Guyana:….House passes legislation to go after ‘crooks’ and ‘tax dodgers’
The Value Added Tax Amendment Bill No. 27/2016 was the centre of a heated debate yesterday in the National Assembly.
The Opposition wasted no time in discrediting the Amendments to the Bill stating that it has the makings of an instrument that will do nothing more than undermine the constitutional right of citizens to travel outside of Guyana if their taxes are not up to date.
The PPP stressed that the Bill will give the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) the power to prohibit persons from leaving without having to present a court order, give prior warning, or even a hearing. It is a power the opposition party fears, will be abused and leave citizens open to the whims and fancies of the Commissioner General of GRA.
Elaborating further on this line of argument was former Attorney General, Anil Nandlall.
The Opposition member cited one amendment as mentioned in the Bill. That amendment was in relation to Section 45 (1) of the VAT Act. It says, “By deleting the proviso and substitution for the colon a full stop.”
Nandlall said that on the face, this one liner appears innocuous. He stressed however that it comes with devastating consequences for Guyanese.
To understand the magnitude of the consequences to come, Nandlall sought to explain to citizens watching via live stream that their freedom to enter and leave Guyana is guaranteed by the Constitution and captured in Article 148 of that document. That article reads, “No person shall be deprived of his freedom of movement, that is to say, the right to move freely throughout Guyana, the right to reside in any part of Guyana, the right to enter Guyana, the right to leave Guyana and immunity from expulsion from Guyana…”
He then went on to quote Section 45 of the VAT Act.
“Where the Commissioner has reasonable grounds to believe that a person may leave Guyana without paying all tax due under this Act, the Commissioner may issue a certificate to the Chief Immigration Officer containing particulars of the tax due and request that the Chief Immigration Officer take the necessary steps to prevent the person from leaving Guyana until the person makes– (a) payment in full; or (b) an arrangement satisfactory to the Commissioner for the payment of the tax ‘Provided that the Commissioner cannot proceed under this subsection unless he has obtained an Order of the Court in respect of the tax due.”
The Parliamentarian said that this is the proviso that is being removed. The former Attorney General said that the GRA’s Commissioner General will therefore be empowered to prevent a person from leaving Guyana without notifying him, giving him a hearing, and without presenting a court order. As such, he believes that this is inconsistent with Article 148 in the Constitution. He concluded that the effect of the amendment is simply unconstitutional.
Nandlall said, “Why would a government want to remove the resort to the court? Why would you want to stop a person from leaving without giving him a hearing? Why would you want to give such vast powers to an office without any check and balance given the possibility that it can be abused? I am becoming more and more convinced that we are sliding into authoritarianism.”
Finance Minister, Winston Jordan firmly disagreed with the argument put forward by his colleague.
He said that the bone of contention is who the GRA is really going after.
Jordan said, “Are we going after Priya Manickchand whose taxes are up to date? Are we going after Joseph Harmon whose taxes are up to date, or anyone whose taxes are up to date for that matter? No. We are going after all the crooks that owe taxes and find every legal loophole, and all the high priced lawyers.”
The Finance Minister continued, “Guess what Mr. Speaker? Those who are paying their taxes will be forced to pay more. And they are forced to carry those who can build fancy palaces and mansions and take holidays and go where ever they want to go with our money.”
He added, “So the burdened taxpayers in this country have asked us to say enough is enough. We will strengthen the armory of the GRA and even further, the Commissioner General, to ensure he goes after all those who are cheating their taxes. We are targeting those who are dodging paying their taxes.”
The Finance Minister then turned his attention to Nandlall’s referral to the VAT Act. He sought to hammer home the fact that in the case of the Income Tax Act, there is no need for a court order.
Section 71 of the Income Tax Act states, “Notwithstanding anything in this Act, where the Commissioner is of the opinion that any person is about to or is likely to leave Guyana without making arrangements to the satisfaction of the Commissioner, when required by the Commissioner to do so, for the payment of all income tax that is, or may become payable by that person under this act , on his income accruing or derived from Guyana or elsewhere up to and including the year in which he proposes to leave Guyana , the Commissioner may issue a direction to the Commissioner of Police or Chief immigration Officer or to both to prevent such person from leaving Guyana without paying the taxes or furnishing security to the satisfaction of the Commissioner for the payment thereof.”
The Finance Minister said that with the proposed amendment in the Bill, Government is seeking to do two things; make both acts uniform – Income Tax Act and Value Added Tax — and to ensure that GRA is armed with the powers to prevent those who owe taxes such as VAT, from leaving.
“I wish to reiterate to the public that we are not going after you who are paying taxes. We are going after the tax dodgers,” Jordan added.
The Bill was subsequently put to a vote and passed as printed.