AS the Georgetown Mayor and City Council (MCC) continues to struggle to find a way to retrieve the billions it is owed in rates and taxes from several businesses in the City, Mayor Ubraj Narine said that the municipality is once again putting forth the option of publishing the names of delinquent tax payers, particularly businesses.
Though currently billions of dollars in debt itself, City Hall is owed over $8 billion in unpaid taxes and fees for properties in the City. And despite dealing with the issue for decades now, the municipality continues to have no permanent solution to the situation. In extreme cases, the municipality moves to the courts, but Narine said even that avenue has its challenges. “We can move to the court yes, but we are dealing with matters from since 1996 and we’re having problems with the courts. Sometimes you are spending more than what you are able to get,” Narine explained.
As he decried the slothfulness of cases where businesses are taken to court, Narine said the resulting situation is due to the lack of strong enough laws that would enable the municipality to start lien on the assets of its debtors. “If the legislative body put something there [to enable the municipality to seize assets] we would be better off, instead of having to run to court,” Narine reasoned.
He added that: “The legislative body, they are playing with this country’s future. The laws need to be regularised at the municipality level. Nowhere in the world you go and people owe this amount of taxes; we have Giftland owe us over $100 million, Houston [Estates] owes us hundreds of millions of dollars. The entire [Chapter] 28:01 needs to be reviewed and I am calling for that heavily.”
Narine and mayors of the other nine municipalities across Guyana have been lobbying for reformation of Chapter 28:01, the Act that contains the laws that govern and empower the country’s municipalities. Narine and the other mayors complained that the Act does not give enough power to the councils.
In 2018, the MCC had embarked on a similar activity, which had resulted in many delinquent businesses and individuals coming forward and remitting their taxes. To further encourage property owners to pay their taxes, in 2017 the municipality implemented an amnesty campaign. In June of this year, the municipality had announced another amnesty exercise, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic which has affected many persons economically.
Two weeks ago, Narine had cause to halt ongoing works at a property owned by the Livestock Development Company (LIDCO), which, according to Narine, currently owes the City approximately $700 million in taxes. Last year December, City Hall again moved the halt a land sale transaction by Houston Estates, given that the company owes the City approximately $500 million in taxes and interests. That matter is currently before the court. Earlier this year, Giftland Mall was accused of operating in breach, given that the company was operating despite owing over $100 million. In addition to those businesses, Narine shared that the Ocean View Hotel, which earlier this year handed over its property to the government for the building of a new Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, is also in arrears.
Narine said the MCC has already written to the Ministry of Public Health, and Communities about the situation. He noted that taxes are also owed on the Ashmin’s Building located on High Street. “And there are many others which I will publish the name very soon,” Narine declared.
Chairman of the Private Sector Commission (PSC), Gerry Gouveia, said that while City Hall has not reached out to the PSC, the body would be willing to work along with the municipality in ironing out an arrangement to ensure the businesses honour their taxes. “I am always open to the Mayor and we have a very good relationship and if he feels that the intervention of the PSC is needed he certainly has the option of reaching out to me,” Gouveia noted.
He added “People who owe the city that’s a bilateral arrangement between the city and that business, and the city must have recourse for how they would deal with those businesses. But if they want to introduce a third party such as the PSC we would be happy to intervene but taxes owed is a bilateral agreement.” Gouveia noted that businesses should be paying their taxes. “I believe that legitimate businesses pay their taxes and those who don’t pay should be dealt with by the necessary authorities, be it the GRA or City Council, there must be recourse. I fully insist that all persons and business pay their taxes, we fully support all obligation for the people to pay their taxes,” Gouveia said.