Many districts in Northern Uganda have long struggled to generate local revenue depending mostly on the central government transfers, grants and donations from development partners.
Low staffing levels, inadequate resources and the manual process of collections are some of the challenges snowballing revenue leakages.
In 2020, 18 districts among them Zombo, managed to only mobilize a paltry 1.3% to finance their annual budgets. This was further dampened by the effects of COVID-19 pandemic.
In a bid to improve the situation, the United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) with financial support from the European Union under the Development Initiative for Northern Uganda (DINU) programme, provided IT equipment worth €163,000 to 18 districts in Northern Uganda in 2021 to support the automation of local revenue administration through the Integrated Revenue Administration System (IRAS).
Zombo District alone received €1.72 million overall support under DINU, a government programme supported by the European Union and supervised by Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), to enhance its local revenue collection and management.
As a result, the district, is making big strides having collected more than 100 percent of the projected local revenue, a feat that has since earned Zombo a model district status in the sub-region.
The district that barely collected Shs600 million as local revenue in the FY 2020/2021 from the projected Shs1.1billion using the manual system, by June 2021/22 FY had surpassed the projected Shs1.12 billion local revenue by Shs45 million after collecting Shs1.169 billion thanks to IRAS that was introduced in all the 11 sub-counties and four town councils.
Zombo District chairperson James Oruna Oyullu says the new IRAS is a magic-bullet to promotion of accountability in local revenue collection and management. He says the increased local revenue generated will support effective service delivery in the district.
“I want to thank DINU for the support they offered for us by providing required machines and motorcycles to the sub-counties. We are looking forward to better performance this financial year,” he says.
Town councils not left out
The town councils and sub-counties in Zombo have too registered exceptional local revenue collection performance as a result of IRAS.
At Zombo Town Council where the new system was introduced in the mid of 2021/22 FY, the council registered an increase of 39.1 percent (Shs12 million) up from Shs31.8 million in FY 2020/2021 to Shs44.2 million in the FY 2021/2022.
Rocks Angala Apenjonga, the senior assistant town clerk Zombo Town Council says, “We have really embraced the IRAS system because it has helped to improve our performance though we met a lot of resistance from the communities at the beginning and most of the town agents were framed of corruption and this system is a one stop center where one only enters the data of the taxpayer”.
Godwin Odubu, the town agent for Paleyo West Ward, Zombo Town Council who described the new system as successful and less hectic, applauds DINU for easing their work through using IRAS.
He, however, says lack of data bundles and poor network often hinders the effectiveness of their work where they are sometimes forced to charge the bundle cost on the taxpayers.
“Many times, taxpayers also fear to be registered for fear of being tracked by Uganda Revenue Authority and what we are doing now is to engage in massive sensitization of the taxpayers so that they can embrace tax payment using the new system where they are issued with instant receipts,” he says.
At Paidha Town Council, tremendous increase in local revenue was also registered where they collected Shs521m in FY 2021/2022 up from Shs420m in the FY 2020/202, according to Esmond Odota, the town clerk Paidha Town Council.
He says, despite some challenges experienced in the use of the IRAS system such as lack of data and Internet interruptions, the benefits outweigh the challenges and a reason they will embrace it even without the support of the development partners.