This article first appeared in my column with the Business Daily on July 23, 2017
I am of the view that revenue generation targets are unrealistic, informed mainly by finding ways to cater to the government’s ballooning expenditure rather than any realistic economic dynamics. Over the past few years, revenue collection has fallen short of the targets, but it should be noted that the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) almost reached targets despite the constraints they face. For example, in the year just completed (FY 2016/17) total revenue collection stood at KES 1.365 trillion representing a performance rate of 95.4 percent. However, the shortfall in shillings was KES 66.64 billion- a significant number.
Although the inclination is to blame the KRA for under-performing, I am of the view that KRA is given unrealistic targets each FY. These targets seem more informed by aggressive increases in government expenditure and seem oblivious of the serious constraints that mute tax collection.
The first issue is that revenue generation targets tend to be revised upwards over the course of the year. KRA’s original revenue target for the financial year 2016/17 was KES 1.415 trillion which was revised to KES 1.431 trillion, an increase of KES 16.24 billion. This is a concern because motivations behind increases in targets are not clear. Is the increase due a realisation in Treasury that it cannot raise as much as anticipated in borrowing and thus they place pressure on KRA in the form of increasing revenue generation targets?
The second constraint is that the macroeconomic environment informs the extent to which targets deviate from forecasts. For example, it is estimated that a 1 percent point reduction in GDP growth reduces revenue by KES 13.4 billion. In terms of inflation, a 1 percent point increase in inflation requires that revenue targets be raised by KES 13.0 billion to cater for the value of money lost due to inflation. Thus macroeconomic dynamics inform the extent to which KRA can hit targets.
Thirdly, government policy decisions particularly those related to tax policy affect the ability to generate revenue. The non- implementation of tax policy in terms of the adjustment of specific excise rates in FY 2016/27 did not occur negatively impacting revenue generation by KES. 4.911 billion. Additionally, the duty free importation of essential foods (maize, milk, sugar) led to a revenue loss of KES 4.363 billion in the 4th quarter of 2016/17. Indeed, it is estimated that government policy decisions cost KES 13.006 billion in revenue generation in FY 2016/17.
Fourthly, government itself is to blame; delays in remitting income tax from public institutions costs KES 823 million.
Finally, sectoral issues inform the ability of KRA to collect tax. For example, declining profitability among large firms where 16 NSE listed firms issued profit warnings in 2016, had an adverse impact on corporation tax. Additionally, the downsizing and shutting down of firms which resulted in over 7,000 staff lay-offs in various institutions, mainly banks, adversely affected PAYE performance.
It is time that revenue generation targets were informed by the dynamics elucidated above. If this does not happen, government will continue to be seen to be trying to buffer itself from its aggressive expenditure through creating unrealistic targets rather than submitting austerity budgets that limit unnecessary spending.
Anzetse Were is a development economist; email@example.com