Stiff targets await incoming URA head

Tuesday October 28 2014

Minister of finance Maria Kiwanuka handing over the instruments

Minister of finance Maria Kiwanuka handing over the instruments of power to the incoming commissioner general of Uganda revenue Authority, Ms Doris Akol, while URA board chairman Gerald Ssendawula and outgoing commissioner general Allen Kagina look on. Photo by Geoffrey Sseruyange 

By ISMAIL MUSA LADU & MARTIN LUTHER OKETCH

Kampala- The new Uganda Revenue Authority Commissioner General, Ms Doris Akol, will have to hit the ground running after the government set her a stiff target to accomplish within her four-year reign at the helm of the tax body.

Within four years, Ms Akol is expected to raise local revenue contribution to the national budget from the current Shs9 trillion to Shs14 trillion by 2018.
Whereas the total projected revenue for the 2014/15 financial year is Shs15 trillion, URA is expected to contribute Shs9 trillion.

This means for each new financial year, URA will have to raise its collections target by Shs1.2 trillion under Ms Akol—a tall order seeing that her predecessor, Ms Allen Catherine Kagina, has grappled with such targets during her 10-year tenure at the helm of URA.

Regional tax collection
Uganda’s tax contribution to the GDP is among the lowest in the region compared to Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania. All the three neighbours have their tax to GDP ratio at above 15 per cent, with Kenya’s 25 per cent being the highest. Gross Domestic Product or GDP is the total value of goods and services produced by a country.

Part of Uganda’s problem has been a non-expanding revenue base with the formal sector shouldering most of the taxes. The informal sector, seen to be raking in billions in profits, has escaped most of the tax regimes.

Unveiling Ms Akol in Kampala yesterday, Finance minister Miria Kiwanuka noted that the new head of the tax body will be pre-occupied with increasing the tax base and collecting taxes for development which every financial year shoots up by at least a trillion shilling. “I wish to congratulate Ms Doris Akol and assure her of full government support as she strives to improve domestic revenue mobilisation. We hope that she will increase the revenue ratio to 16 per cent over the next four years,” Ms Kiwanuka said.

She continued: “This will further enhance our goal to self-finance more of our recurrent expenditure and leverage our development needs under our national budget process.”

And for that to happen, Ms Kiwanuka said Uganda Revenue Authority must be able to reach the masses whom she urged to cooperate with the tax body through promptly honouring their tax obligations.
The minister said measures such as availing the population with national identification will help the government identify more people to be recruited into the tax bracket.

Ms Kiwanuka also said infrastructure development like rural electrification and roads will boost development of small and medium size enterprises which will create more jobs and revenue.

Akol’s pledge
Ms Akol thanked her predecessor, Ms Kagina, whom she credit for laying a strong foundation.

“I will continue building on it (the foundation) and take URA to another level. I will continue with the policy of efficiency in tax collection and identifying the areas where there is weakness and closing the gaps,” she said.

About her successor, Ms Kagina said: “I have hope in her and I have no doubt that she is a dedicated employee who does her work professionally.”

URA was established by a statute of Parliament in 1991 and set up in September of the same year as a central body for the assessment and collection of specified revenue, to administer and enforce the laws relating to such revenue and to provide for related matters.

AKOL, THE STAR LAW STUDENT

If there is one opinion that foes and friends share about the new URA commissioner general is her undisputable sense of professionalism.
Across board, Ms Doris Akol is regarded as a consummate professional, an attribute that watchers say should help her fulfill her most critical task—widen the tax base.

The old student of Nakasero Primary School, Mt St Mary’s Namagunga and Nabisunsa Girls Secondary School, has worked at the tax body for 19 years. She joined the URA after serving a short stint at PricewaterhouseCoopers.

In a brief interview with the Daily Monitor yesterday, the 44-year-old mother said: “This is my 19th year with URA. But if you remove the times I have been away doing my studies and other management/professional courses then it means I have been with URA for the last 17 years.”

It has been a 19-year journey that saw her rise from a legal officer to commissioner of legal services and board affairs and now commissioner general. At university, Ms Akol studied law at Makerere University, graduating in 1993 with the honour of appearing on the Dean’ List—a mark of excelling students.

If there is a feat that has made her tenure as legal affairs boss of URA stand out so far, it is the epic victory that she led the tax body to against two major oil companies—Heritage and Tullow.

By helping the tax body to victory over the oil firms, Ms Akol ensured that Uganda would gain potentially from both cases, a total of $800,000,000 but importantly ensure that foreign investors who come to Uganda to invest do pay their fair share of legal and lawful taxes.

One person who is full of praise for Ms Akol is her immediate boss and now predecessor, Ms Allen Kagina. She describes her successor as professional, dedicated and efficient.

Ms Jackie Asiimwe-Mwesige, a civil society activist, who shared a room with Ms Akol at the Law Development Centre, describes her as hardworking and meticulous.
“And she is a brainy to boot! The promotion is truly well deserved,” said Ms Asiimwe-Mwesige.

According to the Executive Director of the East African School of Taxation, Mr Godfrey Akena, the new commissioner general is a principled professional.
He said: “You will never get a principled lawyer who is also so knowledgeable about tax laws like her.”

Mr Akena says Ms Akol’s biggest challenge will be to widen the tax base and bring in more of the informal sector into the tax fold—considering the profits the sector mints.

It is a task Mr Akena says can be achieved through collaboration with other government agencies like the KCCA and Uganda Registration Services Bureau, an effort that is already underway.

Kampala City Traders Association Chairman Everest Kayondo—whose constituency will be an obvious target of Ms Akol, says she should use sensitisation rather than coercion in her new role.

For a woman who won the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators Ralph Bell Prize in June 2008, was named the recipient of the Uganda Law Society’s Best Female In-house Lawyer of the Year 2014 and has just graduated from URA’s in-house leadership programme Fired Up for Excellent Leadership, Ms Akol seems ready for the task ahead.
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