is the case in many metropolitan cities overseas. This comment was offered in relation to public concerns that the parking lot is several blocks from the GRA office on Camp Street.