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Private Sector Commission, govt at odds over proposed law to allow GRA to access customers’ bank records

The Private Sector Commission’s headquarters, Waterloo Street, Georgetown.

The Private Sector Commission (PSC) has serious concerns about the impending amendment to the law that would allow the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) to ask banks to hand over customers’ account information.

The amendment that is currently before the National Assembly is not there with the blessings of Guyana’s  private sector, despite the Bill having a major impact on the business community.

Well-placed sources said the PSC believes that the proposed amendment is tantamount to “the police searching your house without a warrant.”

The PSC is not opposed to the law in principle but, according to the sources, , the business organisation wants the law to include provisions to allow customers to be first notified of a request by the GRA for their bank account information.

Additionally, the umbrella private sector organisation says the amendment to the Financial Institutions Act (FIA) should make provision for the customer to appeal or object to the request within a given period.

The PSC sources say they are also worried that the new law could be used by GRA functionaries maliciously to acquire banking information. To counter such a likelihood, the PSC sources are recommending that only the GRA’s Commissioner General be authorized to request the records after deliberations by a panel.

The Financial Institutions (Amendment) Bill 2015  seeks to amend Section 63 of the Financial Institutions Act to permit disclosure of customer information by a financial institution to the GRA, where a law so requires or where the revenue authority makes a lawful request or demand for the information.

Since the Bill was laid in parliament at the last sitting, several concerns have been raised including the possibility of misuse of information accessed.

Trotman when questioned about whether the Private Sector was consulted on the Bill confirmed that there were no “formal” consultations.

Demerara Waves understands that the Private Sector Chairman Norman McLean met with Finance Minister Winston Jordan this week to raise some concerns the PSC had about the implication of the legislations.

“I don’t believe that there has been a formal session but individual members of the private sector have been spoken to but I won’t be able to say if there is the expectation of a more formal engagement,” Trotman stated on Thursday.

Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo has said that some businesspersons are worried that the Guyana Revenue Authority “will be used politically to go after their information and I am very fearful about what this could trigger.”

GRA Commissioner General Khurshid Sattaur has since dismissed these concerns saying the GRA had such powers before.