Cornered and forced to respond to accusations of being corrupt and breaching taxpayer’s confidentiality, fired GRA head Khurshid Sattaur came out swinging with some startling revelations of his own – including being asked on “repeated occasions” since the new Government took office to do various things such as settling taxpayer’s cases for meager sums that would have caused the country billions of dollar in lost revenue.
Sattaur said he was also asked to promote persons who did not have the requisite qualifications; rehire persons who were previously dismissed for corrupt practices; and turn a blind eye to taxpayer’s files being photocopied and taken out of the agency.
Sattaur’s explosive revelations came in a response late this afternoon to accusations made against him by Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) Chairman Rawle Lucas earlier in today, which stated that he (Sattaur) was dismissed because he was involved in corrupt practices and he breach a taxpayer’s confidentiality prior to the general elections held in May last year.
In justifying the reason why the outgoing GRA Head has been sent packing, Lucas told reporters that Sattaur was found to be in breach of taxpayer’s confidentiality, and that the revenue authority is currently examining its options as to whether he would be charged for this act, since the GRA has not “ruled anything out” thus far.
But Sattaur, in his response, said he is “extremely disturbed by the allegations made by the Chairman for corrupt practices” and is “equally devastated by his acts that have forced me to give a response to the many allegations made against me”.
Sattaur noted that from the time the Chairman held the first press conference in which he accused him of having six vehicles in his possession at his home amongst other highly offensive things, he became extremely suspicious that he will be targeted in the future for various wrongdoings to which he is innocent and have knowledge of.
For the public’s information, Sattaur made it clear that he had only two vehicles in his possession, a Camry and a Fortuner, with the latter being repossessed by GRA.
“I have a deep concern for the welfare and well-being of the GRA since many of my close colleagues are employed there and from these displays coming from someone who is in charge of this important agency, I can only hope that my years of dedicated service do not go to the wayside and result in my former colleagues being impoverished,” Sattaur stated.
“Even though, year after year I have been instrumental in achieving my revenue targets and surpassing them on all occasions it is worrying to say the least that last year I was informed unofficially of the GRA not attaining the revenue target by half of a billion due to my absence of only two weeks,” Sattaur said.
He said because of “the many misrepresentation by Mr. Lucas” and since he find statements by the GRA Chairman to be “most distasteful and offensive”, he is contemplating taking legal actions.
Sattaur said soon after the new government was installed and the replacement for Mr. Clement Sealey was hastily put in place, it had become “painfully obvious” to him that he would be unable to act professionally as he is accustomed to in the position of Commissioner-General.
“On repeated occasions I was asked to do various things such as:
1) Settling taxpayer’s cases for meager sums that would have caused the country billions of dollar in lost revenue. I am prepared to provide a list of name at a later date
2) Promoted persons who did not have the requisite qualifications and who were acting for a considerable period, before they were suitably qualified
3) Promote persons in position who had QUESTIONABLE RECORDS of service, based on objective investigations conducted
4) Rehire persons who were previously dismissed for corrupt practices. These persons have since been rehired since I departed GRA and I have been advised are in senior positions
5) Turn a blind eye to taxpayer’s files including Minister (Khemraj) Ramjattan being photocopied and taken out of the agency by a known person ( the list of names I will be divulging at a later time)”
Sattaur also responded to the allegations which include: breach of his Oath of Office, Possession of Safe responsible for storing confidential tax payers’ documents and back-dating of benefits for himself.
“In relation to the back-dating of my pension plan to 2007 when I retired in 2011, I was advised by prominent lawyer Ashton Chase, and the Human Resources and the Legal Departments of GRA can testified to this, that I was entitled to those benefits under the GRA’s contributory pension scheme.
“Further, this benefit was due to me from 2007 after I found out that I was entitled to those benefits. The reason why I was not claiming these benefits before is that the HR department never told me that I was entitled, even though other persons were receiving it. After I got the approval from the HR department I went ahead and claimed my benefits. Ms. (Sonia) Roopnauth, the Director of Budget can attest to this. If this is so wrong why was the monies approved for payment?”
Sattaur also denied claims that he admitted to the Board to divulging tax payer’s information to anyone. “However, I do admit to the Board of giving information to the Diplomatic Head of Mission with information sought, given that it was diplomat’s information and not that of a tax payer. I do not agree that for the reasons given above that I admitted to the Board that I divulged taxpayers’ information. The information was to facilitate an audit by the embassy of its records and done in the best interest of safeguarding the integrity of the GRA system. It was also done to validate information received from a third party as we routinely do at GRA as part of their routine work when granting large amount of tax concessions according to the GRA’s SOP.”
Sattaur further explained that “the Head of the Mission wanted to know about his staff who was providing businesses with certification that were fraudulently obtained. This staff is not a tax payer and had the Board sought a proper explanation from me, they would have been told that the diplomat visited my office and in my presence certified that his staff did or did not issue a fraudulent document from his Mission.”
Sattaur also declared: “With regards to the claims by GRA Chairman, Rawle Lucas earlier in the day, I wish to emphatically state that I never revealed taxpayer information to anyone. Those are all fabrications that I find most offensive and atrocious. This is most disgusting as I never admitted to the Board that I gave out taxpayer information.”
“I further wish to state that while at the Board meeting, I was put on the spot and I did not have an opportunity to explain the background. I do, however, admit that I was aware of the particular question and I responded in a manner that did not implicate me in revealing taxpayer information to anyone.
As a background of that situation, I did recall a month prior to the May 11, 2015 general elections, a diplomat asked me to facilitate a probe that the foreign government had been conducting into one of its staff members. One of their staff is not a taxpayer of this country. That staff member had allegedly breached a very serious protocol and had given the GRA information on someone which should not have been the case and as such the diplomat was asked by his government to investigate the matter.”
Sattaur said he is of the belief that one of his former very senior GRA staff member, “and who was suspended for one week afterwards for falsification of documents, later reported that interaction with the embassy official to either the Board or the Minister of Finance, Winston Jordan.”
Sattaur said “this particular individual”, who was with him at the meeting he had with the embassy officials, and whom he took deliberately to be a witness to what he was discussing with the diplomat, would have appeared to have misled the Board or the politician in retaliation.
On the issue of the safe being at his home, Sattaur said his son was employed by GRA in the IT department, in a senior capacity and he was given responsibility for storing the tax agency’s data at another safe place offsite, a situation that the previous Board and government did not find offensive and distrustful, as a temporary measure.
However, Sattaur said this storage of the data at his home was abandoned about five years ago. “My home or the safe was no longer the repository of that information. I categorically stated that the safe never had any data. I wish to state further that the infrastructure related to the backing-up of the data has since been removed under the directive of the new GRA Board.”
Sattaur said the use of the safe was discontinued years ago when a new back-up site was created at another location but the safe continued to remain at his home to store his GRA weapon and ammunition up until recently.
In closing, Sattaur said he is “sadden by the fact that after serving the tax collection agency for decades and increasing revenues by 192 percent in 11 years, the GRA has a chairman who appears to be operating in a highly questionable manner.”
Noting that he spent many years of dedicated service to the agency, Sattaur said the least he can expect is the GRA Chairman to display some level of intellectual honesty towards him.
Nevertheless, Sattaur said he has given appropriate direction to his lawyers so that they can act in his best interest.