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Guyana's GRA Boss, Statia gets basket to fetch water… All variables in favour of oil companies – Ram notes



By Abena Rockcliffe-Campbell

Petroleumworld 05 11

Commissioner General of the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA), Godfrey Statia, is willing to protect Guyana from oil companies that may have intentions to cheat the nation of its revenue. But will he be able to so?  Chartered Accountant, Christopher Ram thinks that it will be no easy task. He says the odds are against Statia.

Ram said that Statia's “good intention” is not enough to save Guyana. He added that with little or no rules, regulations and laws in place to aid his work, the Tax Chief may have an uphill task keeping oil companies in check.

Ram, also an Attorney-at-law expressed concerns about the low equity injection and high borrowings (thin capitalization) being pursued by the three contractors operating in the Stabroek Block—Hess, CNOOC/Nexen and Esso Exploration and Production Guyana Limited (ExxonMobil's subsidiary).

His concerns really stem from the fact that Guyana has agreed to stand the cost of the interest on all loans secured by the three companies.

The annual returns of two of the three companies operating the Stabroek Block showed that their exploration costs were financed by loans from their parent companies. Since one of those companies – Hess Guyana Exploration Guyana Limited (Hess) – had not filed annual returns since its registration in 2014, it is not possible to determine the source of its financing. Still, Ram said that it would be a safe bet that Hess was financed by inter-company borrowings.

The total intercompany debt of Esso in 2016 alone was $76.9B of which approximately $60B was incurred in 2016.

Ram said, “An obvious question is whether the Guyana branch is being charged interest on massive debt. An equally obvious answer is that we do not and cannot know because of the sparse information offered in the financial statements.”

Here is what those statements say about intercompany debt: “This amount represents amount due to Home Office as well as intercompany loan utilized to fund petroleum operations.”

The problem with interest financing when it falls under cost recovery is that the higher the loan, the higher the accumulated interest to be paid.   There is often collusion when the borrowed money is from a parent company.  But in short, the more money to be recovered by these oil companies, the less to be divided in profit sharing.

Ram noted Statia's indication that the Revenue Authority would be having particular interest in the practice of thin capitalization and will no doubt seek to use his discretionary powers to disallow some of those costs.

The Accountant was keen to point out that other countries discourage the practice of low equity, high debt by setting up and implementing what are called thin-capitalization rules. But, Statia does not have these at his disposal.

Ram said, “The challenges for the Commissioner General are not insignificant: no thin-capitalization rules; a court system that generally avoids getting involved on how companies structure their finances; the tax exempt status of the oil companies; and the jurisdictional overlap between the Revenue Authority and the Petroleum Commission whenever that Bill is pursued in the National Assembly.

Of course, inter-company loans are only one tool used by businesses to shift profits from high tax to no/low tax jurisdictions since there is an infinite number of ways to shift income or charge or shift expenses.”

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Story by Abena Rockcliffe-Campbell from Kaieter News
05 11 2018

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