Forestry, mining among big tax evaders – GRA

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By Ariana Gordon

AGRICULTURE, fisheries, forestry, mining and quarrying have been identified as the sectors which skip the tax net, Rawle Lucas, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA), said on Friday.

An analysis of tax payments by the economic sectors shows that the services sector contributes the most to tax revenue.

“Services are the largest sector, and account for 66% of tax revenue. Manufacturing is the smallest, and accounts for 30% of tax revenues. It stands to reason that we have tax problems in (the) agriculture, fisheries and forestry sectors, as well as (the) mining and quarrying sector,” Lucas said.

Tax revenues are classed in four sectors: Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry as one group; mining and quarrying as a second group; manufacturing the third; and services the fourth. But even as the information provided by Lucas is glaring, he said the Revenue Authority needs to refine its methodology “to determine and define better information about compliance and non-compliance”.

“But even with what we have at the moment, we can draw some preliminary conclusions,” he stated.

In an interview with the Guyana Chronicle last year, Finance Minister Winston Jordan had said that more needs to be done by the Revenue Authority to ensure that the “severe leakages in the economy” are significantly reduced.

Jordan called on the GRA to “strengthen” its enforcement arm. He noted that there exists too much smuggling; under-invoicing and corruption, and it is the role of the Revenue Authority to ensure that it fulfils its mandate.

“GRA has to make its presence felt,” said the Finance Minister, who stressed that the Revenue Authority has “sufficient resources” to function effectively and efficiently.

But despite the challenges facing the GRA, the entity is making every effort to beef up its efficiency and effectiveness, with the ultimate aim of enhancing relations with customers.

Lucas said the Revenue Authority has adopted new measures geared at ensuring that taxpayers’ information is further protected. “These measures relate to the access and use of taxpayers’ data by GRA staff members who are on leave. The board will continue to adjust policies to ensure the integrity of taxpayers’ data is maintained at all times,” he promised.

He stressed that the problems of the past will not “bog down” the organization, as changes will occur to ensure that GRA’s mandates are fulfilled.

TAX REFUNDS
Lucas disclosed, meanwhile, that the Revenue Authority has received several complaints from taxpayers about their inability to receive refunds on time. “The board has authorised the Authority to re-examine its current policy on this matter. I am aware [that] this effort is almost complete with respect to VAT refunds, and the Authority will be employing soon- revised measures to speed up those refunds,” he explained.

Income tax refunds are, however, “a bit more complex” to address, but he gave the assurance that the issues relating to income tax refunds are “resolvable.”

“The difficulties are not entirely with the GRA, since they involve the cooperation of external parties. The board has undertaken to ensure that the constraints are removed,” Lucas noted.

The Board of Directors, he said, is currently examining ways of improving its understanding of tax data, to see how the complaints by taxpayers could be addressed.

Lucas stressed that the decisions of the Board of Directors are intended to make the organisation better, but he acknowledged that many would be concerned by the turn of events at the helm of the organisation.

“I am therefore pleased to inform you that we will continue to focus on the issues of interest to the organisation, the Government and the taxpayers in general.

“In that regard, I wish to report that the board adopted some measures which are aimed at strengthening the protection of taxpayers’ information. The board acknowledged, too, that many of you are complaining about your inability to receive your refunds, especially so on time.”