The ruling coalition is still to address reports that Minister of State Joseph Harmon interfered in the work of the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) with respect to Chinese-owned logging company Baishanlin.
A story published in the March 31, 2016 Kaieteur News alleged that Harmon attempted to halt the seizure of two vehicles owned by the logging company which is under investigation for tax evasion. The seizure exercise was being conducted by the GRA in collaboration with the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU). Neither Harmon nor the government has yet denied this report.
The claim is that officials were preparing to execute the seizure when Harmon contacted them instructing that the vehicles not be removed and that the company be left alone. The seizure was eventually done on Tuesday.
Seven days after the allegations were published Harmon is still to publicly address the issue, though he promised on Wednesday to issue a detailed press statement. There has also not been a response from any member of the government including President David Granger and Minister of Finance Winston Jordan who has direct oversight of GRA.
Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs Basil Williams when asked to comment on the issue at a press conference yesterday refused to do so.
“I can’t answer that. I have absolutely no idea about that matter and I have no intention of speaking on any manner I’m not personally aware of,” he said.
The interference allegation comes on the heels of Harmon singlehandedly appointing businessman Brian Tiwari as a business advisor to government without the knowledge of the president. That appointment has since been rescinded by President David Granger who has said that the businessman’s services were not needed.
Harmon’s conduct has raised eyebrows and has led to the Transparency Institute of Guyana Inc (TIGI) labelling his actions as corrupt.
In a strongly-worded press release issued on Tuesday, the transparency body said that “the recent revelations in the local media regarding the appointment of advisors to the APNU +AFC Government and political interference in the work of the Guyana Revenue Authority by Minister of State Mr. Joseph Harmon have set a dark cloud over the operations of the current government”.
It said that with Guyana languishing in the lower levels of the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index, TIGI “had expected that a coalition that campaigned on a platform of anti-corruption would have immediately and vigorously confronted corruption as a primary goal.
Regretfully, the action by Mr. Harmon and the inaction and silence of the Coalition on corruption suggest that any expectation of early improvement in the perception of corruption in Guyana is at best premature and at worst dangerously misconceived”.
While in opposition, Harmon and a range of other officials now in the APNU+AFC government had taken a strong line on investors like Baishanlin which had not been living up to their investment commitments. To compound matters, critics point out that the audit commissioned by the APNU+AFC government of the Guyana Forestry Commission has exposed serious concerns about the dealings of Baishanlin here. Under those circumstances, critics say the government’s present stance on the Chinese company is baffling.