Commissioner General of the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) Khurshid Sattaur believes an inefficient court system and weak police prosecution are hampering the authority’s ongoing fight against corruption.
Almost daily there are complaints about alleged corruption at the GRA, but Sattaur said some of these complaints are mere allegations as there is often no evidence. He said the revenue body is prepared to move against officers who are not above board, noting that they have strengthened internal controls and put systems in place so that citizens can make reports.
GRA Commissioner General Khurshid Sattaur
Speaking to Guyana Times during an exclusive interview on Wednesday, the commissioner general said the GRA will not tolerate individuals who are corrupt, since they are the ones who give the agency a bad name. Questioning the basis on which persons from the agency engage in illegal activities, he said they are paid salaries to do their work and questioned why they would want more inducements.
To tackle the issue, Sattaur said the GRA implemented a number of initiatives to promote transparency and accountability and root out corrupt elements within the organisation. Two of the measures taken include the establishment of the Internal Affairs Department, which scrutinises all GRA employees for ownership of assets and accusations, and the Intelligence Hotline for persons to voice all complaints pertaining to acts of corruption by staff.
Sattaur noted both of these initiatives have been beneficial, since they have aided the GRA tremendously in identifying and rooting out corrupt persons. The commissioner general called on the public to cooperate with the GRA and report these officers. However, he said, “When you do so please provide us with all the necessary information so that we can use that information successfully to weed out those elements from among us.”
He stated that often when persons are summoned to court, they are acquitted of the charges due to inefficiencies in the court system. “Even though we might have evidence and we might have done our internal investigations to identify the persons who are guilty, when you go before the court due to the court system and the weakness of the arguments put forward by the prosecutor, we do not always get the kind of success we want with these matters,” he said.
Nevertheless, he said GRA will persist and take appropriate action against people who want to discredit the organisation by engaging in illegal activities. He said frequently when persons are freed of the charges, they end up going back for their jobs which they do not get unless in exceptional cases
“We do investigation, every termination we do here…once we have done that, then it is very difficult…unless that person can produce evidence that he was framed or victimised in some way or there was a campaign to discredit him,” said Sattaur. He said taxpayers are also to be blamed, saying bribery of officers requires someone who is willing to pay the bribe.
“Most of the time officers are tempted to engage in illegal activities…but I am cognisant that in a few cases, the officers do solicit and make things difficult and therefore people are forced to give them inducement. So we cannot at any point say that there will be no corruption at GRA, I am going make that clear,” he said. Last year, the GRA revenue collection totalled $116.8 billion, resulting in the agency surpassing its target by $1.5 billion. For 2013, the organisation’s target has been lifted to $125.7 billion.
With regard to several new adjustments to the 2013 budget, inclusive of the reduction of the personal income tax from 33 per cent to 30 per cent and the mortgage interest rate relief which is to be implemented soon, he said, these will severely impact revenue collection this year.
“I am thankful that there have been more measures that others have been calling for, like reduction of the VAT among others. While it gives away on one hand, it has the effect of reducing my ability to collect on the other,” said Sattaur.
The property tax reduction which will take effect next year when returns are filed will further affect the GRA’s revenue collection. Sattaur said the GRA will have to find other measures to increase revenue collection even though there have been measures to reduce it.
Sattaur said people often forget that revenue collection is important to them and the country as a whole and look at it as a burden. “If you want proper security, medical services, high level of education, to fund the high cost of the maintenance of the country… they need to pay their revenue,” he added. (firstname.lastname@example.org)