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“We are going after the crooks” says Finance Minister as Value Added Tax Amendment Bill is passed

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“We are going after the crooks” were the words echoed in the National Assembly this evening (Thursday January 5, 2017) by Finance Minister Winston Jordan as he rose in defense of the amendments in the Value Added Tax Amendment Bill.

The Minister reasoned that measures have to be put in place equipping the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) and the Commissioner General with the power to track down and recover the owed taxes by defaulters, who if not reprimanded will continue to burden other taxpayers. “We are stopping those who owe taxes,” Jordan told the House.

He deemed it a travesty for the Opposition to be defending “tax dodgers,” stressing the need for a united effort in tackling those defaulters.

According to the Explanatory Memorandum, the Value Added Tax Amendment Bill 2016 seeks to amend the Value Added Tax Act Chapter 81:05. The amendment increases the limitation period under the Act from three years to five years. The Bill increases penalties for offences under the Act.

The Bill was published on December 20, 2016. Finance Minister Winston Jordan in whose name it was tabled said it deals with the aspect of enforcement and administration.

Jordan told the National Assembly that the lack of resource capability has led to some abuse by taxpayers, who have recognized the loopholes in the system. The Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA), the minister said will gain “a little more muscle” with regards to enforcement.

He said it is part of the strengthening measures being given to the Commissioner General. It was during his presentation that the issue of garnishment was once again raised, however the minister said this provision was included in the law many years ago and is nothing new.

One amendment will now see “any person including a non-resident company, who knowingly or recklessly fails to present books and records when requested by the Commissioner, commits an offence and is liable,”being fined.

In the case of the person a fine of $25,000 would be enforced and for a non-resident company a fine of $1M.

Opposition MP, Priya Manickchand who rose in disapproval of the Bill questioned if supporters and non-supporters of the Government were consulted before the Government sought to include the amendments, which according to her cause worry.

MP Manickchand raised concerns with the amendments in section 33, 35 and 65 given the fact that they extend the limitation period from three to five years, reasoning that the extension places more burden on the taxpayers and reflects laziness on the part of the GRA, which she recommended should have gotten their acts together in terms of its enforcement capabilities.

Section 51 which reads “Where judgement is granted against a taxpayer, in favour of the Revenue Authority and the taxpayer is a customer with a bank, trust company, credit union or other financial institution, the Commissioner shall by demand or notice, require the bank, trust company, credit union or other financial institution to remit the amount payable to the Revenue Authority as a debt owed to the state,” did not find favour with the Opposition, since according to MP Manickchand it is worrying that an office has the power, without a court order to retrieve monies from personal accounts.

She is contending that laws as draconian as this should not be passed, speaking specifically to another provision which will give the Commissioner General the power as well to block a defaulting taxpayer from travelling.

Her argument was supported by MP Anil Nandlall who holds the position that this provision in the Bill contradicts article 141:1 of the Constitution since it violates the person’s fundamental right to travel. Nandlall said the imposition of the travel restriction is a pattern of this administration as demonstrated in a previous incarnation.

Following lengthy deliberations and much ruckus in the House, the Value Added Tax Amendment Bill 2016 was passed with strong objection from the Parliamentary Opposition People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C).

 

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