Godfrey Statia, the Commissioner General of the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) Friday morning said disposal of vehicles seized by the GRA are done in a “fair and consistent” manner and denied that vehicles seized are being handed out to “friends and family” of government officials.
Statia dismissed allegations of fraud levelled against the GRA by Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo, saying that revenue collection from the disposal of seized vehicles moved from $154 million in 2013 to more than $646 million last year. For this year already, he said more than $750 million in revenues have been collected.
Mr Jagdeo had claimed that the GRA seized and disposed of hundreds of luxury vehicles that never made it to the register for want of entry, were never auctioned, but were fraudulently transferred and found their way into the hands of people sympathetic to the government or “given to family and friends” resulting in billions of dollars in lost revenue. He specifically alluded to two land cruisers with Venezuelan registration numbers.
Mr Statia gave the following statement in response to the claims by the Opposition Leader:
Sale of Lethem Vehicles
- The Revenue Authority confirms that two vehicles manufactured over eight (8) years ago were duly seized from a repeat offender in mid-December 2018, and not in May 2019 as alleged by Mr. Jagdeo.
- They were forfeited in February 2019 in accordance with section 225 of the Customs Act for failure to produce the pertinent customs declarations and supporting documents.
- Section 225(2) states that all seizures lawfully made under the customs laws or any other law shall be deemed to be taken and condemned and may be sold or otherwise disposed of in such manner as the Comptroller may direct.
- The two (2) motor vehicles because of age, location and condition with exposure to elements of weather had deteriorated significantly which may have caused mechanical and electrical damages and rendered same unserviceable. To prevent a total loss of revenue, the Authority found it prudent to invoke the relevant provisions of the Customs Act and disposed the motor vehicles accordingly.
- The Authority will not disclose any additional information in relation to this subject, since it has strict duty of confidentiality and must adhere to those rules in accordance with the provisions of the Revenue Authority Act, Chapter 79:01.
- The process of registering motor vehicles is fully automated and cannot in any way be manipulated and “backdated” as alleged.
- There are generally two categories of vehicles disposed of by the Revenue Authority – Want of Entry vehicles and seized motor vehicles.
- Want of Entry vehicles are disposed of, by way of sealed bids after the said vehicles are placed in the official gazette and subsequently advertised if claims were not made during the mandated claim period.
- Sealed bids were introduced in late 2016 for the very reason of collusion and revenue loss.
- Interested bidders are given the opportunity to examine the assets before submitting the actual bids. The award goes to the highest bidder once the bid is equal or above an amount sufficient to pay all duties, expenses, rent and charge.
- However, if he/she fails to honour his/her obligations as the awardee, the motor vehicles may be re-advertised or the Commissioner-General may dispose of same in accordance with Section 90 (4) of the Customs Act, Chapter 82:01 which provides that “If any goods on being offered for sale as aforesaid cannot be sold for a sum sufficient to pay all duties, expenses, rent and charges, the same may be destroyed, or otherwise disposed of as the Commissioner-General may direct.”
- Disposal of Want of Entry or Seizures are done, at all times, in a fair, impartial and transparent manner with the Internal and State Auditors playing their respective roles. Consequently, the GRA welcomes any audit by the Auditor General who audits such transactions on a yearly basis, and report his findings to the Public Accounts Committee.
- Regarding disposal of seized motor vehicles, under sections 218 and 224 of the Customs Act, the Commissioner-General may, given the nature of the offence, allow the individual in question to pay a fine in lieu of court proceedings or he may dispose of the seizure as he deems fit accordingly.
- In some instances, seized or Want of Entry motor vehicles are disposed of by way of assignment to other state entities such as the Guyana Police Force (GPF), the Guyana Prison Service, the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) the Ministry of Health and other departments that requires resources for the effective functioning. This has always been the practice and the exercise of such discretion is not unique to Guyana.
- Notwithstanding the wide powers given to the Commissioner General to dispose of seized vehicles as he sees fit, such disposals are done in a fair and consistent manner to ensure maximum collection of revenues by the state.
- Despite the numerous assignments to government agencies, the revenue collection for such seizures and want of entries increased over 2013 to May 2019 which allowed for increases in the total collection of the Enforcement Division as follows: 2013 – $154.5M; 2014 – $185.7M ; 2015 – $210.3M; 2016 – $268.5; 2017 – $349.2M; 2018 – $646.2M. 2019 to date – $750.1M.