Private sector cries ‘heard’ as EAC harmonises taxes

The East African Community could next year start harmonising some taxes, including value added tax (VAT), excise duty and withholding tax.

The East African Community could next year start harmonising some taxes, including value added tax (VAT), excise duty and withholding tax.

EAC Secretary-General Richard Sezibera, who was addressing the second East African Secretary-General’s annual meeting in Nairobi, Kenya, said while there is no big gap in terms of percentages charged among member states, there is still need to harmonise the procedures and process and through which the taxes are arrived at.

“The need to harmonise that some of these taxes arise from the fact we are fast-tracking free movement of goods and services within the region and this can only happen when taxes that actually hinder this movement have been harmonised,” Dr Sezibera said. 

Angelo Musinguzi, a tax manager at auditing firm KPMG and a consultant on tax issues at the Private Sector Federation, said the EAC integration process, especially on the single customs territory, will face challenges if partner states do not move in quickly to harmonise some of the taxes.

“I know it will be hard for partner states to let go of some of these sources of revenues used to facilitate their budgets, but it’s the hard reality if we are to make any progress in integration,” he said.

According to Musinguzi, even a light difference in tax variation across member states could delay the entire process if a partner state is not willing to sacrifice that percentage.

 While in Kenya VAT is 16 per cent, in Rwanda and Uganda it is 18 per cent, with some partner states charging as much as 15 per cent of exercise duty. This, according to Musinguzi, could be a source of contention when it comes to harmonisation of the process.

Hannington Namara, the chief executive of Private Sector Federation, said harmonising taxes must address a variety of concerns, including tax compliance.

Double taxes

Namara   said while, for example, there is almost total tax compliance in Rwanda, it is not the case is some member states.

“The Secretariat must find a way to address tax compliance across the board, deal with tax exemptions and tax avoidance, among others,” Namara said.

Some traders who attended the meeting complained that the issue of double taxation is not being addressed.

“We are still  being double-taxed. After paying taxes, say in Uganda, Kenya Revenue Authority will still charge you withholding tax, which is unfair,” trader said.

The 2013 World Bank ‘Doing Business’ report 2013 indicated that Rwanda leads the region in tax compliance, ranking  25th out of 185 countries surveyed globally. Uganda follows at 93rd, then Tanzania at 133rd, Burundi at 137th, with Kenya trails at position 164th.

EAC has a lower average total tax rate at 42.2 per cent profit than Southern African Development Community (52.2 per cent). Comesa has an average tax rate of 65.1 per cent, higher than for overall sub-Saharan Africa (57.8 per cent).