Chairman of the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) Board Rawle Lucas yesterday announced a major shake-up in the management of the tax body, including the removal of the heads of its Customs and Human Resources divisions for unsatisfactory performance and the appointment of a Deputy Commissioner-General.
Speaking at a press conference in the presence of senior staff, Lucas said that Jameel Baksh, the Head of the Customs, Excise and Trade operations, and Archana Joshi, Head of the Human Resource Manage-ment Department, had been relieved of their duties. “We were not satisfied with the extent to which our revenues were being collected with respect to our customs operations and felt that it was perhaps in the best interest of the organisation to make some changes,” he later said, when asked about the reason behind their removal.
Lucas identified Lancelot Wills, an international trade lawyer and son of the former minister of Foreign Affairs of Guyana Fred Wills, as the person who will take over the customs portfolio.
He also announced that the Board earlier in the day decided to appoint Hema Khan as Deputy Commis-sioner-General and has received the full support of Minister of Finance Winston Jordan.
Khan, he noted, had been working as the Deputy Commissioner for Tax Operations and Services and will now assume the full responsibilities of the Deputy Commissioner-General. He added that in the meantime Ingrid Griffith, the acting Commissioner-General, has opted to proceed on leave and upon her resumption she will take over the portfolio of Head of Corporate Services.
Lucas noted that the GRA has been functioning without a substantive Commissioner-General and Deputy for some time now. He reminded that the organisation recently held interviews for the position of Commissioner-General and he informed that evaluations of the candidates are still to be completed.
The GRA Board earlier this year announced the unanimous decision to sever ties with former Commissioner-General Khurshid Sattaur, effective from March 1, over the release of private taxpayer data.
Lucas yesterday also announced that Fitzroy Corlette, who has been functioning as Head of Project Coordination, will now head the Law Enforcement and Investigation Division, while the previous head, Karen Chapman, has been assigned to oversee the GRA’s transition programme. He later said the programme would, among other things, be responsible for maximising revenues. “…What we were aware of is that we needed to put greater emphasis on our transition programme ’cause it represents a significant deviation from the way in which we have been doing business over the years and we felt that it was important to find someone who we could rely on and who we thought understood the concept very well and could assist us in ensuring that we have a proper implementation of the programme,” he said.
Improving business environment
At the start of the press conference, which was held at the GRA’s Camp Street headquarters, Lucas indicated that he was going to be giving an update on the actions that GRA will be taking to improve its relationship with taxpayers. He said that emanating from an in-depth review by the Board and in response to a number of concerns expressed by the business community, the GRA had adopted a number of measures.
The first is that GRA has extended the validity of compliance certificates from three months to six months. Second, he said that the GRA had undertaken “a review of the internal policies affecting staff members and we have begun to examine a number of proposals relating to [the] compensation and education policy.” He informed that the GRA has also looked at some other measures and particularly those relating to trade facilitation in order to help with the “expediting of the clearance of certain goods.” He assured that the GRA is actively considering the series of measures to ensure that it can improve the environment in which business is being conducted in Guyana.
Speaking about the transition programme, Lucas said that it included maximising revenues. He recalled at the previous press conference he had noted that some economic centres were not generating as much revenues as they ought to. “In addition to that, as the organisation is currently structured, it is not serving our taxpayers well.
For example, I was in Lethem recently and the members of the Rupununi Chambers of Commerce and Industry asked to meet with me… one of the things they pointed out is that it could cost a businessman in Lethem close to $50,000 just to get a compliance certificate that is supposed to be free… the reason is simple, the service is not provided in Rupununi,” he said.
Lucas later said in response to a question that with the transition programme the GRA is trying to ensure that “we can put the organisation in a position where these economic centres can deliver for the taxpayers the services that they need and in so doing the expectation is that we would be collecting more revenues out of those economic centres. If we provide the services, I would imagine that we would be paid for those services and if we are paid for those services, then I would imagine that our revenues are expected to go up.”
According to Lucas, because of the inattentiveness to facilities, some staff members find themselves working under deplorable conditions, both at the headquarters and in the field. He said that it is the board’s view that the current structure leaves “large amounts of revenue uncollected and vast communities of taxpayers underserved. It also leaves the staff demoralised and this situation the Board intends to change.”
Lucas also explained that the new transition programme will focus on the GRA’s regional approach to revenue collection. “It will focus on taxpayers’ needs, ease of doing business and creating more acceptable working conditions for the staff. All the regions are being equipped to provide the full suite of services that are currently available to persons in Georgetown,” he said.