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Chief Justice, URA clash over tax cases stalling in courts

By Betty Amamukirori

Added 23rd June 2017 09:22 AM

While Akol noted that the prolonged delays in handling tax cases have cost them a lot of tax revenue, Katureebe said that there is no way they can expeditiously handle thousands of cases yet they are underfunded and short of judicial officers.

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The Chief Justice, Bart Katureebe and the Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) Commissioner General, Doris Akol. Photo/File

While Akol noted that the prolonged delays in handling tax cases have cost them a lot of tax revenue, Katureebe said that there is no way they can expeditiously handle thousands of cases yet they are underfunded and short of judicial officers.

The Chief Justice, Bart Katureebe and the Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) Commissioner General, Doris Akol, have clashed over the numerous tax cases stalling in the courts of law, which have made the tax body unable to collect over sh1.1tn tax revenue.

While Akol noted that the prolonged delays in handling tax cases have cost them a lot of tax revenue, Katureebe said that there is no way they can expeditiously handle thousands of cases yet they are underfunded and short of judicial officers.

“The tax cases that are filed before you my lord have put a stop to us in collecting revenue. The longer the cases take to be resolved the longer it will take for us to collect this revenue. This not only affects our revenue collection but also impact the businesses of our clients,” she said.

She added that they been greatly affected by the numerous exparte and interparty interim orders issued by the courts, preventing them from collecting taxes especially in cases where the complainants are contesting a particular tax.

“We also experience exorbitant bills of costs tax and the subsequent attachment of bank accounts of the organization, both operation and tax operations accounts which greatly impairs our work as tax collectors and also affects remittance of funds to the consolidated fund,” she said.

Akol said that these orders are implemented without exhausting the numerous available mechanisms of payment of decrees.

She asked for an increased disposal of the tax cases such that they are enabled to collect the taxes in time.

“Listening to the commissioner saying how they appreciate the services of the judiciary, how they want us to improve, how they want us to expedite these cases. yes, we also want to do so but what surprises me is that she announced huge increases in revenue yet in the budget, the share of the judiciary keeps reducing,” Katureebe fired back.

This year the budget share of the judiciary is 0.45 of the total budget which is a 0.15 reduction from the 0.6 they received in the last financial year.

He said that since the tax body appreciates their services, it should urge government to increase the judiciary budget because there is no point in telling them to expedite cases when they are grappling with financial challenges.

Katureebe said that even if the few available judicial officers are asked to work without taking weekends and holidays, they would be able to only dispose of 365 cases in a year, leaving thousands stalling in the court shelves.

“We have a public duty to do but first give us the tools to do it. Give us enough judges and let them go to work, give us enough magistrates and let them go to work. What we ask for is not much but to have our budget going down it means that someone is not appreciating the role the judiciary plays in the national life of this country,” he said.

These remarks were made yesterday (Thursday) during the opening of a two day taxation workshop for the justices of the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal, organized by URA and the Judicial Training Institute.

The workshop theme is ‘Understanding Uganda’s tax system and its impact on economic development’. It’s taking place at the Lake Victoria Serena Hotel.
 
Speaking to the New Vision, Patience Tumusime Rubagumya, the commissioner legal services at URA said that the total amount of taxes held up in this court cases is sh1.1tn, of which sh500b is from the interim orders directed against them.

The biggest taxation cases they have are from the oil and gas sector and they include, a case against Heritage oil involving US$470m (about sh1.6tn). Heritage oil filed an appeal in the high court and its pending hearing.

Other cases filed by the tax body are from CNOOC and Tullow oil which are on an assessment of withholding tax they disputed.

In total, they have 297 civil cases, 260 cases in high court and magistrate’s courts, and 90 criminal cases. Rubagumya said that they also have cases in the tax appeals tribunal.

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