The Government continues to receive heavy criticism over its plans to increase taxes, which bring in billions of dollars annually, but nothing much has been done to address the situation.
Finance Minister Winston Jordan recently declared that Government is willing to reduce some taxes, but under certain conditions, which would see everyone paying their fair share.
The Minister has said that once the tax net has been widened and more people continue to pay their fair share, personal income taxes, for example, could be reduced progressively. As such, he is urging Guyanese to pay their taxes.
“We cannot have a situation in this country where some are paying taxes and
others (are) not paying; and when you go after people to broaden the pool you get all sorts of stories… All must pay their fair share of taxes,” he admonished.
Jordan has said the aim is to register everyone under the tax scheme, and once a citizen is required to pay taxes, that citizen would have to be registered.
“I would like to see income taxes go down in the next round (5 years) to 20 per cent, but the speed by which this could happen depends on the willingness of the population to pay their taxes,” he explained.
He dismissed criticisms made in regard to the tax situation, and praised the efforts made by the Guyana Revenue Authority, led by Commissioner General Godfrey Statia.
However, the proposed measure in regard to empowering the Finance Minister to use his discretion for granting Value Added Tax (VAT) remittance — as contained in the 2019 Budget — has been described by the parliamentary Opposition as a recipe for corruption.
Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo zoomed in on the measure, which was announced by Finance Minister Winston Jordan during his budget speech over a week ago.
The law does allow the Minister to make regulations to remit tax on a personal basis. According to Section 104 of the Income Tax Act, “The Minister may make regulations, subject to negative resolution of the National Assembly, to provide for the remitting wholly or in part of the tax payable by any person or category of persons on such income in respect of any year of assessment, and in accordance with such conditions as may be specified in the regulations.”
In his budget speech, Jordan had invoked Section 105 of the Income Tax Act and proposed amending the VAT Act “to provide for the Minister of Finance to make regulation to remit, in whole or in part, the VAT and the interest on VAT payable by any person, where good cause is shown.”
According to Jagdeo, however, this policy has always been deliberately avoided. He noted that under the former Administration this measure was not employed, as the desire was for this power to remain with the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA). And now that the law will be changed to allow persons to approach the Minister directly to request tax remittance, Jagdeo expressed worry for the future of transparency and accountability in Government taxation. While the GRA was remitting all this tax, the statistics show that, for the year 2017, tax and non-tax collection rose to $194.7 billion. The 2017 end-of-year outcome report states that out of this, tax revenues accounted for $171.2 billion.
At the heart of this increase in tax revenues, which account for 87.9 per cent of total revenue, is the Government raking in more taxes than ever. For instance, there was a $1 billion or 1.4 per cent rise in the collection of income tax; $600 million or a 3.5 per cent hike in import duty collection, and a $300 billion or 0.4 per cent hike in Value Added Tax (VAT) and Excise Tax collection.
“Total non-tax revenues were projected at $23.6 billion, actual non tax revenues for 2017 were therefore closely in line with the projections at the time of Budget 2018. The Guyana Revenue Authority remitted $49.2 billion,” the report states.
According to the report, this is equivalent to 28.8 per cent of tax revenue, compared to figures of $42.3 billion or 27.9 per cent in 2016. It is also $2.2 billion more than the sum at the time of presentation of Budget 2018.