Rehema Nalubwama, the manager of the Verma Company Ltd, a boda boda motorbike showroom on Bombo Road in Kampala, has recently got used to staying calm under pressure. Since the Uganda Revenue Authority introduced a new online registration process for motorbikes, she has had to deal with mobs of angry customers frustrated by the long delays.
Some of them, like Ronnie who walked in on a recent chilly Wednesday afternoon, sometimes become quite agitated.
"When am I getting my motor bike," Ronnie was shouting when we visited, "I paid you as you asked (but) it's been months now (and I haven't got my bike)."
Calmly Nalubwama tries to calm him down but more voices join in demanding their bikes. Nalubwama very patiently tries to explain the process to them, but it is tedious. Most of her customers, semi-literate young men hardened by city life, have not heard of basic terms like "online registration, email, and PIN number.
Then there is the issue of added cost. Under the new URA arrangement, the registration process for which they did not pay a penny previously now costs her buyers Shs 76,000 to transfer the motorbike logbook from Verma Company Ltd who URA registers as the first owner.
The new online motor vehicle registration introduced by URA, which shifts the process from the manual input system to digital registration, is designed to curb the rampant corruption blamed on the previous system. But like most new processes, this e-tax payment element is casting a dark shadow for many motorcycle dealers.
When Fred Asiimwe, a boda boda rider on Kanjokya Street in Kampala, bought his bike on loan from Verma Company Ltd in 2010, he was required to register with URA to get his bike from the warehouse and change its logbook into his names. He did not. Instead, he has been riding the bike without registering it in his names. No one has bothered him about his log book, not even Verma. URA wants to change that.
Under the new process, Asiimwe and any other buyer is now compelled to trudge to the URA office in Nakawa, Kampala, get a URA Tax Identification Number (TIN), fill and sign transfer forms, and pay the Shs 76,000 transfer fee before URA can release a number plate for the bike.
Henry Mugwanya, the registration officer at Verma Co. says that before the new URA system, his company used to register a full container without any need for a Tin Number but now they are supposed to register one motor bike at a time as required by URA.
Previously, only companies were required to have Tax identification numbers but effective July 01, owners of motor vehicles, bikes, payers of stamp duty and income tax, plus Importers and exporters, were all required to have a TIN.
"Without a tin number you can't get a number plate," says Mugwanya.
Previously, registration was done using one form, called Form 1, which was for manual input. The form was later taken to URA for verification with or without a Tin Number. Mugwanya says although the manual system is still in place, it is not favoured by the URA officials who find the new system easier and faster for them. Unfortunately, the new process has shifted the registration process from one day to 14 days of waiting. Frustration is mounting.
"People invest and want to get their money back quickly," says Patel Jaydip, an accountant with Nirma International Ltd, dealers in TVS motorcycles. "Fourteen days is too long."
Nalubwama says online registration is hard for their clients who are mainly either semi-literate or illiterate, do not know how to use internet, and have never had of an email address. She says URA needed to have taken time to educate their clients in internet use and then showed them how to register.
Mugwanya says the website of URA poses a major challenge as it is always on and off.
"Sometimes you can register only two motorbikes a day if you are successful at all. And if you are still filling and it hangs, when you try to fill in again it says you cannot apply again yet you did not complete the first time you tried to," he says.
URA's corporate team says the URA site is sometimes overwhelmed because most people log on to pay their taxes and to get Tin Numbers. They said the URA IT team is creating a site that can accommodate more users. For now, they have no solution.
But Nalubwama says that the slowness of the system has cost Verma a lot in sales. Previously, she says, Verma would sell up to 7,000 bikes a month but that is now down to 4,000 bikes in August.
"We were forced to sell without number plates in July and August because customers could not wait for 14 working days for them to access their bikes which are left in custody of Verma co until the transfer is done," she said.
Ibrahim Matovu, a boda boda rider on the Kamwokya stage says the hectic registration has created an avenue for fraudsters who take the bike buyers money with promises to help them register online, which they do not.
Matovu says his schooling ended in primary six and he cannot speak, let alone write, English. He is surprised that URA expects him to register using a computer, to have an email, two identity cards; either a residential driving permit, voters card, or passport, and bank statement which is beyond three months.
"If you have only one of those, you can't be worked on. Most boda boda riders have one," he says.
URA says they are aware of people like Matovu who cannot use the internet and sent their team out to register people in suburbs of the city like Kabalagala, Kansanga, Ndeeba, Bwaise and Kawempe. The URA teams went to churches on Sunday and mosques on Fridays and helped people register.
But that exercise ended in Kampala. The team is now planning to carry out an extensive countrywide exercise. For now, URA says the registrations service is free and easy to access through over 30 offices of URA countrywide.
But Mugwanya, Asiimwe, Matovu and all people we spoke to wonder why URA asks the motorbike importers to pay registration fee as the first owner of the motor bike and at the same time URA has the client pay for transfer of the logbook into owner's name.
"Why don't these companies pay for such since they are supposed to sell us a complete product? Aren't these companies defrauding us? Aren't they conniving with URA to milk us?" Asiimwe asks.
The URA's corporate affairs department says the online project was introduced to improve service delivery and to ease the system of registration for tax payers, but such questions, and more, show that so far it has bred only frustration for the customer and more revenue for URA.