Thursday, April 29, 2010
MANDARINS FIND ICT HARD GOING
A section of government fat cats gathered at the Norfolk yesterday on invitation by the World Bank and Treasury, ostensibly to showcase strides they have made in the past year in reforming the way business is done in Kenya.
As you can imagine, most of it dwelt on use of information and communication technologies to streamline government operations. Bureaucracy in the people's government is usually the first and most frustrating barrier to doing business.
The taxman was there as well as Kenya Ports Authority. Newly-crowned champion of ministries, the AG's office was there to showcase their progress in computerizing company registration. Lands and the Nairobi City Council made up the remaining numbers.
KRA had some interesting proposals. For starters they want big companies to start filing their corporate taxes online. Uptake has been slow but training is ongoing to show firms how to pay Ceasar's dues via internet. The KRA officer did not say if they have also automated the VAT refund claim process.
For mom and pop-type businesses known by the cliche SMEs, KRA wants them to pay their taxes by M-PESA/ZAP. SMEs have to pay a turnover tax at 3 per cent of their gross revenues.
Another is the single billing system for clients who pay multiple taxes. Traditionally, companies have to physically visit different windows sometimes on different floors to file their taxes. With a new single billing system, a taxpayer can file at one point and get their balance thus saving time.
Still on automation, STate Law Office has digitized company records so the process of doing a company search will no longer require assistance from the broker-types who normally hover around Sheria House.
KPA on the other hand talked of what it calls the National Single Window System to allow importers to clear their goods at one place. Typically, you have to invest in a motorbike to run your documents from KPA to Kenya Bureau of Standards to KEPHIS, Port Health etc etc. Cabinet approval will see the software to integrate all these bodies into one system.
Lands was in for a hiding. After the lands officer presented a paper showing that Ardhi House was now digitizing records to make it easier for filing of applications, a lawyer present protested loudly.
"Practically nothing has changed," charged the lawyer. To renew a lease on land, he said, one needed to start three years before the actual expiry otherwise the process takes so long that you risk finding yourself a squatter on your own land.
Apparently, corruption is so rife that when you ask for your application, you are always told that the file is on the minister's desk.
Also coming in for berating was the City Council. Again it was noted that once a building permit is given, planning officers rarely follow up to inspect the works progress and when complaints about a builder are raised with City Hall, the complainant is asked to bring the name of the culprit.
City Hall was asked to style up and reduce the approval process time from 30 days to about 3 days.