Suspended GRA staffer says action against him unjust

Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) Law Enforcement Manager (ag) Troy Vannooten, who was recently suspended, has claimed that his suspension was “unjust, unfair and without merit.”

According to Vannooten, he is innocent and the internal allegations against him were trumped up mainly because he had ruffled feathers in the government tax collecting agency regarding corrupt practices

It was reported last week that Vannooten had been suspended for allegedly accepting payment in relation to release a truck of smuggled chicken which was seized by the GRA in September.

The Leyland DAF truck which bore Suriname licence plates reportedly contained 400 boxes of chicken worth some $2.8 million.

Vannooten along with at least two other staff members were alleged to have accepted a sum of undisclosed cash for the release of the vehicle. Those two staff members have been dismissed while Vannooten was suspended.

In a release to the media yesterday, Vannooten contended that he “never receive no money.”

The release quoted Vannooten as saying he is “a no nonsense person. You would have heard before about all of the corrupt activities that go on within the GRA. In my capacity of enforcement officer any time individuals try to do corrupt things, I stamp it out immediately once brought to my attention. I have served the GRA with distinction.  People on the road and even within GRA feel threaten[ed] by my presence in law enforcement.”

The release explained that a suspension missive communicated to Vannooten by the Human Resources Manager cited that he breached the GRA code of conduct, offence #16 which states ‘failure to obey known rules and codes of conduct, conflict of interest and post-employment codes.’

However, Vannooten said he acted within the rules and regulations of the authority regarding the detention of the lorry and his superiors were at all times informed.

“The information received from the police was that they have held this truck and would like to hand it over to GRA custody since the goods are perishable. I then instructed the head of enforcement for region six Omadat Persaud to get a team of officers and proceed to the location. At the same time, I made contact with about three officers from Georgetown and we went up the Corentyne,” he was quoted as saying.

According to the release, he said that at the time two GRA staffers had already been found in a car in proximity of the lorry, and they were in the presence of another man who apparently was the owner of the goods. Those two officers had been scheduled to travel to the interior, but were carrying out an unsanctioned exercise in Region Six. They have since been fired.

According to the Vannooten, GRA Commissioner General Khurshid Sattaur instructed him to collect $200,000 as conveyance as a fine for the truck that was transporting the chicken, and $500,000 as fine for the chicken itself.

“I never received no money. The taxes that were paid to GRA was received by another staff located at the GRA centralised building on Camp Street, and an official receipt was issued,” the release quoted him as saying.

Vannooten who has worked at the authority for more than 12 years also claimed that when he informed his immediate line manager about the findings of his investigation and the planned course of action, his boss was not pleased.

“We had a debate about the report I compiled which lasted for about two days. He told me that he wasn’t going to sign the Memo because of its content and I said to him that what I had compiled was detailed enough to carry out a full investigation into the matter. I later sent the document to the CG and copied him,” Vannooten claimed in the statement.

It was recommended in Vannooten’s report that the two officers initially found at the scene be suspended since they were culpable of malfeasance. He said what was shocking was that the suspension letter he received was vague and did not explain his wrongdoings in investigating the seizure of the illegal chicken.

Though in his statement he said he will allow due process in the matter, Vannoooten also said that he has written to GRA Chairman Rawle Lucas to have the board review the circumstances leading up to his suspension and also look into departmental corruption.

He said that as a result of the suspension he has suffered gross embarrassment is now on the breadline for two months.

While Stabroek News was unable to reach Lucas for a comment on the issue this newspaper understands that while the matter could be brought to the attention of the board it is not for the board to make decisions about the daily operations of the entity.

The board, it was explained, is more concerned about policy and would be acting outside of its mandate if it were to interfere in the matter before internal processes are allowed to run their course.

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