When the Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) and tax family gather at their Nakawa headquarters on September 15, there will be many milestones to celebrate. September 15, 2016 marks 25 years since inception of URA, having been established by an act of Parliament in 1991 to collect central government revenue and facilitate trade in Uganda.
Prior to the establishment of URA, tax administration was characterized by a number of challenges that included bureaucratic processes, high domestic tax rates and tariffs on international trade, and, extensive discretionary powers to the Minister of Finance to grant specific exemptions.
Since then, URA has radically changed the way top management is appointed with focus on local talent. The authority has restructured, re-branded and has focused on the simplification of tax systems and reduction of performance obstacles. This has resulted in much more revenue collected.
Net Revenue growth has risen from sh180.46 billion in 1991/92 to sh11.23 trillion in 2015/16. The tax to GDP ratio growth from 6.97% in FY 1991/92 to 12.87% in FY 2015/16 with URA’s target being 16% by the year 2020.
URA Commissioner General Doris Akol on Tuesday briefed the press about the coming month-long Silver Jubilee celebrations and outlined the authority’s achievements.
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. She said the dominant tax policy reforms during the last 25 years have been related to tax rates and thresholds leading to harmonization of tax laws and rationalization of tax rates and tariffs within the region.
In custom enforcement, Akol said URA has since evolved from having a militarised Anti – Smuggling Unit, then the Revenue protection Services to the current civilian and intelligence based Customs Enforcement function while at the regional level, it has been a key part of the introduction of the Single Customs Territory (SCT) procedure that has reduced clearance time from 18 days to 4-6 days from Mombasa to Malaba/Busia.
“I thank all the loyal taxpayers, who have consistently remitted their taxes and embraced voluntary compliance as part of their civic duty,” Akol concluded.
Akol hailed the transformation that started with URA’s first Commissioner General Edward Odame Larbi Siaw from Ghana, to Uganda’s own Elly Rwakakooko and then Allen Kagina.
“Top management during the early 90’s comprised over 60% expatriate staff. URA has moved from employing expatriate staff in its top management to employing Ugandan internally resourced and produced Commissioner Generals,” Akol told the press, adding that “the leadership programs like Fired Up for Excellent Leadership (FUEL) for Senior Management and Getting Equipped and Reinforced (GEAR) for line managers have enabled URA groom in-house leaders.”
From manual cash based systems of revenue collections in 1991, URA has moved to revenue collections, processes and transactions being done by commercial banks, mobile money, internet based banking, and also with financial intermediaries like PayWay.
Akol said URA has transitioned from being a top heavy institution with 19 reporting layers in the structure, over 45 Management staff and about 2076 staff to a leaner flatter organisation with 7 reporting layers, 27 Management staff and just under 2438 staff.
The month-long celebrations of the URA Silver Jubilee under the theme “25 years of building the nation” will climax on September 30 with a grand awards ceremony.
Activities will include thank-you gestures to appreciate taxpayers for meeting their obligations, a Thanks-giving Day at Nakawa Headquarters on September 15, CSR day on September 20, a cocktail with big taxpayers September 23, a URA open exhibition September 26-30 and finally a grand award ceremony September 30.