Following a series of leaks of taxpayer information, Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) Commissioner General (CG), Godfrey Statia said that a ban on the use of smart phones at the agency could soon be implemented.
“Anyone found leaking taxpayer information will have to go. Taxpayers’ information is privileged information and if persons continue leaking information I may have to ban the use of smart phones at GRA both by officers and taxpayers,” Statia told a press conference yesterday.
He was at the time addressing media reports about the granting of a duty-free concession to Deputy Commissioner of Customs, Excise and Trade Operations, Lancelot Wills.
“Wills may be a public servant but he is also a taxpayer,” Statia stressed before declaring that he used the discretionary powers of his office to approve Wills’ importation of a 2008 Toyota Harrier SUV.
The vehicle which was registered in January reportedly has an engine size of 2362cc, this is 362 cc more than the 2000 cc Wills is eligible to import.
Statia explained that after the Department of the Public Service decided that Wills was not eligible to access a concession on the vehicle, he took the decision to approve its importation.
“According to Public Service rules he shouldn’t have over 2000 cc. I as CG said that GRA is a body corporate that reports to the board and I allowed it,” Statia told reporters.
He noted that under these same rules only the Commis-sioner General and Deputy Commissioner General are eligible to import vehicles of unlimited capacity but the GRA has decided that the heads of the Customs, Excise and Trade Operations and the Law Enforcement and Investigation Division (LEID) should be able to access vehicles of capacities larger than 2000 cc since the nature of their duties require them to travel off road in many instances.
Statia explained that Wills’ actions in relation to the importation of the vehicle were done with the full knowledge and support of the agency and noted that the full details of the case were not released.
“Whoever photocopied whatever and sent wherever didn’t photocopy everything,” he told reporters
Meanwhile, Chairman of the GRA Board, Rawle Lucas stated that he is satisfied that the news report in relation to a failure to seize a vehicle belonging to businessman Brian Tiwarie “was not correct in relation to that particular environment.” This report had been carried in the Kaieteur News.
Statia explained that on May 5 officers of the GRA observed the 2014 model SUV bearing an inaccurate licence plate but since they had no access to the agency’s database to confirm that the vehicle was noncompliant they were directed to check on the situation the following Monday.
On that day Tiwarie was asked to submit to the agency all documents related to the vehicle.
The Commissioner General noted that having learnt about the situation through a news report on that Wednesday he called Tiwarie for a meeting and indicated that he had three choices. Tiwarie was advised to donate the vehicle to the government, watch GRA seize it or pay the duty owed.
“He chose to pay his duty,” Statia said adding that if it is not paid he would himself seize the vehicle.
Asked why GRA did not contact the police force about the situation, Statia reiterated that the agency has a duty to the taxpayer.
“I’m not supposed to give out the taxpayer information not even to a sister agency. I have said it before and I will say it again GRA does not do police work,” he said adding that the police should’ve been doing the same checks the GRA officers were doing.
Statia further explained that while this one situation has garnered media coverage there are over 1000 vehicles in the country driving around with fake number plates.
He noted that after a vehicle is written off in an accident owners often choose to take the number plate and put it on another vehicle without paying the tax.
“That is not the first and it won’t be that last. It is just one of thousands,” Statia said of the Tiwarie situation.
He mentioned that the agency had been forced to dismiss a staff member for attempting to use similar methods to replace a GRA vehicle which had been in an accident.
“The staff went to Suriname and put on a number plate and sprayed the vehicle. It is all around. We need to understand the society in which we live. We can only do so much,” Statia said adding that the agency is aware of vehicles that came across from Suriname and Brazil and never leave Guyana and are never registered.
Asked what steps are being taken to address the issue, the Commissioner General noted that “you have to check at warehouses. We have to work with the police. We have asked police for the number of those vehicles that have been written off so that we can better monitor the situation.”