GEORGETOWN – In one of its most telling strikes to reduce smuggling and collect its taxes, the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) yesterday launched a major project to stamp imported alcohol.
The high-security bar-coded stamps are designed to reduce the leakage of an estimated $2B in taxes that Guyana loses annually from smuggled hard liquor and cigarettes.
Using a mobile scanner, enforcement officers could determine right away whether the taxes have been paid or attempts were made to forge the stamps.
At King’s retail liquor outlet, Broad Street, yesterday afternoon, a team from GRA headed by Deputy Commissioner, Rohan Beekhoo, was present at the first exercise to affix the stamps on a few cases of Smirnoff vodka which landed this week.
Other importers and suppliers will be visited in the coming days.
Several members of a special team that will oversee the project’s implementation were given a hands-on training on how to affix the seal to bottles of vodka.
Beekhoo disclosed that GRA has internal controls that can tell which batch of stamps has been affixed to which imported liquor.
“Today starts a process with a view of trying to address the issue of smuggling of alcohol and tobacco products,” the official explained.
With alcohol products attracting high duties, smugglers have been capitalizing on corrupt law officials and some Customs Officers, along with unmanned open borders.
Popular liquor like Absolut, Ciroc, Johnny Walker, wines, Hennessy and Malibu and even beers are being smuggled.
According to Beekhoo, it is not a secret that GRA’s capacity is severely tested to reduce smuggling, with the reality that there will never be enough staffers to monitor the expansive 83,000 square miles.
After careful assessment, it was decided that GRA will engage Canadian Bank Note (CBN), the company which has been working on the security on Guyana’s bank notes, to come up with a programme to ensure that import liquor can be tracked.
The project was announced since last year and mentioned again in the National Budget last November by the Ministry of Finance. “These stamps are highly secured…they have security features comparable to our bank notes which is also made by the same CBN.”
GRA’s Customs, Excise and Trade operations will be handling the implementation.
“We are advising importers to register with GRA and indicate to us the amount of stamps they would require,” the Deputy Commissioner urged.
He explained that once the liquor lands in Guyana and the taxes are paid, it is released and the importers will have the job to affix the stamps on the sealed covers.
“When (alcohol) products enter Guyana legally, our officers verify and once verified and authorized, then we would come and supervise the placement of the stamps on the products.
The bottom line is that our officers will be going around equipped with hand-held scanners. They will know right away if stamp is authentic or fake; if it is applied on the right product and if taxes are paid.”
The cost for stamps on imported alcohol is $16, with the one for tobacco being $8. This is on top of the taxes and duties, and will have a recovery cost, the Deputy Commissioner revealed.
GRA is estimating that smuggled alcohol is about 60-70 per cent of what is imported annually. “We are trying via this project to trap as much revenues as possible.”
As of now, GRA’s focus is on large importers and suppliers. “We are starting with large suppliers and importers. We are looking to stamp what we have, as these end up on the retail and commercial side.”
According to Beekhoo, GRA’s enforcement officials will be in a position right off to determine whether taxes have been paid.
However, while a few businesses may think of hiding the illicit liquor in a backroom, the GRA official warned that officials monitoring will be armed with what is known as a Writ of Assistance to make checks.
The stamps are but one of several weapons in GRA’s arsenal to reduce leakages of tax, Beekhoo noted.