Ramps had threatened Guyana customs regulator with lawsuit over $20M fine

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Kemol King
Kemol King is a journalist with six years of experience in Guyana's media landscape. He covers the oil & gas sector and its impact on the country's development.

After being fined GY$20 million for breaching customs law earlier this year, Ramps Logistics had threatened the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) with a lawsuit if it did not return the fine.

The letter dated March 4, 2022, from its attorney-at-law, Mahendra Satram, noted GRA as having pointed out that the agent of one of Ramps’ vessels failed to comply with several sectors (70, 129 and 130) of the Customs Act, resulting in a breach of a serious nature.

Reportedly, GRA requested that Ramps provide sufficient justification why its brokerage license should not be revoked over the violation, in addition to handing over the fine.

Ramps only paid the fine in the first place, Satram said, because the GRA was “unlawfully and unreasonably withholding clearance” for the vessel in question.

Ramps’ response was that the breach the regulator complained of is not serious in nature and that, in any case, it was not established.

It gave various reasons why it did not believe the sections of the Customs Act identified by the GRA were breached. In the case of section 70 of the Act, Ramps’ attorneys argued that the law empowers the regulator to collect a fine of GY$1,000, and not GY$20 million.

The letter stated, “We have been instructed to demand of you, as we hereby do, that you return the sum of $20,000,000 (twenty million dollars) to our client within 7 days of the date of this letter. Failing which proceedings will be instituted against you to compel the said repayment together with costs and damages…”

After news of this fine circulated locally, Ramps sent a note to the press that the matter was settled between its lawyers and GRA within a “very short time.”

However, it said it is difficult not to associate the timing of the publication of this news with recent events related to its concerns about not receiving its local content certification.

The news of the fine had first come to the fore after Ramps held a Thursday press conference requesting that the Local Content Secretariat in Guyana answer for why it refused to grant Ramps a local content certificate. The certification is a feature of the Act that allows Guyanese companies procurement opportunities reserved for them.

Ramps indicated that it had adjusted the make-up of its company, including by divesting 51% of shares to a Guyanese national named Deepak Lall. However, chief executive of Ramps, Shaun Rampersad revealed that Lall was not born in Guyana, and got his Guyanese passport for the first time last year, raising questions about whether the recent development was an act of convenience. Rampersad does not see it that way.

Vice President Dr. Bharrat Jagdeo had said earlier this month that companies trying to circumvent the Local Content Act may end up in Court with the government. But Rampersad, who also indicated legal action is on the cards, said Ramps is confident it followed the spirit and letter of the law.

Meanwhile, both the Private Sector Commission (PSC) and the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI) – though not name-dropping Ramps – have come forward in support of government taking strong action against companies trying to skirt the law.

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