BURS re-engineers revenue collection


Having struggled to optimally deliver on its mandate over the past years, the Botswana Unified Revenue Service (BURS) has now embarked on a transformational agenda meant to improve the country’s tax system.

The transformation is designed to create long lasting sustainable improvement in the speed and quality of change within the revenue service.

BURS is responsible for the assessment and collection of tax revenues comprising: Capital Transfer Tax, Customs and Excise Duties, Income Tax, Value Added Tax and Fuel levy, as well as the administration of statutory controls of bonded warehouses, border posts and other points of entry.

Ken Morris, commissioner general of BURS acknowledged that the revenue collector has not efficiently delivered on its mandate citing challenges that include inadequate funding, manpower constraints, lack of internal capacity to manage development projects, non-compliance with tax obligations as well as of lack of proper IT systems.

“Given that the funding situation has the potential to improve, the revenue service has embarked on a programme which aims at addressing the challenges,” he assured legislators at an appearance before the parliamentary committee on statutory bodies and state enterprises.

The commissioner general indicated that so far, BURS has come up with interventions to mitigate the challenges that are bedevilling the organisation.

Some of these interventions include; acquiring additional resources, automation of processes and interfacing systems in order to meet statutory reporting deadlines. The revenue service will also outsource supervision and management of projects and reviewing organisational structure to increase internal capacity to handle projects.  “The problem of congestion at taxpayer service centres will be solved by moving from paying over the counter to paying electronically,” said Morris.

In order to reduce smuggling and non-declaration undervaluation of goods, he said there will be procurement of additional scanners and sniffer dogs.  Furthermore, tax evasion will also be tackled using a compliance risk management model, gathering intelligence data and strengthening the audit and investigation unit. Payment by cheques will be stopped in order to reduce tax arrears and the balance of RD (refer to drawer) cheques, he said.

He further noted that there is a need for additional resources to clear backlog and new systems such as e-filing and e-payment in order to mitigate the challenge of unallocated funds due to the implementation of the Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT) System.

He said they will be automating processes and computerising non-computerised border posts.

The BURS is also planning the refurbishment and maintenance of border posts and outsourcing reactive maintenance to improve poor condition of border posts.

Shortage of residential accommodation will also be solved by construction of additional staff houses at border posts. Equally, there  will be training, and development of staff and improved recruitment turnaround times to reduce manpower constraints.

“We will also review pay and organisational structures to reduce high staff turnover,” said Morris. Since its establishment in August 2004, BURS is said to have almost always met or exceeded annual revenue targets set for it by government.

BURS general manager transformation, Jonathan Raheem Hosseini explained that despite this achievement, successive strategic plans have seen less than optimal ability to execute on major change initiatives.

“Organisationally BURS has never fully achieved the staff engagement levels, operational effectiveness and customer service levels expected to be possible after the merger of the two large former government department of taxes, and department of customs and excise duties into a single unified revenue service,” said Hosseini.

He said the transformation agenda involves two major stages which are: The “Tilt towards people” (staff and customers) which is meant to increase the emphasis on people.

The other stage is the BURS standard for operational excellence. The general manager explained that this is a medium to long-term initiative dubbed “Re aga lelwapa le “(We are building this house) to develop an overarching BURS standard for operational excellence.

“The two stages of the transformation agenda work within the context of BURS’ daily business. This is not a parallel transformation agenda,” said Hosseini.

He went on to say that the transformation agenda is in all ways fully interactive with and directly determines the way that BURS does business on a daily basis.

Also, he said it determines the organisation’s choice of major projects and initiatives and the effectiveness with which it executes them, and it also influences the on-going development of the organisational structure and unfolding team dynamics. According to Hosseini, the objectives of the transformation include leveraging technology to make quantum leaps in revenue collection, compliance, customer service and trade facilitation.

“We will focus on the development of people, culture, process and technology systems to make quantum leaps in customer service and effectiveness, which will ensure world leading performance,” he said. The transformation also intends to maximise revenue collection, compliance rates and integrity of law, responsiveness to taxpayers and to improve national security.

It also seeks to facilitate legitimate trade and travel as well as to minimise taxpayer burden and improving cost effectiveness and enterprise effectiveness.

Botswana is currently experiencing a decline in diamonds revenue and projections of future diamond revenues are uncertain. This gives reason for the BURS to maximise revenue collection.

Beyond the need to raise tax revenue by BURS, enhanced transparency and disclosure of tax-relevant information are the subject of much importance.

BURS annual revenue collections grew from P11.8 billion to P37.5 billion in 2014/15 financial year representing an annual average increase of about P25.7 billion in nine years, which translates into 28.6%. For the financial year 2013/14, BURS spent P401.54 million to collect P32 billion, which translates into a cost to collection ratio of P1.00/P79.73. This means for every P1.00 that BURS spent, the benefit to the government in return was P79.73. During 2013/14 financial year, BURS collected tax revenues amounting to P32 billion against a target of P31 billion. The actual revenue collection exceeded target by P585 million or 1.9 percent.  Of the three revenue streams, Income Tax and VAT exceeded targets by P805 million or 6.2 percent and P294 million or 6.2 percent, respectively. On the other hand, revenue performance Customs receipts fell short target for under review by P515 million or 3.8 percent.

Going forward BURS intends to prioritise staff development and the provision of modern information technology solutions which will enable the revenue service to continuously improve customer service delivery.

With improved funding, the commissioner general is optimistic of success.

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