‘Leaders forum to turn around businesses’
Posted Tuesday, November 5 2013 at 02:00
Journey to the top. Ms Allen Kagina, the Commissioner General Uganda Revenue Authority and panelist at the Monitor’s Thought Leaders’ Forum spoke to the Daily Monitor’s Jackie Tahakanizibwa about serving in the position many would die for.
She started her career in 1985, as a teaching assistant, at Makerere University before moving to the Office of the President. In 1992, Ms Allen Kagina joined the Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) as a Senior Principal Revenue Officer, serving in that capacity until 1998.
In 2000, she was promoted to the rank of deputy Commissioner for Customs, serving in that capacity until 2001.
She was later to be appointed as the first female Commissioner General, the position she holds to date.
1.You are the first Ugandan female Commissioner General at URA; briefly share your experience during your first 100 days as URA chief?
When I was appointed Commissioner General in 2004, I did not have time to sit back and take stock of the view from the top.
My commission from my minister was to transform URA. I hit the ground running. My fist 100 days as Commissioner General from late 2004 through to early 2005 was characterised with restructuring of URA.
This was the time we had a new organisational structure designed to make URA more responsive to the concerns of the taxpayers for efficient service and to government for revenue mobilisation.
It was a period of much stress for everyone and especially the new senior management team that had to carry out the work of restructuring while at the same time ensuring that revenue was coming in without a hitch.
In that period, I saw the core of who people are. Pressure tends to do that to you.
It was also a time of great expectations as we had committed ourselves to change the image or URA as it was perceived then.
The opportunity to rebrand was exciting. We lived on adrenaline! Working 12 to 16 hours a day in the first three months so that we would complete the restructuring in the shortest time possible.
I was never more proud of the team of men and women at the Board and senior management. For me it was truly humbling and an honour to work with them.
2. When was the last time you experienced a work crisis and how did you handle it?
A crisis by definition is an escalation of a situation that becomes uncontainable. In that regard, I have not come against a crisis. What I have experienced are varying levels of challenges.
Challenges come in all shapes and sizes at URA. Anyone of them can present itself in a completely different manner from the last one. The reason the public doesn’t hear much about them is because of the exceptional staff we have.
They have learned to anticipate when things are likely to go wrong and they deal with the issues so that what would have been a major crisis is resolved. Some of the challenges are externally generated and these are harder to deal with.
For these challenges that originate elsewhere, we have learned to build relationships and networks with other entities in government and with the media as well so that when a challenge does indeed occur, we can keep the stakeholders in the know as we work to resolve the matters.
An example of a challenge that we are experiencing now is the fact that URA has built a number of systems with huge capabilities for efficiencies in service delivery.
However, we don’t work alone. By the nature of our service we must work with other entities.
We find that the systems built in some of these entities are old legacy systems, not built on new business models. To work most efficiently we need to work in tandem with partners but not at the current pace I see.
I will not give examples as that would not be good for relationship building.
3. How do you keep relevant as a leader in an ever-changing market?
One, I invest in myself: I read a lot and study people.
Secondly, I am continually looking for opportunities to change things. My philosophy is that however good something is, it can get even better.
And most importantly, I am firmly convinced that God has a purpose for who I am and where He has placed me.
All I need to do is to study the blue print and build according to the design He has made for those I serve and with the resources He has given me. My relationship with Jesus Christ is up-close and personal.
4. Where do you go from your current position?
For now my two main interests for the future are: Consulting and Agriculture. Consulting because the experience I have had in URA has equipped me to help other entities transform. Agriculture, because Uganda is unlike any other country I know in being so advantaged.
5. The topic for the Thought leaders’ forum this year is “Turning business impossibilities into possibilities”. Do you think this is timely for Ugandan companies?
The topic is stimulating and inspirational especially because there are many companies struggling with all sorts of hurdles.
However, there are also several Ugandan companies, who don’t get much publicity but who have been resilient in the face of challenges and are making a difference in their communities. I see them in their tax returns. These too can tell a story.
6. As one of the panelists at the Thought Leaders Forum, what are the highlights of the message you intend to share with Forum participants?
For the first 13 years in URA, the only encounter I had with business was as a tax collector.
My view then was to maximize revenue for government in spite of the fact that the facilities available for taxpayers to comply were inadequate.
Over the last nine years I am firmly convinced that, barring those who are determined not to comply, most people have no problem paying taxes if the services offered by URA are fast, efficient and transparent and if they are treated with respect.
I have learnt that service is a goal and revenue is the outcome and not the other way round.
The pillars of the transformation of URA have been efficient services and customer care.
I would also like to share on the critical place information plays in business growth. This has been true for URA as well as for those companies that register growth. Every investment spent in information gathering systems is investment in fertile ground. At the root of many business failures is the lack of investment in innovation. Innovation is key.
7Is the Thought Leaders Forum a timely event for an economy like Uganda that has one of the highest levels of business start-ups but very high business failure rates?
The Forum is good for stimulating discussion on opportunities for growth of incomes both at individual and at national level. The high rate of start-ups is demonstration that the Ugandan economy has plenty of space and that is good.
What must be addressed for these small businesses to survive and celebrate their first birthday are mainly four things:
One, access to cheap credit
Two, plugging the skills gaps ( with emphasis on quality control)
Three, access to markets
Four, efficient service and much less bureaucracy from regulators.
8Would you recommend managers and leaders to attend the Thought leaders’ forum?
Yes I would. It’s a good platform to benchmark, share experiences and inspire each other.
Often the solutions to challenges managers and leaders face are not far from home and yet we tend to spend so much attending for a such as this one.
9. Do you think Ashish Thakkar is relevant to the Ugandan businesses given that he started a small trading operation that has since grown into the Mara Group?
Most definitely. The Bible says in Zechariah 4:10, “do not dare despise the day of small beginnings?” This is the best place to begin: small. The risks are lower, the investment smaller and recovery chances greater than if one aimed to start big.
The problem in Uganda though, is that many young people want to be where Ashish is, without walking his journey. So they get tempted to take short cuts and because they did not get to learn the life lessons on this journey, they tend to end up disillusioned, discouraged and disgruntled.
10. Why should we listen to Ashish Thakkar?
Anyone who stands out from his generation has either stood on the shoulders of another outstanding person or has found out where his treasure is buried and made it work for him. Either way, one must pay attention to those who distinguish themselves because if they can, so can the rest of us.