By Kristen Macklingam
Commissioner-General of the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) Khurshid Sattaur, in justifying his move to backdate his pension plan, stated that this was neither an illegal act nor the first time such steps had been taken involving pension plans at the GRA.
He explained that it was the then Board of Directors (BoD) of the revenue agency that had requested a legal opinion from a prominent lawyer in relation to the “normal Human Resource (HR) practices” of the GRA before adopting a new policy.
This legal opinion was given in November 2014 and covered many topics, one of which was the eligibility for contributing to the ‘GRA pension plan’ as this was one area which had required clarification, Sattaur said.
According to him, it was after conducting a ‘proper study’ of this legal opinion sometime in April last year that he approached both the HR and Legal Department on his eligibility for membership of the scheme.
Sattaur posited that he was “rather pleased with the response received” regarding his eligibility for contributing to the pension scheme and “further the opinion given that I can actually backdate my membership to the DemLife pension scheme from as far back as September 2007” when he became a permanent staff of the GRA and commenced receiving salaries from the Public Treasury.
Prior to August 2007, Sattaur was employed under a foreign funded contract and was receiving a special U.S. based salary.
“With regards to backdating the registration, I was informed by the HR Department that such a decision was dependent on acceptance from the operators of the pension scheme; DemLife, and the necessary funds being made available, both “by” the employer “with a contribution of “12 million and employee 6 million contribution, “for” a sum in excess of 18 million (the sum I would have accumulated if I had started paying the pension Scheme in 2007), inaccurately reported as 12 million in (the media),” Sattaur further explained.
He noted that initially he was hesitant and reluctant to request that the backdating of the registration be done; however, he proceeded to do so after being assured by the HR Department that this was a “normal practice” and had been given five such cases to peruse for his satisfaction.
The former GRA head said that to date he has the names of the persons in these five cases in his possession.
“The Head of Corporate Services Department, Ingrid Griffith, by letter dated 6th May 2015, addressed to The Minister of Finance and copied to Sonia Roopnauth requested the necessary funds to backdate my membership to the scheme.
Subsequently the necessary funds were provided by both myself and the Ministry after approval was given. Had the Chairman requested the necessary information from the Finance Department such explanations would have been given or an explanation from me. I would have provided the necessary documents and explanations as regards to my membership,” Sattaur contended.
He went on to say that he was subsequently issued with a letter dated May 8, 2015, from the Head of the HR Department notifying him that he was officially accepted as a member of the Scheme, retroactive from August 2007 “with requirement” that he make the employee contribution in excess of $6 million.
“It should be noted that the necessary funds are required to be paid into the scheme and as such I am not a beneficiary until I would have severed my employment with the Agency. Once again I am extremely disappointed that had the Chairman made the necessary request from the Human Resources Department concerning the said issue the necessary explanations would have been forthcoming,” he clarified.
According to him, the release of the government’s $12 million along with his $6 million was lodged with the DemLife Company to cover the period 2007 to 2015.
He then started contributing on May 8, 2015 where his salary has since suffered four per cent and the government eight per cent, he said.
“I am disturbed to say the least and for the records to state that this is an ominous foreboding of what is likely to happen to the GRA under the current Chairman as I fear similar injustice to prevail over the treatment of taxpayers’ ‘affairs’ and equally the affairs of the staff of the GRA from the meddling into the day-to-day affairs by this individual. I do not intend to waste any more of my precious time on this matter and would be requesting my lawyers to take the necessary actions to ensure that I receive not only my just treatment as a former terminated employee of the GRA but that my reputation is protected,” Sattaur added.
On Thursday last, the GRA announced that its Board, during its 171st meeting, unanimously decided to sever ties with Sattaur who had been sent on 200 days leave since December last year to facilitate a forensic audit.
According to reports an investigation has also been launched into an investigation into a ‘suspicious $12M pension payment’ that Sattaur is said to have received shortly before general elections last year.
The payment was among the reasons which reportedly led GRA’s Governing Board of Directors to terminate the services of the embattled tax chief. (Article also printed in today’s Guyana Times)