Tanzania: Magufuli Demotes TRA Commissioner Kichere Amid Apparent Gloom in Business Community

Tanzania president John Magufuli in Malawi.

Dar es Salaam — President John Magufuli on Saturday June 8 demoted Mr Charles Kichere from the position of Commissioner General of the Tanzania Revenue Authority (TRA) to Njombe Regional Administrative Secretary (RAS).

The new development comes a day after the president held a meeting (Friday June7) at State House, with a cross section of traders drawn from various parts of the country.

Mr Kichere, who was at the meeting found himself in a tight spot as the traders vented their frustration over TRA's performance. The traders laid their case at the no-holds-barred forum which was held to discuss the business environment.

The hundreds of traders spent more than 10 hours at the State House, pouring their hearts out over the difficulties they were facing doing business.

An unfair taxation regime, harassment by security and regulatory agencies, bureaucracy, corruption dominated cries from the traders, some of whom blamed ministers for letting down the President and complicating the business climate in Tanzania.

The meeting echoed the apparent gloom among the business community that has persisted for some time now, even as the government was trying to restore confidence and push positive reforms.

Tanzania Revenue Authority (TRA) received most of the flak, roundly accused of harassing traders through over-estimation of taxes and threats.

"Many of TRA workers who deal with tax do not know what they are doing. They have turned themselves into the law," complained Francis Noni, a businessman from Kondoa District.

Mr Paschal Kihanga from Morogoro accused the police and TRA of subjecting traders into punching bags. He said the police have been arresting heads of the Tanzania Leaf Tobacco Company (TLTC) without any formal charges, prompting President Magufuli to order the sacking of the regional criminal officer.

Earlier, as he opened the meeting, President Magufuli warned that new measures would be taken after the talks--some of which, he said, would hurt some government leaders.

In what appears to be part of the measures, the President appointed Mr Innocent Bashungwa as a new Industry and Trade Minister and Mr Edwin Mhede Commissioner General of TRA, demoting Mr Kichere who had served as the taxman boss for over two years.

Before rising to the top TRA position in March 2017 Mr Kichere was serving as the deputy commissioner general since November 2016. He had previously worked at the Tanzania Roads Agency (Tanroads) as head of finance and chief accountant.

When he was appointed to the position, Mr Kichere pledged that he would meet all business operators through their associations across the country as he sought to bring the taxman closer to its clients in the wake of a challenging business environment.

He ascended to the position at a time when the government was implementing cost-cutting measures. Days after he was appointed, he held a meeting with the CEO Roundtable of Tanzania (CEOrt) where he spoke of the goals for sustainably widening the tax base in a changed business environment that had seen several companies downsizing their workforce.

His remarks at that time were suggestive of the fact that he was determined to revamp the TRA. He was quoted by The Citizen at the CEO-Roundtable meeting, as saying, "...I hope through discussions with business operators we will come up with a sustainable way of paying more taxes despite that there are some challenges among other businesspeople.

However, in December last year, President Magufuli issued a raft of new tax administration directives as he criticized some of his top tax administration officials for making it difficult for traders to pay tax.

He ordered TRA to review tax rates and make them affordable, admitting to a cumbersome system to have Tanzanians become tax-compliant.

He spoke during a working session in Dar es Salaam that involved TRA officials and Regional Commissioners to discuss on improving tax collection and business environment. The meeting was attended by Finance minister Philip Mpango, BoT governor Prof Florens Luoga among other top bureaucrats.

The meeting came in the backdrop of concerns from the business community that many investments had been closed over mounting debts and those in operation were struggling to make ends meet in a subdued trading environment.

It remains to be seen if the new measures being taken would ease business in Tanzania as desired by the traders and the President.

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