June 26, 2017

Conflict arises over SARU’s role in high-profile tax-related investigations

Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo

Opposition Leader,
Bharrat Jagdeo

The State Assets Recovery Unit (SARU) has been accused of taking over the functions of the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) with its ongoing moves to carry out investigations into the tax operations of businesses in the city.

Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo on Monday had said that the Unit, which was yet to have its bill passed in the National Assembly, has been acting illegally as it has sent a list of names of persons building high-rise structures in the country to the GRA. But questioned about this on Wednesday, SARU’s Head, Dr Clive Thomas denied that the Unit has been utilising the services of the GRA.

He said SARU itself has been carrying out its own investigations in the city. He, however, noted that the body could not do anything until the SARU Bill was passed in the National Assembly.

“We have gone around the city to identify possible irregular activities of money laundering activities for which we might be able to recover taxes that people might not have paid because their reporting might not have indicated any income at the level to warrant the purchase of these buildings. We have not moved any further action on it, because we need a bill before the action,” he told Guyana Times International in an invited comment on Wednesday.

Additionally, it was previously reported that SARU Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Aubrey Heath-Retemyer had said that SARU was seeking to have the Deeds Registry hand over records to determine the owners of lands and business registration.

“We repeatedly went to the Deeds Registry regarding a particularly mysterious high-rise building in the city of Georgetown and they were pathetic, they just couldn’t tell us anything much. We had to end up using a different approach,” Heath-Retemyer was quoted as saying.

The Opposition Leader said the SARU was targeting the owners of the more than 100 high-rise buildings it has on record in the city. He said a list has been sent to the GRA.

Back in January, Professor Thomas had indicated that the agency was in the process of mapping all the high-rise buildings, with the aim of investigating their owners for tax evasion and money laundering.

Thomas reportedly wanted to ensure that the money used to construct the buildings was clean, that the buildings were not shell companies, that the owners were paying their taxes, that the buildings were not being used as a conduit for corrupt activities, and even that the land was lawfully obtained.

Dr Thomas has contended that there was an underground economy in Guyana, and Government is hell-bent on identifying the individuals involved.

He said once SARU got its legal framework, it would spare no time in going after these individuals.

Jagdeo had, however, said that there was no logic for such actions by the Unit.

“What’s the logic? Let’s assume you have one five-storey building and another person have 50 one-storey building… he’s going to map the one five-storey building and you’re subjected to investigation and another person has 50 properties around the city, but you won’t be going after that person. What’s the logic?” he highlighted.

He continued, “These loose-mouthed people are damaging our economy”, referring to Dr Thomas. “The business community and ordinary people operate on Government signals. If the entire Government speaks as if it hates investment and investors, and if you put up a building, you’ll be subjected to a whole range of scrutiny by the Government, then investors are just going to withdraw; no one will want to invest,” Jagdeo explained. The ordinary man also will respond in accordance – by withholding their money.