Outcome Statement: ATRN Congress puts property digitisation into focus

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  • 17 Sep 2021
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PRETORIA – The African Tax Administration Forum (ATAF)’s 6th African Tax Research Network (ATRN) Congress took place virtually via Zoom video conferencing from 6th to 8th September 2021 in partnership with the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) and Kenya School of Revenue Administration (KESRA) who were the hosts.

In her Keynote Address, the Cabinet Secretary in the Ministry of Lands and Physical Planning in Kenya, Ms Farida Karoney, emphasized that it is essential to digitalise land and property market systems.

“Digitalisation presents an opportunity for tax administration regimes to expand tax bases, enhance revenue collection, improve efficiency in tax compliance, improve tracking for forecasting and decision making.”

The Cabinet Secretary stressed the fact that it would reduce the cost of collection, improve efficiency in enforcement and compliance and enhance revenue collection.

She gave the experience of Kenya where they are implementing the National Land Information System as part of the e-government strategy with the aim of moving away from paper-based systems which were susceptible to corruption, wear and tear of land and property records and did not permit integration with other public sector agencies. This system is expected to expand the tax base of property taxation and other African countries can emulate this avenue.

A total of 1,656 people from 72 countries of which 48 are from Africa registered for the Congress.

ATAF’s Executive Secretary, Mr Logan Wort made the welcoming address. In his remarks, Mr Wort stressed that property taxes are low hanging fruits for many African countries.

“Property tax has significant potential to augment the much-needed revenues which can ultimately help countries abate the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.” He added.

The first day of the Congress attracted 527 participants from 54 countries while on day two there were 487 participants from 57 countries. On the last day of the Congress there 438 participants from 55 countries.

ATRN DAY ONE

Day one was characterised by a policy dialogue followed by parallel research session. The policy dialogue was on the sub-theme “Unlocking the Potential of Property Tax amidst Negative impacts of Covid-19 on Government Revenues”. Under this sub-theme, experts deliberated on how best property taxes can be evoked to shape the post-pandemic recovery. Among others, the panel concluded that if the local government is equipped with ICT infrastructure and appropriately skilled human resources it can outperform the central government in terms of maximising revenue. It was further established that automation is important in enhancing transparent billing, tax collection, taxpayer monitoring and improved trust and confidence in property taxes. It was also argued that political support, leadership support, qualified staff, easy to use software and linking rates collection to local services is key in transforming property tax collection to help post-pandemic recovery. The parallel research sessions that followed focused on ICT and property tax reforms in Africa, country-specific experiences on property tax administration and reforms, and the politics, governance and policy legislation towards efficient property tax reforms in Africa.

ATRN DAY TWO

Day two followed the same structure as day one. The policy dialogue was on the sub-theme titled “Supporting property tax reforms through digitalisation”. Under this policy dialogue a case study of Senegal, Dakar was presented where the Senegal tax administration worked with researchers to develop a digital tool for property tax management. Another presentation curtain-raising the discussion discussed how distributed ledger technology is used in some countries like Ghana, Rwanda, and Zambia to manage and maximise revenue from property taxes. Another case study of Kampala City in Uganda recapped the power of automation in aiding efficient property tax administration and maximisation of revenue. It was further agreed that while the potential of technology in improving property tax revenue is clear, the potential of digitalisation is not fully realised because some systems that are adopted are not fit for purpose, are resisted, lack integration with other relevant government departments and are not adopted through a change management process to ensure acceptance and adoption.

ATRN DAY THREE

The final day of the Congress featured two high-level policy dialogues. The first one was on “Policy, Legislation and Administration towards efficient Property Tax Reforms in Africa” and among others featured a presentation of successful reforms from Sierra Leone by the Mayor of Freetown, Ms Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr – OBE. The policy dialogue agreed that for a successful property tax reform, it is essential to obtain commitment and political buy-in from all relevant stakeholders, sensitise the stakeholders on the key aspects of the reform, enhance capacity building and a comprehensive training plan, and most importantly embracing technology and innovation. The session further established that successful property tax reforms rest on a solid political will that is guided by a strong institutional framework. It was also further agreed that property tax reforms ought to be based on sound policy and legislation that foster collaboration between various levels of government and relevant government agencies to maximise the revenue potential of property taxes.

The final session focused on highlighting and validating “Tenets of a successful property tax reform strategy for Africa”. This session was led by Professor Roy Kelly of Duke University and involved a presentation of five tenets for a property tax reform which were identified by three experts in property taxes. Having perused all the presentations at the Congress and listened to all the policy dialogues, the experts came up with 5 tenets for a successful property tax reform for Africa namely: Digitisation, Identification, Enforcement and Voluntary Compliance, Institutional Framework and Capacity. These tenets form the basis for a comprehensive reform strategy that can easily be tailor-made to country-specific contexts to maximise property tax revenue. These tenets were validated using polls and in a plenary discussion by experts as well as practitioners working on property tax and decentralised taxes. The 5 tenets will be expounded in a policy brief which will include input from the experts, policymakers, tax administrators, who were part of the 6th ATRN Congress.

A total of 36 papers were submitted out of which 23 were accepted and ultimately presented at the Congress after a double-blind peer-review process by the 2021 ATRN Scientific Committee. The authors for both the presented papers and those not accepted for the presentation were encouraged to rework their papers based on comments by the Scientific Committee and comments from the Congress audience and submit them to the newly launched ATAF’s African Multidisciplinary Tax Journal (AMTJ).

The audience was invited to suggest the theme and venue for the next ATRN Congress. The results were collated and will inform the venue, themes and sub-themes of the 7th ATRN Congress which will be announced in early 2022.

Read this article in French and Portuguese.

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