22 February 2018

Tanzania: Disclosure of Church Account Info Deplored

Dar es Salaam — Concerns have been raised over safety of customers' bank information after Tanzania Revenue Authority (TRA) disclosed financial records of Full Gospel Bible Fellowship Church.

On Tuesday, TRA Commissioner General Charles Kicheere announced that the church, led by Bishop Zachary Kakobe, holds Sh8.1 billion in an account at the National Bank of Commerce (NBC).

In the past two months the Taxman has been investigating tax payment status of Bishop Kakobe prompted by his remarks that he was wealthier than the government.

The probe focused on his sources of income and whether he complied with the country's tax laws.

The disclosure of the church's financial status has been criticised by bankers on the grounds that the proble was about Bishop Kakobe as an individual rather than on his church. In the findings, among others, Mr Kicheere said the unpaid tax linked to the church and a company belonging to some of Bishop Kakobe's family members amounted to Sh58.1 million. The money, he said has since been cleared.

"The investigation shows that the church escaped to pay Sh20.8 million as tax from its investment in the capital market while a company owned by his (Mr Kakobe's) children dodged to pay Sh37.2 million. The money is already paid," said TRA boss at a press conference.

However, on the disclosure, the TRA boss yesterday argued that the law gave the tax authority the mandate to make public its findings and that in this case the public was notified of the intension to conduct the investigations and hence the public had the right to be informed of the findings.

"I made it clear from the beginning before we started the investigations. I've no further comments, and in that regard I have also closed the discussion," he said in a telephone interview.

Commenting on the matter, a banker who asked not to be named said the move was unjust to the church because by the virtue of being a bank customer, it was protected by the contract that carry the confidentiality clause.

According to him, even if the Taxman was entitled by the law to have access to financial record of a bank customer, it was supposed to use them for official use only and not otherwise.

He said the information may have been shared to other government organs depending on the necessity, but there was no point of making the information public.

The source observed that there are rooms for a victim to sue the bank and the said government authority.

He further argued that even the newly introduced electronic revenue collection system that requires all banks and telecom companies to subscribe to it as appearing to violate the Banking and Financial Institutions Act.

"The law itself has been violated, but they may have it amended to match with the new requirements," he said.

The Citizen spoke to three senior bankers, who said it was illegal even for the authorised authority--that has access to individual financial institutions--to disclose in public.

"From where I sit, bank records remain secret of the two parties and in case there is a need for the details to be supplied to the third party then there is a specific law to be followed. What TRA did was a breach of confidentiality between NBC and its client," said a banker.

Another banker said, TRA should have revealed Bishop's Kabobe's information only, noting that though he is a signatory to the church's account, the religious body remains independent to him.

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