Inside KRA's elite paramilitary unit to nab traders dodging taxes

A section of the newly deployed Revenue Service Assistants (RSAs). [File, Standard]

The National Treasury has now revealed why the newly deployed operatives of the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) received paramilitary training at one of the most prestigious military schools in Kenya before being dispatched to nab tax cheats.

KRA said recently the 1,406 personnel known as Revenue Service Assistants (RSAs) have been deployed across the country to boost tax compliance amid mounting concerns from a section of traders and businessmen.

This week, Treasury Cabinet Secretary Njuguna Ndung’u gave more insights into how the new special unit was conceived.

He also explained why the new unit got elite paramilitary training from Kenya’s special forces and the special roles it will undertake in nabbing tax cheats and rogue traders who evade taxes.

The 1,406 Revenue Service Assistants underwent military-grade training at the elite Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) Recruits Training School in Eldoret From June 20 to August 25 this year.

The training, approved by the military, underscores the lengths the Kenya Kwanza government is going to equip KRA personnel to enforce tax compliance.

KRA has perennially missed tax targets and is under pressure to seal revenue leaks against the backdrop of higher collection targets set by the government.

Paramilitary training may not include shooting with guns but incorporates military elements akin to a conventional army.

The recruits under the paramilitary training were subjected to rigorous non-combat paramilitary training for two months.

A paramilitary is an organisation whose structure, tactics, training, and sub-culture are similar to those of a professional military, but which is not part of a country’s official or legitimate armed forces.

KRA reckons the new elite unit of “fit as a fiddle mostly young men and women” will help the tax man boost compliance levels, especially among informal traders where compliance has remained a major challenge over the years, The Standard has learnt.

“The role of a Revenue Service Assistant is purely field enforcement and intelligence gathering and management to detect, deter and ‘stem’ tax evasion,” Prof Ndung’u told Parliament this week.

“Since it is a fieldwork role, it requires physical fitness and alertness for swift and tactical skills, hence the RSA programme had a dimension of paramilitary training for effective policing intervention against VAT and Excise tax leakages.”

The CS said KRA reached out to the Kenyan military to “develop fit and alert operatives.”

Treasury Cabinet Secretary Njuguna Ndung'u. [Edward Kiplimo, Standard]

“This is the first time the Authority is undertaking such a programme and hence collaborated with National Defence Forces to successfully rollout the programme,” said Prof Ndung’u.

“In this regard, the Authority complied with the requirements set by the paramilitary trainers for the health and safety of the RSAs.”

Part of the requirements was a medical assessment to ascertain if the trainees were fit for the vigorous paramilitary training. Upon medical assessment, any candidate found not fit for the training was, therefore, not enrolled for the training, revealed Prof Ndung’u.

The offer to train as a Revenue Service Assistant given to the operatives was subject to successful on-boarding assessment and subsequent background check among other conditions.

Medical fitness was a prerequisite for admission to the training, said the CS. Medical assessment was conducted as prescribed by the KDF regulations on paramilitary training.

The taxman earlier in the week backed the rollout of the new personnel to boost tax compliance amid rising jitters from a section of traders and businessmen.

Some traders in Nairobi’s commercial hubs had in interviews with The Standard accused the newly deployed personnel of harassment.

But in a statement, KRA said this week the personnel have been deployed across the country to allow for a “more facilitative approach with taxpayers.”

“The field officers are part of KRA’s reforms initiative aimed at enhancing productivity and culture, in order to deliver quality and friendlier services to taxpayers,” said KRA.

“The field officers have been equipped with knowledge and skills to handle tax-related processes through a capacity building programme comprising KRA core values and tax modules.”

The new Kenya Kwanza administration had earlier vowed that KRA would end its controversial aggressive pursuit of tax cheats marked by raids on premises by its officers and property auctions.

A section of the newly recruited revenue service assistants during their pass-out parade in Eldoret on August 25, 2023. [Courtesy)

President William Ruto and his deputy Rigathi Gachagua had promised that the taxation system under their leadership would be reformed to ensure “fairness” and “equity,” adding that all potential taxpayers would be brought on board in a bid to expand the tax base and boost compliance.

“We will make KRA more professional, efficient, responsive and people friendly,” President Ruto said.

Signalling an overhaul of KRA, DP Gachagua had further said the tax agency would end its aggressive actions in enhancing compliance. “We want a good working environment where we don’t criminalise enterprise,” he said.

KRA said last Monday the new officers have been deployed at tax service offices across the country and will support taxpayers in updating the correct details on their iTax profiles and registration of trading businesses that are not registered with KRA.

It added this includes the addition of applicable obligations, verification of details such as location, and contact information and support of taxpayers to comply with other tax regulations.

“KRA remains committed to supporting all taxpayers in their compliance journey and encourages the public to interact with the field officers and let them know how they can be of assistance,” said the taxman.

Traders had earlier faulted KRA’s aggressive pursuit of suspected tax cheats marked by the raids on premises and property auctions.

KRA had earlier hinged its aggressive action on the Tax Procedures Act, which empowers it to seek taxes directly from third parties like banks, employers and suppliers as well as seize and auction property to recover unpaid tax.

The taxman is tightening the noose on taxpayers after Ruto set a target to double tax collections by the end of his first term in 2027.

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