The Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) announced that it is monitoring social media posts in a bid to enhance tax compliance and nab tax cheats who have been posting their lavish lifestyles, cars and assets online. The move has elicited mixed reactions from Kenyans. As is typical of Kenyans online, social media users have been fast on posting jokes and memes about the surveillance.
Beneath the camaraderie however, a section of Kenyans have expressed concern on KRA’s approach terming it as invasive and one intended to create fear in the target audience. In a bid to dispel some of the worries and concerns, the manager in charge of Digital Economy Tax Office, Mr Nickson Omondi, sat with Spice FM breakfast show hosts on Thursday morning to break down the social media surveillance conversation.
According to Mr Omondi, what KRA is doing is not novel. Verification and collating of information is a tool that has traditionally been used by the Authority to ensure tax compliance. This approach has simply been extended into the digital space. Compliance checks and tax audits are routinely carried out by the Authority on corporate bodies and other persons. As such, the move by KRA to monitor social media posts is designed to expand the tax base by netting more people in the tax net and ensuring that everyone pays their fair share of tax. KRA is therefore not out to deny Kenyans their lifestyles as may have been misrepresented out there.
He was also quick to address the concern that KRA has a malicious motive behind the social media surveillance. However, according to him, the Authority has been quite transparent with information. KRA announced that it was stepping up efforts by employing technology for social media monitoring. This information was circulated publicly beforehand. In fact, following the announcement, KRA recorded an increase in the number of people accessing the iTax website to verify their tax compliance status.
But what exactly is KRA looking for and what will it do with the information collected? The Authority simply wants to enhance tax compliance through verification of information shared online vis-a-vis tax returns that have been submitted by particular individuals. For instance, if someone posts a property that they say they own on a social media platform, KRA will want to confirm the ownership details of the property and whether the requisite property taxes have been duly paid by the owner.
Is the Authority overreaching and now conducting lifestyle audits for Kenyans online? According to Mr Omondi, this is far from the case. KRA’s sole objective in monitoring social media is restricted to ensuring tax compliance. Inevitably, this ties with whether a person’s supposed lifestyle as displayed online corresponds with their tax compliance status.
There is also a concern that since a majority of people on social media are youthful and are likely to be in informal settings, such ‘lavish’ social media posts may be sending the wrong impressions as this may not reflect the day-to-day lifestyle of the individuals. Some of the individuals may just be financing that lifestyle through the help of their parents, relatives or older gainfully employed siblings. The KRA may therefore be wrongly targeting them. He says that KRA will be in a position to distinguish actual tax cheats from individuals in such cases. This will be achieved through verification of the information collected online.
As a parting shot, Mr Omondi reiterated that Kenyans and social media users in particular have nothing to worry about (unless you are evading taxes). KRA is not an enemy of the people but rather a partner with taxpayers who share a common objective of ensuring that all eligible persons are contributing their fair share of taxes.