How not to automate taxation processes
(This article was published today in the Daily Nation.)
I don’t particularly like the tax man, but reports that the Kenya Revenue Authority has improved in its revenue collection efforts in the last year find me with mixed feelings.
On the one hand, I feel choked because the tax burden is so heavy, but I readily accept that this is an emotional reaction.
On the other hand, one must feel glad that the government can now better sort out the big sectors that I need to make even more money, such as roads, water, electricity and the internet in my county.
On January 16, KRA was reported to have improved revenue collection thanks to the automation of its systems and processes “for improved decision making and information sharing.”
According to the report, the Simba System has automated the processes of cargo clearance (both on air and sea), taxpayer registration, returns processing, customer service, copy of records, payment of specific tax heads and tax clearance certificates.
While this is good news, efficiency is still elusive at KRA for its customers. Here is a real-life experience of a customer at KRA.
The customer, let’s call him Waithaka, goes to Times Towers to transfer ownership of a car. He is directed to a queue at counter 16, where the application for vehicle transfer needs to be approved.
The review of the application involves an officer leafing through the papers to ascertain they are in order and then writing the amount that should be paid.
This done, he is directed to queue at counter 13 or 14 to get an e-slip, which is printed out and given to him, with instructions to get photocopies, which he is to bring back, having paid the required amount.
Waithaka then proceeds to make the copies, returns to Time Towers and ascends to the National Bank of Kenya branch on the 5th floor, where he queues and makes the required payment.
He is advised at the bank to make a copy of the payment slip. Armed with the payment slip, its photocopy, the photocopy of the e-slip and the vehicle transfer papers that he started out with, Waithaka goes back to counter 13 or 14 (from where he got the e-slip), and leaves them with the officer at that counter. This process takes between one hour, 30 minutes and two hours.
This is where the KRA automation really kicks in, because within two weeks, Waithaka gets a new log-book for the car in the post.
We have, in the course of the preceding experience, seen signs of the automation (well, once in the printing of the e-slip) but it is clear that the automation of KRA in many respects has little to do with the taxpayer on a day-to-day basis, efficiently.
Some of these processes could be reviewed – even before the software comes to touch the public – by making sure the approval of the paperwork and the printing of the e-slip is done by one officer.
The e-slip is currently printed in landscape orientation in the middle of an A4 sheet of paper. Perhaps, they could change the printer settings to 2-in-1 printouts which would print two copies of the e-slip allowing the customer to simply tear the sheet in half.
In addition, payments can be done at the same time therefore saving the taxpayer – and KRA – time and money.
One of the most obvious benefits to KRA is that more people will come to transact business if they can do everything in half an hour or less.