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KRA must harmonise its records

COMMENTARY
By Tania Ngima | January 19th 2017

There are some emails that strike terror and panic in our hearts. Complaints from clients, reprimand letters, disciplinary actions, the list goes on.

But very close to the top of the ‘dread list’ is one from the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA). Sometimes, with bated breath, you open the email and discover it is something routine, like a withholding certificate.

Other times though, you find a reminder notice like the one I got last week and you feel hot, cold and nauseous at the same time.

Images of recovery and agency notices flit through your mind and before you can say ‘tax’, your blood pressure has shot through the roof and you are at the verge of a heart attack.

First, the back story. When the deadline for filing 2015 returns came around I was out of the country. Two weeks prior to the deadline, I had been trying to log onto the I-tax portal with my credentials in vain, thanks to some inconsistency between my ID number and what the records held.

So I tried to resolve the discrepancy the old-fashioned way, via phone. Because there was the Atlantic and an eight hour difference between my location and Kenya time, my mornings entailed waking up at 2am to call various numbers listed on the KRA site.

On the second week of steadily rising desperation and what I presumed was an overwhelmed IT department, I gave up and decided to explore other communication options. Incidentally, it took fewer days, amidst some trouble shooting to get resolution via Twitter.

Interestingly, I thought, the antediluvian had finally joined us in the 21st century. By this time though I was knee deep in travel across various states and very mortified, I missed the filing deadline by a couple of days. I mentally budgeted a late filing fee into my expenditure.

This is where things get interesting.

After I completed my returns, I received the acknowledgement, indicating that the revenue authority owed me a refund. This was expected, though I was not holding my breath waiting for the credit in my bank account.

I have represented larger organizations in following up hundreds of millions worth of refunds that amount to nothing more than promises so, as we say in Kiswahili, ‘sembuse mimi’? Maybe one day KRA will actually see it fit to surprise me with an early Christmas gift. Stranger things have happened.

Scarcely an hour later, I got another notification – a payment defaulter notice claiming I owed KRA two times the amount of my refund. Now, if you have been fortunate enough to never receive one of these, it has a note of finality etched on it.

The notice contains no details, no breakdown of the amount it is alleged you owe and no apologies. It simply states the amount and if you have not fainted by the time you get half-way down the page, indicates that failure to pay attracts collection enforcement measures.

I have been in the industry and I know what enforcement measures mean, it is nothing to look forward to.

Now, I had heard stories of people claiming to have acquaintances who received default notices running into hundreds of thousands of shillings but until it happens to you it all sounds like a distant and detached joke.

When I finally, on my usual 2a.m time slot got through to the KRA offices, I was given what I thought was a logical explanation. Apparently, sometimes the system is not updated with remittances, especially of taxes deducted at source like income tax.

Therefore, I was asked to give time for records to be updated, which I had no problem doing. To be on the safe side, I sent through all my P9s and any other relevant documents to aid in speeding up this process.

It seems though, that my emails went into a black hole. Remember that this was back in July 2016, but the period for which the taxes related to was January to December 2015. A few days ago, I got another default notice.

Thankfully, this time I was in the country so I hastened and made my way to the Forodha House offices. Other than the fact that 70 percent of the parking lot was empty but you still have to park in some decrepit space down the road, because as the guards say ‘hizi ni za wenyewe’, the rest of my visit was unsurprising.

So, KRA officials, I am curious. It is over 12 months after the 2015 financial year. You’re still sending us default notices and throwing us into panic mode over records that you have not updated.

Why, then, impress the importance of us filing our returns if our feedback does not trigger updating records to completion?

Shall I also start sending you demand notices for an aggregate of the money that you owe me (which at least I can explain the composition of), my elevated blood pressure and the multiple phone calls and visits I have to make to your offices?

And what is the point of having an online system if there are still so many components to it?

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