GRA blames “lax system” for billion-dollar scam

– will try to recover taxes owed on heavy-duty machinery

By Vahnu Manikchand

The Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) has clamped down on a billion-dollar scam whereby heavy-duty vehicles were being imported and not registered. According to Commissioner General Godfrey Statia, the main focus now is recovering the taxes that were not paid.

It was reported that the State has been losing billions annually over excavators

GRA Commissioner General Godfrey Statia

and other heavy-duty machinery and equipment that were not registered.

Statia said the “players” involved would be called in and told what would be required of them going forward as well as to get those machinery registered. He pointed out that there would be no seizure of these machinery and equipment.

“As far as GRA is concerned, we try to minimise seizures. All we try to do is collect the taxes that were not collected. People need to get on with their lives; I won’t be seizing vehicles unnecessarily. All I want is when I look at the transaction, if there are any taxes that should have been made, they are paid and we go on,” the GRA Commissioner General posited.

He went on to explain that this scheme has been on GRA’s radar for some time now. Statia outlined that exercises were carried out, monitoring vehicles that had been moving within the country, especially excavators and draglines, but when checks were made, there were no records of them in the system.

“It was on the cards for a little while, but then what we found is that there was one particular excavator that was imported and we could not have found it, it was cleared and we could not have found it until now. And now that we have gone through additional transactions, we have found that they’ve been tainted,” he noted.

The GRA head further pointed out the problem was as long as these machinery and heavy-duty equipment were not registered, the Authority would not be in a position to find or trace them. As such, Statia said he would be meeting with the importers and trying to facilitate them getting the titles for the vehicles.

While he opted not to divulge the information, the Commissioner General said he was aware of the identity of these importers.

“I’m not pointing fingers at anyone who may be guilty at this point in time. But yes, we know all the importers and we know where their warehouses are and these things,” he stated.

Further asked about the scale of the scheme, the GRA head said that it was not all importers of heavy-duty machinery and equipment who were involved in the racket. He added that the GRA would have a much clearer idea of the magnitude when it went through its records and speak with the importers.

Moreover, Statia pointed out that “somewhere along the line, the system went lax and allowed these excavators to be roaming free without numbers and without registration. We need to regularise them.”

Asked whether this scam could have been facilitated by staffers within the system, Commissioner General Statia noted that when he was done with the investigations, he would know “exactly who were involved and whether it was done because of ignorance or knowingly and willingly to defraud the Revenue Authority.”

It was also reported that in addition to heavy-duty machinery and equipment, a number of vehicles have also been imported under this scam and were not registered.