Heyligar reads the riot act to customs officers
Says corruption remains biggest obstacle
$119.5M worth of stale-dated cheques found

By Desiree Jodah
Stabroek News
July 29, 2000

Commissioner General of the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) Edgar Heyligar has vowed to apply the strongest possible measures to deal with corruption and mismanagement within the Customs section of the entity.

He issued the warning when he delivered the feature address at the opening of a two-day seminar and workshop of GRA officers at the Georgetown Club yesterday. In June, Heyligar had issued a similar admonition to inland revenue officers.

According to Heyligar corruption remains the single biggest obstacle in the path of operational efficiency and effectiveness. The GRA Commissioner cautioned, "we must not delude ourselves that it has abated or diminished in any way at the Customs and Trade Administration."

Commissioner of Customs and Trade Administration (C&TA) Lambert Marks assured the Commissioner General that he would strive to eliminate most if not all of the problems. He said work is currently being done to address some of the issues.

Marks in an invited comment, said an internal audit is being done and problems are being dealt with as they are uncovered.

Heyligar said under-invoicing, under-valuation, improper release of cargo, false declarations, and use of false documents are routine activities at Customs. "There have been countless written allegations of collusion between importers, junior officers and management officials to defraud the government of its lawful revenue," he declared.

Heyligar said since he became Commissioner General of the GRA, he had received numerous letters from importers and members of the public naming customs officials who have been involved in corruption. "I want to state unequivocally that all these allegations will be thoroughly investigated and appropriate action taken," he warned. He said the GRA has zero tolerance for corruption and would "apply the strongest dose of medicine to eradicate this depraved condition from Customs and Trade Administration (C&TA) and the Revenue Authority as a whole."

Continuing his address to an almost hushed audience, he said many instances of mismanagement have been discovered at both C&TA and the Inland Revenue.

There was audible whispering when the Commissioner General listed some of the acts of mismanagement. He said during the public service strike in 1999, Customs received 145 cheques totalling $119.5 million. According to Heliygar, these were discovered a few months ago and were not brought to account and were obviously "stale-dated." He said steps were now in place to collect these monies.

There were 88 dishonoured cheques totalling some $9 million on hand at the Internal Revenue as of June 30, 2000. He said some of these were on hand for over four years.

There were 67 dishonoured cheques totalling $48 million on hand at Customs as of June 30, 2000, some of which dated as far back as 1996. Ship-files at Customs which should be cleared within 35 and 40 days remained incomplete for many years. "That is mismanagement," emphasised Heyligar.

Still lamenting the mismanagement at Customs over the years, the Commissioner General said Permit for Immediate Delivery (PID) entries which should have been perfected within seven days remained unperfected for many months and even years.

"There are hundreds of motor vehicles at the transit sheds and Customs areas, some for over five years for want of entry or want of delivery as the case might be without any benefit accruing to the importer or the revenue," stated Heyligar.

He said he could speak about reconciliation of bank accounts and other matters which have not escaped the attention of the Auditor General. However, he said, the instances mentioned were sufficient to show that there was gross mismanagement at both Revenue Departments. Heyligar pointed out that the GRA would have to find out who was responsible for the malpractices and take disciplinary action against the "culprits, according to the nature of the sin."

The GRA Commissioner General was also peeved at the time employees of Customs arrive for work. He disclosed that members of the public have been complaining about desks being empty at 0930 hrs and at 1600 hrs and that efforts to contact senior officers by telephone before 0900 hrs are often futile. "This situation is most unsatisfactory and must be addressed by the Commissioners forthwith," he demanded.

He hastened to add that his objective was not to chastise, but to sensitise with a view to effecting "soul-searching" and change. The GRA boss said he was sure the issues highlighted would be "justly" deliberated upon during the seminar/workshop and ultimately addressed at the workplace.

Follow the goings-on in Guyana
in Guyana Today