The pronouncement by Finance Minister Winston Jordan in his budget speech that the Income Tax Act will be revised to authorise the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) to “garnish” funds from bank accounts held by tax payers who have outstanding tax arrears has caused “great anxiety and concerns” both to the business community as well as the ordinary citizen.
Commenting on this controversial pronouncement by the Finance Minister, former Attorney General Anil Nandlall recalled that earlier this year, the Government passed a law that allows the GRA to go into a person’s bank account without notifying that person and without providing any reasons.
“Now again, we see another attempt to invade the privacy of persons’ bank accounts by this Government,” Nandlall declared.
He alluded to the fact that “these signals drive fear in the minds of every single Guyanese”.
According to Nandlall, it also does not inspire the confidence of the business community both locally and internationally. “No one will ever be comfortable with the tax authorities having a power to raid their bank accounts with no reason given. It simply smacks of authoritarianism and interference with property rights which are protected by the Constitution. After all, money is property,” the former Attorney General argued.
What is of greater concern, he said, is the intention to “garnish” people’s accounts and to seize therefrom, monies and to apply those monies to liquidate outstanding taxes.
“In my humble view, this is not only a misuse and abuse of garnishment but it is also draconian,” Nandlall posited. Garnishment is a proceeding whereby a person’s property or credits in the possession or under the control of another, are applied to the former’s debt to a third person. “Simply put, if A owes B and C owes A, B can garnish the money which C owes to A from C, in satisfaction of the debt which A owes to B. Clearly this is not what the Minister is speaking about. The Minister is speaking about a situation where if A owes taxes to GRA, GRA will have a right to go into A’s bank account and take money therefrom in satisfaction of the taxes which are owed. This is not and has nothing to do with garnishing. This is simply the seizing of monies in satisfaction of taxes owed without due process,” Nandlall contended.
Significantly, garnishee is a court driven process where all the parties concerned are legally represented or, at least given the opportunity to retain counsel and are afforded a fair and adequate hearing before a Judge. Nandlall said these important safeguards and fundamental aspects of due process are conspicuously absent from the Finance Minister’s formulation.
“I presume that a Bill will have to be tabled in the National Assembly conferring this power upon the GRA. Unless this Bill meets the litmus test of constitutionality, fairness and due process, it will be vehemently opposed by the PPP in the National Assembly,” Nandlall warned.