It is no surprise that a country with the most conducive environment to start and operate a business enterprise can also have the highest tax compliance rate, because paying taxes is part of doing business.
According World Bank Doing Business in the East African Community (EAC) report for 2013, Rwanda has the highest tax compliance rate in the region—meaning fewer Rwandans and their businesses are likely to evade paying taxes.
Taxation is as old as the state because wherever state authority exists, taxes must be paid by the people as there is no government that can function without taxes.
Paying taxes is therefore an obligation that every citizen must undertake so as to pool together resources a government uses to plan and deliver services for the common good.
This is important because citizens cannot individually build their own roads, schools and hospitals or take care of their own security. These are state functions.
Out of 185 countries surveyed globally, Rwanda is ranked number 25 in tax compliance. This means that not only is the country having the best tax compliance rate in the region, but also among the top 25 countries in the world where citizens see paying taxes as a civic duty.
This sense of responsibility to the nation among Rwandan tax payers did not come on a silver plate. It is a result of mainly two things. The first one is an arguably fair and efficient tax regime that the Rwanda Revenue Authority (RRA) has built over time.
One of the major characteristics of a good tax regime is the relative ease with which taxpayers can meet their obligations without any hassle or unnecessary red tape.
The RRA has invested heavily in the process of easing payment of taxes through innovations such as electronic payment. For example, it is possible these days for accountants to file VAT returns for their companies electronically from the comfort of their offices without the need to travel to RRA offices.
A taxpayer can now declare and pay taxes online through the e-filing and e-payment system by simply downloading a form from RRA website, fill in and send it to RRA by email. Several banks now receive electronic tax payments on behalf of RRA.
The second reason tax compliance is highest in Rwanda has much to do with accountability of the leadership.
Naturally, individual and business entities don’t like paying taxes because it is seen as a cost and sometimes as burdensome. Yet for citizens to willingly pay taxes, they expect to see returns in form of tangible services.
Through a clear budgeting process that sets priorities, the ministry of finance has been able to show Rwandans how their money is spent. Ordinary people may not understand such abstract concepts such as 7.5 per cent GDP growth, rising per capita incomes and declining inflation. However, they care very much about tangible things—medicine in hospitals, paved roads, bursaries for needy university students, electricity and water.
Those in rural areas who live on agriculture care about water to irrigate gardens when drought hits, fertilizers and agricultural extension services.
Therefore, through successful programmes such as ‘one cow per Poor family, eradication of Nyakatsi (grass-thatched houses), increased access to clean water, medical and education services that resulted in more than one million more Rwandans emerging out of abject poverty last year, the government has been able to provide full accountability to the people.
Rwandans therefore have every reason to pay taxes because there is evidence of how the money is spent at the end of every financial year with new roads being built, streets being swept every day, new water projects coming up etc.
With a fair and simple tax payment system under an accountable leadership, the motivation to pay tax and contribute to national development is always high. It is a lesson that should be learned by all who aspire for leadership.
The writer is a journalist based in Kigali