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AG’s report erodes remaining trust in fight against corruption

Recently, the Auditor General’s (AG) report for Financial Year 2018/2019 outlined alarming financial losses at different government offices.

The AG’s report shows that poor coordination between government ministries, agencies and departments continues to cost Ugandans billions in revenue. However, if government institutions were effectively functioning and following best practices, the losses could be easily avoided, and more taxes could also be collected by Uganda Revenue Authority (URA).

Although the report faults many government agencies, the emphasis seems to be more URA. There is an impression created that URA is performing below target in revenue collection and it is unclear why several government offices are failing to adequately remit payments to URA.

There is suspicion that corrupt accounting officers, who are benefiting for personal gain, have chosen not to follow the Public Finance and Accounting Regulations. The AG’s report identifies different high loss areas, case of uncollected taxes and compromised government procurement process. First is Shs54 billion that was never collected due to non-coordination between URA and the Gaming Board. Second is Shs393.8 billion that was never collected due to failure by URA to access the Integrated Financial Information Management System. Third was that National Information Technology Authority-Uganda and Uganda Electricity Transmission Company Limited were building identical infrastructure on the same routes, such as in Kampala, Malaba, Mbarara, Kasese, Tororo and Karuma.

This, therefore, duplicates investment among government entities, thereby increasing expenditure and maintenance costs. The AG’s report implies that tax was collected, but it was not received by URA. In other words, the money disappeared within government offices.

If large amounts of money did not reach URA, why are the culprits not being brought to book? The anti-corruption agencies seem not to have paid much attention to the AG’s report. It is possible that the information of on the losses will simply be filed away, ignored and left to gather dust.

According to URA commissioner general Doris Akol, for July to December 2019, net revenue collected was of Shs9 trillion and posted a growth in revenue of 11.15 per cent compared to the same period FY 2018/2019. However, in line with the AG’s report, the revenue collection was much less than the half year expected target of Shs9.7 trillion, being short by Shs697 billion.

Since it is generally accepted that corruption undermines economic growth, in this day and age many countries around the world, including South Africa, Botswana, and Chile are using technology to implement tougher measures and in some cases overhauling government ministries where corrupt officials cause financial loss.

However in Uganda, officials have managed to beat anti-corruption efforts put in place by government and financial haemorrhaging continues. Since the digitisation and use of biometric technology of some government processes and procedures, Ugandans had hoped that electronic taxation and improved methods of work would reduce corruption. They were wrong.

The assumption has always been that the more tax collected without losses, government would in turn be able to spend more on its people to cater for the poor and vulnerable in society. However, the AG’s report doesn’t give citizens much motivation or confidence in government institutions since public trust is being met by an insatiable appetite for corruption by public servants.

This article was originally published on the Ugandan Monitor.


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