Right from biblical times, tax collectors are neither highly regarded people, nor are they folks to be associated with.
They have earned all sorts of distasteful names because of collecting tax from unwilling people. They are hated because of the crudeness and cruelty with which they collect tax.
But this is not the impression you get from Doris Akol, the new commissioner general of Uganda Revenue Authority (URA).
On Thursday, Doris, with a team of officials, spent 61 minutes at The Observer, partly to get to know the people who run this media house but also to explain how she intended to discharge her duties.
The bespectacled, soft-spoken lady is an engaging speaker. Amid the difficult task of explaining the role of URA in national development, came the instant and natural smiles. She has a careful choice of words that would leave willful opponents converted.
When asked what she intended to do to make paying taxes not to look like a punitive exercise, Doris disarmed us: “Of course, I am aware that some people have a problem with the way we have been approaching them for taxes. But at times we have to help some people to pay taxes,’ she said, to a thunderous laughter of those in The Observer boardroom.
We all instinctively knew what she meant. She said this in reference to their determination to enforce compliance. The only difference, she said, compliance would be done with a ‘human’ face. It is this fusion of humour and seriousness that makes her an enigmatic winner.
Human face has many interpretations but the easiest to discern is the possibility of a taxpayer struggling to explain hisher case to the revenue officers without the fear of hisher business being shut down without a fair hearing. It is this fear and perhaps lack of knowledge about URA procedures that has previously compelled some taxpayers to resort to unhelpful means like bribing officers in order to ‘hide’ the file.
Apart from being a crime, bribery has its other shortcomings. The unscrupulous officers can turn a victim into a cash-cow, for which only the officer benefits but the defaulter postpones the problem: when this arrangement fails, blackmail usually sets in. Ultimately, he who has been giving sweeteners to officers loses.
Doris is not going to bulldoze people or draw guns at them to pay tax but – she calmly made it clear – neither is she going to fold her arms to those who intentionally evade paying tax. Her agenda is to simply aance URA. This means action on every perceivable front. She has plans to woo wealthy farmers to feel obliged to contribute to the national purse.
She does not believe that the easy targets, those in formal employment, should shoulder the tax burden alone. She says if church leaders can ask their congregations to contribute something to their church – and they do it willingly – why can’t ordinary income-earners contribute something that can be used to build or replenish hospitals with drugs?
In order to expand the tax base, as is the demand of every taxpayer now, she intends to borrow some ideas (tricks) from these religious leaders who, for long time, have managed to convince their followers to pay their tithe without question.
Yes, people often ask: why pay tax when there is no accountability in form of classic services? Some public servants have made it a habit to sever part of the national purse and take it as their pocket change. But you have to sympathise with URA their job is to collect and not to dictate how money is used.
A lot is spent on politics, especially maintaining public administration. We have an army of resident district commissioners and their assistants. Both Cabinet and Parliament are undeservingly huge – meaning more money is spent to maintain them and their offices.
But all these taken into consideration, Doris maintains not all is in vain. People can still go Mulago and get the basic service, she said. The roads are being made with significant contribution from taxes. And she has a mission to try to inform the public where tax-money is being spent. Doris exudes hope and I am tempted to believe that there couldn’t have been a better choice for this job.
And trust her eagle’s eye. As we wrapped up our discussion and tour of the premises, she inquired: “You don’t have any lady in top management?” I scurried around like a chased rat to fish Carolyne Nakazibwe, our human resource director. And before long, Doris was in the corridors to exchange pleasantries with her.
And that is when the penny dropped that – actually – she had been reading Carlolyne’s Sex Talk. Doris, you have a herculean task ahead of you. Some people say the media either makes or breaks you: I don’t buy that view.
In most cases, we are undone by our own faults as human beings and the media only amplifies the blunders. If I ever wrote something critical of you, don’t take umbrage.
I will not make it my mission to fish for your faults but it is my duty to point out URA’s blunders at least to ensure that they are not repeated! Don’t imagine, then, that some opponent of yours has hired me to tarnish you. Good luck to you and your team at URA!
Twitter: @piuskm The author is the finance director, The Observer Media Ltd.
Source : The Observer