In the article titled, GRA finding major breaches of tax concession pacts’ Commissioner- General Godfrey Statia is quoted as saying, “I have no friends when it comes to collection of taxes and no one dare call to ask me favours. That is not how a tax agency is run” (SN June 17). Those are brave words, fighting words; they are also lonely and all too rare an occurrence and authentic posture in this country. I say this because of the following questions.
How many other Guyanese can say what Mr. Statia said with a straight face? How many Guyanese political stewards and public servants measure up to the position embraced by the Commissioner General? And how many Guyanese professionals deliver along the lines drawn by Mr. Statia? Whether taxes or law or banking or government services (or private sector) or protective services the answer is the same and repeatedly: not many, very few, try and find them if you can. Sometimes it is none at all.
“I have no friends” is massaged and justified through the close substitute of “I have clients” or “I have a business.” People do have to make a living including those who are way past that necessity. And “no one dare call me to ask favour” can be rationalized by “the price is right, so right” or “I was made an offer that could not be refused.” Translation: too much to let go to waste. Reality: any money is good money once the colour is green. By the way, the more zeros the sweeter the taste.
I can share that Commissioner General Statia’s statement of where he stands in the rich tax field has no tincture of public relations shallowness; or the practiced hypocrisy at which so many Guyanese have become very skilled. Mr. Statia is the real article. He is real because there is growing tension and increased restlessness inside the GRA with all the policies and practices implemented and the expectations, nay demands, for strict fulfillment. For when staff agitates in the public service, one of the reasons is that unofficial relationships are under threat, and unofficial earnings subject to downward pressure. When the going is tough the staff starts complaining. As someone said to me “too much regulation.” Mr. Statia is real because many are the complaints muttered by the unscrupulous disadvantaged public whose cheating of the treasury know no limits. It is not business as usual. Freedom street has run into a wall. Add all of this together and it means that somebody-in this instance, Mr. Statia-has drawn the line and doing right. This will not be readily accepted and followed; adversaries are searching furiously to dig dirt on him so as to derail the work he has started.
For those watchful citizens who pay attention to such things, there is a telltale indicator in this country that stands as unimpeachable testimony whenever a lone public servant stands for something and demands adherence to the rule book. The indicator is that he (or she) is attacked, sometimes secretly through conspiratorial networks which ensure that their mischief circulates; the invisible hands are usually the same. On a few occasions those who resist paying the required share, or delivering in nonmonetary areas express sharp discontent through public proxies. Sections of the media function as facilitators, if not full partners, of such ongoing perversities. There is a certain routine followed when the handful of genuine exceptions to the local corrupt culture rock the boat: presence is criticized; competence questioned; and objectives undermined. Great care is taken not to challenge integrity for that would open doors where the saboteurs and critics do not wish to go: too self-destructive. At times, the public naysayers are ignorant messengers who do not even know that they are being used; in other instances, they are paid to do dirty deeds.
The realization comes too late that some people can’t be touched or reached. That is a severe handicap given local cultural norms and expectations. Mr. Statia presents such a problem. Problems are seen as undesired obstacles; they interfere by pointing in the right direction and for the right reasons. Guyana needs more Godfrey Statias. May his endeavours be lasting and bear much fruit.