Kenya: Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) shut the door on manual filing of tax returns on March 1 with the adoption of a new electronic tax management system.
Dubbed i-Tax, the system replaces the old legacy platform and makes it easier for taxpayers to access various services such as updating registration details, filing tax returns and making payments and enquiries about the status of their tax ledgers — from the comfort of their homes and offices.
i-Tax also provides an integrated view of a taxpayer including updated information such as county, employer, mobile phone contact, unique e-mail address and tax agent — crucial information that was not previously captured by the old system.
Understandably, the system upgrade is part of what KRA needs to increase efficiency, ensure better compliance with tax laws and end the winding queues that snake around tax payment centres every mid-month.
With a little modification, the i-Tax system would ably handle essential services including issuance of tax clearance certificates and driving licences.
It is with these expectations that the announcement of a system upgrade late last month was greeted. To the taxpayer, the new system means less man-hours spent on queuing to file tax returns and that one can retrieve their tax records at the click of a button.
However, the collapse of the system hours after the switch-on and inordinately long downtimes have cut short taxpayer celebrations. Several functions including application for PIN numbers, VAT, PAYE and withholding tax returns have either stalled, or are taking extraordinarily long to complete.
What ought to have been a seamless transition from manual to electronic filing has since turned into grief — with taxpayers making endless trips to KRA offices for inquiries on how to use the new system.
More surprising is the fact that some employees did not appear to know what was happening — they had neither news of the system nor did they understand the cause of frequent downtimes.
The situation made for an uncomfortable conversation between anxious taxpayers keen to beat the March 20 deadline and a bewildered staff not knowing what to say or how to help.
A few home truths would suffice here: The success of any tax system is how easy it is to comply with its regulations. Beyond making tax administration relatively easy, an effective tax system plays an even bigger role defining a country’s business environment.
No doubt KRA is working to ensure the system stabilises because it is a laudable effort at reducing waste in Government in line with the Government’s new agenda.
This being the case, there should be some recourse for taxpayers who fail to submit their returns on time.