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Kagina: How We Healed the Corruption Cancer at URA

CORONAVIRUS UPDATE

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Mrs Allen Kagina is serving her last days as Commissioner General (CG)at Uganda Revenue Authority. She will be handing over to another CG at the end of this month,  having declined renewal of her contract in July.

She quits after dedicating 22 years of her life to tax administration at URA, 10 of these as the Commissioner General.

The tax body has seen in her ten-year tenure, tremendous achievements, earning her massive praises locally and regionally and from her boss President Yoweri Museveni.

For instance URA has in the 10 years raised tax collections by 317 percent to last year’s Sh 8.05 trillion, and also increased tax contribution to the national budget to 85 percent up from 54 percent in 2004.

The tax body now enjoys a much broader tax base, enhanced tax compliance, administrative efficiency, extensive personnel expertise, and growing confidence amongst the population.

As she bows out, Kagina last Thursday shared bit by bit how she managed this immense turnaround of the Tax Authority at their 8th Annual Open Minds Forum at the Kampala Serena.

She recounted joining the URA in November 1992, a sickly and one of the worst reputed government institutions of the time.

“At that time we used to sit at Ministry of Finance and there was this room called the ‘Long room’ which most tax payers called the ‘wrong room,’ because almost everything in there was wrong,” she recalled.

“The services were dead inefficient, with crowds of clearing agents pressing in, everything was manual, we were being begged to serve the people. Corruption was part of URA’s identity, poor training, revenue collections so low that government had to borrow internally and externally to provide services to the people.”

She says time came when the whole country was fed up with URA, compelling government formulate the famous (Justice Julia) Sebutinde Commission into the tax body.

The long inquiry which implicated a number of bigwigs including the former URA boss Elly Rwakakoko, was however challenged in court and ultimately expunged.

This, Kagina says, was a major setback: “We went through almost a year of a stressful inquiry. What was the essence of the commission then? Perhaps by throwing the voluminous report away, the judiciary was sending us to die.”

Another report however was conducted by a team from IMF which made extensive recommendations that resulted in the 2004 reforms commanded by Kagina.

Unaware of what the future held, Kagina says she immediately commenced what she termed as “shock treatment,” to the diseased URA, which came in form of reorganization and restructuring.

The shock medicine would do away with URA’s previous long structure, countless reporting levels and redundant administrative posts.

“We needed to stop behaving like a bureaucratic enforcer and start behaving like a business,” she noted at the Forum.

“We therefore flattened the structure so that decisions would be made easily. We also did away with some ‘permanent and pensionable’ people, reduced the size of administration and after this we saw revenues just shot up.”

Reengineering

Kagina notes that the old URA was also clogged up with long and numerous procedures spelt out in government policies, which actually served no purpose.

“We looked out for all these procedures, cut out all that was no longer relevant to tax administration. We eliminated signatures because they were a source of inefficiency and corruption. And with signatures went power. We devolved all power to the lowest tax administrators (Tax Officers) and the role of the rest of us top managers would be supervision.”

Rebranding

The long dead reputation of the Tax Authority also needed healing, because it was destroying compliance.

“Our image was bad out there. We needed to make people forget about our past, so we gave ourselves a new logo, carefully selecting out new colours (yellow and blue). Ugandans are so political you know!”

Thereafter, URA intensified its workers’ expertise, increasing the body’s training budget from Sh 200m in 2004, to the current Shs5 bn.

“We also opened ourselves up for public scrutiny and built a number of relations with other government agencies, private companies, and the media, security organs and most of our successes have been because of these friendships. “

On October 31, Kagina is confident she will be handing over URA at a better place.

She noted, “The stage is set now, the staff is professional, well equipped, systems are running, everything automated, we have people’s trust, and I believe that URA will become bigger and better”

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