Sunday, May 11, 2008

Corruption probe... GPSU calls for disbandment of Task Force investigations

Kaieteur News news item, Saturday 10 May 2008
Corruption probe... GPSU calls for disbandment of Task Force investigations

The Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU) is contemplating taking the case of
the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) employees, who are under investigation
for corruption in the Polar Beer scandal, to its international partners and
says it has no faith in the ongoing probe.
Rather, the current investigative team should be disbanded and a credible
and independent one appointed, the union is contending.

During a press conference that focused on the ongoing President-ordered
investigation by a special task force, GPSU President Patrick Yarde also
lashed out at the task force.
He said that his union was not allowed to be present with its members during
questioning. Five GRA officers have been dismissed and 11 others sent on
The union official also said that GPSU will be challenging the denial of the
Task Force that GRA officials were part of the probe team. That represents a
direct conflict of interest since the authority is the centre of the
Flanked by other union officials at the GPSU Regent and New Garden Streets
headquarters, Yarde said that the membership is concerned "at the attitude
of the administration of the Guyana Revenue Authority in its treatment of
its employees as the Authority proceeds with the so-called investigation
into allegations of collusion by GRA staff with Kong Inc/Fidelity Investment
Inc to defraud the government of millions of dollars in tax revenues."
So far, the union has written to GRA Chairman, Clive Roopchand, seeking an
urgent meeting to discuss among other things, that its members are fairly
treated and not subjected to intimidations.
The Chairman of the Special Task Force, Deodat Sharma and Deputy
Commissioner of GRA Human Resources, Archana Joshi have also been written to
separately by the union to re-instate Rabindra Ramsarran and Sadesh
Pitamber, two Internal Affairs officers of GRA who were dismissed three
Fridays ago.
"We are yet to receive any reply to our letters (and this) has led us to
conclude that the delay in response must be that there is no justification
for what is taking place, regarding the targeting, harassment and dismissal
of the workers in question," Yarde said.
The official pointed out that Joshi was not a Guyanese and the union was
looking at this and several issues before making its findings known.
GRA staffers are being questioned about containers brought in by Fidelity
Investments and Kong Inc last year, importers of Venezuela's Polar Beer,
that were cleared by several GRA officers.
Investigators believe that the containers which came in last year were
filled with Polar Beer, but the GRA officers, including members of the
Internal Affairs, Enforcement, VAT and Customs, allegedly colluded to forge
documents to show instead that there were soft drinks in the containers.
Sources close to the investigations said that GRA officers are unable to
agree on the kind of soft drinks in the container and could not find any of
the ones that were claimed to be in the containers anywhere in Guyana.
The GRA officers were also questioned about their bank accounts, vehicles
and other assets owned, this newspaper was told.
According to the dismissal letters, the officers were guilty of gross
negligence, among other things, and were guilty of causing substantial loss
of revenue to the GRA because of their actions.
Some of the GRA officers have been working with Government for as many as 14
Last week, GPSU called for the immediate re-instatement of two Internal
Affairs officers who were fired on April 25.
About four weeks ago, President Bharrat Jagdeo had ordered a full blown
probe into possible corruption involving civil servants, and their assets,
after the possible scam unearthed.
President Jagdeo, during a press conference, had also made startling
revelations, painting a picture of elaborate schemes by public servants,
including Customs officers and businessmen, to defraud Government of
millions of dollars.
According to the President, the investigations will go beyond the Fidelity
Investments fiasco.
When announcing the probe, President Jagdeo had said that the probe came in
the wake of reports that a number of people involved in revenue collection
had, over time, secured millions of dollars from large businesses operating
in Guyana.
Initial reports were that those involved collected some $150 million from
Fidelity Investments in the wake of the recent seizure of a quantity of
Polar beer.
GRA had seized the Polar beer because it had evidence to support its
contention that Fidelity Investments had set out to defraud the Government
of some $350 million in revenue.
Arguing the union's case, the GPSU head said that it has no confidence in
the investigations and sees them as best as "non-independent, clandestine,
biased and therefore not credible."
He said that the mere fact that the questioning by the Special Task Force
was taking place at the Ministry of Finance where GRA Chairman, Clive
Roopchand also has his office has raised questions about the transparency
and independence of the entire proceedings.
Further, with GPSU representatives not being allowed to be present with its
members during questioning, something seems to be amiss, Yarde said.
"Members were held by the police under unhealthy conditions; photographed
and fingerprinted as if they were common criminals, although they were not
charged with any offence, in clear violation of their constitutional rights
and the rule of law."
The union also said that it is condemning the arbitrary dismissal of
employees of the GRA, including those with long years of service, whose
letters were signed by Joshi.
The union said that this was done "without (the sacked workers) being
accorded natural justice and fair treatment".
"This development is suggestive of collusion between the investigating panel
and personnel of the Human Resources Department since the persons dismissed
were among those invited to be interviewed," Yarde noted.
According to Yarde, GPSU is committed to dealing with the issue in a
professional and objective manner.
"The union is therefore requesting the disbandment of the current process
and the appointment of a credible and independent team, and that the
investigations be open and transparent."
Meanwhile, the union reminded that it had asked government to pay a
two-month tax-free incentive to the GRA employees in light of outstanding
revenue collections which was way above estimated targets for the four
consecutive years.
However, with the ongoing investigations, the union said it believes that
there is a "suspicion within the membership of the union that the entire
scenario is a ploy to undermine the union's representation for deserving
payment to the staff of GRA in consequence of the outstanding performance of
revenue collection significantly above the estimated targets set and
approved in the 2007 budget..."

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