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GRA sticking to principles for assessing GTT’s tax debt; govt free to negotiate settlement

Commissioner General of the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA), Godfrey Statia. In background is Finance Minister, Winston Jordan.

As the liberalisation of Guyana’s telecommunications sector awaits the settlement of a US$44 million tax dispute, the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) on Thursday vowed to stick to tax principles and said it was still awaiting more information from the telecoms provider.

“As far as I know, GT&T has submitted information to me; I am now going through the information. I have asked them for some additional information which they are yet to provide. As long as they submit it, I am willing to finalise those cases,” GRA Commissioner-General, Godfrey Statia said.

The tax claims date back to 1991.

Asked whether the GRA was willing to give up part of its tax demand on GTT to facilitate the liberalisation of the telecommunications sector, the Commissioner-General said he was guided by the law. “That is not a decision for me. I am bound by the law, I am bound by tax principles. If the tax principle says we did no raise the assessment in accordance with the law and tax principles, I am prepared to reduce the assessment or amend it,” he said.

With regards to a negotiated settlement, Statia said his calculated figure would be dispatched to the government for a decision to be made. “As long as I reach my figure as to what is due and payable to the revenue, that goes to the government whereby they could decide whether they are going to deduct it from any compensation or what is going to happen or these things,” said Statia, a tax expert and Attorney-at-Law.

Finance  Minister, Winston Jordan has declined to speak on the matter, saying it is the subject of negotiations between GRA and GTT. “We don’t want to comment on that at the moment because those are negotiations that are ongoing. They are at a delicate stage so to speak,” he said.

Stressing that tax principles must be applied fairly and equally to all, Statia opined that if half of the assessed tax had been collected 26 years ago, “you would be in better stead than holding back those objections all along”.

The GRA tax chief said with the tax dispute still before the court, GTT should have informed the court that the parties are in negotiations. The case comes up in March, 2018.

Under Guyanese laws, tax information is confidential but the phone company  in its 2016 Annual Report states that GTT is also involved in several legal claims regarding its tax filings with the GRA dating back to 1991 regarding the deductibility of intercompany advisory fees as well as other tax assessments.

The report states that should GTT be held liable for any of the disputed tax assessments, totaling $44.1 million, the Company believes that the Government of Guyana would then be obligated to reimburse GTT for any amounts necessary to ensure that GTT’s return on investment was no less than 15% per annum for the relevant periods.

Earlier this week, Public Telecommunications Minister Cathy Hughes suggested that part of the telecoms liberalisation process depends on negotiations between GRA and GTT.

GTT continues to maintain that it enjoy a monopoly on international voice and data services until 2030, but from all indications settlement of the tax dispute largely stands in the way.

The National Telecommunications Agency (NTA), which is provided for in the 2016 Telecommunications Act, is being activated. A board, governing rules of procedure and new spectrum fees are being finalised.