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Apr 13, 2017

Government Says G.S.T. Commissioner Has Full Powers

On Wednesday evening, the Government of Belize, through the Ministry of Finance, dismissed any suggestion of manipulation by senior management of the General Sales Tax Department of audits carried out by lower-level employees. The Government disclosed a letter from Solicitor General Nigel Hawke, addressing a senior G.S.T. officer from the south who questioned if any law allows for the G.S.T.D. management to increase the figure of collection he arrived at for unreported income. In it, Hawke cites multiple sections of the Act as it relates to administration and responsibility and states “…it is highly improper for an (regular) Officer to challenge the method of assessment recommended by (senior) Management/ Supervisor of Audit and it is an attempt to bring a major revenue department into disrepute…”  He concludes that, “the Commissioner of GST is responsible for the administration of the GST, and the assessment, collection and recovery of GST. Such responsibility includes the review and approval of audits after making any adjustments or choice of methodology that may be required in the course of such review. Thus, the Commissioner (and senior staff delegated by her) is expressly charged with finalizing to her satisfaction, including by way of making justified changes, audits conducted lower down the chain of command, unquote. He further adds that, quote, the Act has sufficient built-in checks and balances in relation to fair assessments, which in our view, may be done on a case-by-case basis.”  According to the ministry, the power of the Commissioner is absolutely necessary, a matter of good administration and provides the need for a general ultimate backstop. The Government further claims that there are instances where taxpayers have sought to collude with G.S.T. staff to procure audit outcomes favourable to the taxpayer and resulting in the revenue being deprived of its rightful tax take. The Chamber, in view of its declared anti-corruption position, is no doubt as concerned as the Ministry to minimize that sort of occurrence. There is no comment on the claim that multiple methods are used to determine the level of taxation most favourable to Government and that auditors are not allowed to reveal their work to business agents, which would prevent them from seeing any issues with the assessment.

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