Tax returns: Public sector must embrace digital communication

Friday, August 2nd, 2019 00:00 |
Kenya Revenue Authority. Photo/Courtesy
Grace Wandera   

This year’s annual income tax returns filing season will perhaps go down the books of history as one whose due date was not characterised by long queues.

In fact, as someone put it in a certain circle, if Kenya had an equivalent of the Guinness World Records, the just concluded exercise would have easily bagged the award. 

For the first time, there were no queues at Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) offices countrywide. Traditionally, a few days to the deadline would be marked with overwhelmingly long queues as Kenyans make the last-minute dash. 

When KRA rolled out the iTax technology in 2014 to modernise tax administration, there were mixed reactions from various stakeholders. While some saw the technology as an opportunity to enhance tax compliance and efficiency, others felt that it was an obstacle to compliance. 

The argument was that Kenya was not ripe for such technologies given the then low uptake of information and communication technology, especially in the rural settings.

Besides being perceived as a jigsaw, sensitising members of the public about iTax was like marketing a product or a service that potential buyers already have an attitude towards. 

Despite the mixed reactions, one thing was for sure: iTax was here to stay and there was no turning back. Since implementation of iTax, it has taken a raft of measures to encourage usage of the system to the taxpayers and to actualise the tagline “iTax ni rahisi”.

Apart from periodic enhancements to match the expectations of the taxpayers and other strategies, leveraging on digital communication has been key the success of iTax.

Some years back, traditional media was the only reliable tool to communicate important messages such as deadlines for filing tax returns. Yet the messages would still not reach all targeted members since the audience is highly segmented in terms of demographics.      

The increased internet penetration, thanks to the proliferation of portable communication gadgets such as mobile phones,  has created a perfect environment for digital communication to thrive.

Although at its early stages of penetration digital communication was perceived as a preserve for the private sector, the public sector is fast catching up, and KRA is leading the pack. 

KRA has substantially leveraged on the digital space to sell one of the arguably most difficult products to sell—tax. Using both traditional and digital platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn, KRA has managed to effectively communicate tax-related issues to different segments of taxpayers. The digital space has especially been instrumental in the annual returns filing awareness. 

The impact was especially felt in 2019 tax returns filing season. Digital communication was among an array of factors that accounted for not only early filing, but also increased the number of filers from last year’s 3.2 million to 3.6 million.

Digital communication channels facilitate flexibility in the way the message is delivered to the target audience. This has enabled KRA to simplify the apparently complicated tax jargon to resonate with taxpayers from all walks of life.

Digital communication platforms have also proved to be perfect vehicles for delivering messages that match the contemporary events around the world. 

Thanks to the modern digital communication channels, which give taxpayers room for feedback and interaction, taxpayers now give KRA a ‘face’ they can easily associate with.

As Brand Quarterly reported in an article titled “How digital empowerment has changed marketing communications”, with proliferation of digital communications, customers are no longer on the listening end; they now have an opportunity to air their views.

It is from the customer feedback that KRA makes informed decisions to enhance efficiency in service delivery. 

Although the role played by traditional communication platforms cannot be downplayed, digital communication is indispensable in the current era. The private sector seems to have learnt this from the onset and the outcome has been evident. 

There is, therefore, a need for more public sector players to embrace digital communication.   The writer is the Deputy Commissioner for Marketing and Communication at Kenya Revenue Authority

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