While the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) can be proud of its increased tax collection for the 2018 fiscal year, the same cannot be said for the manner in which it has sold and disposed of seized vehicles.
In the Auditor General’s 2018 Report, GRA was reported to have collected a total of $68.1 million from the sale of seized items for that year. Of all their seizures for 2018, the majority (38 per cent) was motor vehicles and spare parts.
Almost immediately, the Audit Office reported having difficulties ascertaining what happened to six of 28 vehicles which were sold by way of tender in July 2018.
It was found that two of the vehicles that were subject of the tender were found to be registered to two Government agencies rather than the highest bidder.
According to GRA, however, four were sold and two were indeed assigned to the agencies.
However, GRA noted that this was approved by the Commissioner-General, Godfrey Statia, something allowed by the Customs Act. The Audit Office, nevertheless, urged that they sell vehicles to ensure they maximise revenue.
But more drama would follow the sale of vehicles.
According to the report, the AG could not ascertain whether the bidders for 27 of a total of 71 vehicles honoured their obligations. GRA confirmed that indeed, 16 of the bidders did not honour their obligations.
While some of the vehicles were eventually sold, some were again assigned to various departments. A worrying trend noted by the Auditor General concerns the vehicles being sold for rock bottom prices to various bidders.
According to the AG, a Honda All-Terrain Vehicle (ATV) was sold to someone who did not bid for the particular item but rather, made multiple purchases.
This person rode away with a bargain, paying $161,000 for the ATV despite another bidder offering a sealed bid of $285,000.
In another case, a vehicle was sold to someone for $400,000, despite the first bidder offering $1.8 million for the vehicle during a sealed bid exercise held in February 2019.
The AG also noted that out of 34 vehicles that were supposed to be sold during the exercise, nine were removed at the request of the Commissioner-General.
“However, no documentation to substantiate same was presented. Two were removed after publication of which 194 bids were received by intended purchasers, resulting in an estimated loss of revenue of $14.4 million,” the AG said, adding that his office could not determine if the bidders honoured their obligations through payments for the remaining 25 vehicles.
In their defence, GRA stated that one motor vehicle was sold in accordance with the Customs Act, which, according to them, allows the Commissioner-General “to dispose of items in a manner as he may direct”.
They also pled ignorance of the other vehicle referenced by the AG.
In his recommendations, the AG repeated urgings that vehicles be disposed of with the view of maximising revenue and that all relevant documentation be presented for audit review.
Last year, the parliamentary Opposition had actually approached the Guyana Police Force (GPF) to investigate fraud allegations at the GRA when it comes to seized vehicles.
Specifically, the Opposition wanted to investigate how seized vehicles were finding their way onto the streets without being registered or gazetted.