The Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) has kicked off celebrations to mark the tax body’s Silver Jubilee themed “25 Years of Building the Nation”.

URA was established by an act of parliament on the September 15, 1991 to collect central government revenue and facilitate trade in Uganda. On September 15, the tax body would make 25 years in existence.

URA Commissioner General Doris Akol today kick-started the festivities spelling out URA’s journey, highlighting some of the successes and challenges and unveiled the URA at 25 logo.

Akol said prior to the establishment of URA, tax administration was characterized by a number of challenges such as bureaucratic processes, high domestic tax rates and tariffs on international trade and extensive discretionary powers of the finance minister to grant specific exemptions.

The Commissioner General said with the establishment of URA as an independent statutory authority, it was able to be flexible in regard to organizational structure, staffing, salaries and incentives, procurement and budgeting, major prerequisites for organizational and procedural changes in tax reform and administration.

Akol said one of the major changes was the appointment of internally groomed Commissioner Generals, starting with Allen Kagina and herself, as well as other internally groomed managers. She said in the beginning 60 percent of URA staff were also expatriates, a situation that has since been reversed.

The first Commissioner General of URA was a Ghanaian, Edward Odame Larbi Siaw. He was succeeded by a Ugandan Elly Rwakakooko sourced externally. Rwakakooko was succeeded by Annebrit Aslund before Allen Kagina took the reins and now Doris Akol.

According to Akol, a number of reforms in tax policy, simplification of tax systems and reduction of performance obstacles and inefficiencies in tax administration have been made over the years, improving tax collection.

In terms of revenue performance, Akol said net revenue has grown from 180.4 billion Shillings in 1991/92 to 11.2 trillion Shillings in 2015/16.

On process management and systems, Akol said URA has been transformed into a client-centric organization that is highly automated with a lot of self-service products, adding that 90 percent of the tax body’s processes have been re-engineered and automated.

She said URA has also moved from manual cash-based systems of revenue collection in 1991/92 to revenue collections being done by commercial banks and mobile money and online platforms with collected revenue transferred to the consolidated fund in Bank of Uganda every two days and revenue bank account reconciled in real-time.

The Commissioner-General also revealed that the tax body has transitioned from multiple service points to single ones such as the one-stop shops for taxpayer registration enhancement programme and one-stop border posts which enable government border agencies of two given countries involved in clearance of goods to operate under one roof.

Currently four open-stop border posts are at Busia, Malaba, Mutukula and Mirama Hills.

Akol said the festivities, which include, among others, thanksgiving prayers, appreciation of taxpayers and exhibitions, will culminate in a grand award ceremony on September 30th.
URA’s Commissioner for Customs Field Services, Stephen Magera, said one of the biggest challenges over the years has been smuggling, that is why they had to use a lot of physical solutions including using the armed forces.

 
To combat the sophistication in tax evasion and avoidance, Magera said they are investing heavily in building the capacity of their staff to be on top of the game. Magera also highlighted other challenges as illicit trade especially in animal parts, tax mis-invoicing and low tax knowledge.

Protazio Begumisa, the Commissioner for Compliance Management, said gone are the days when the public viewed URA as a den of thieves. He said a recent report by Transparency International ranked URA as Number 2 of revenue bodies and other agencies in East Africa.