Technical glitch paralyses KRA’s tax clearance system

Tax payers fill Kenya Revenue Authority forms. Photo/FILE

A technical glitch that has disabled the online tax clearing system is threatening supply of essential commodities in the country and regional markets.

It emerged Thursday that a power outage paralysed the Kenya Revenue Authority’s Simba clearing system, compounding the persistent cargo backlog problem at the Port of Mombasa.

This is raising fears of a shortage of essential products – such as fuel and cereals – which may lead to a surge in prices of consumers goods and slowdown of activity in sectors that depend on imports.

KRA said Thursday taxpayers have been unable to access services since Tuesday, although users who called the Daily Nation said that the systems have been down since Friday last week.

The State revenue collection agency said the problem was as a result of system downtime.

“This has been occasioned by an exercise to enhance electric power supply at our data centre through installation of new power battery back-up,” said Mr Peter Onyonyi, KRA senior deputy commissioner in charge of marketing and communication. “As a result, there has been an interruption of KRA online services, especially adversely affecting users of the customs system, which is our main customer facing module.”

Mr Onyonyi, however, said the systems for motor vehicle transactions – including registration, transfer of motor vehicle ownership, dealer licensing, processing of driving and PSV licences, issuance of foreign and TLB licensing – had been restored.

There was outcry from traders, who reported they had incurred massive business disruptions at the port and other clearance points.

They pointed to a huge build-up of containers whose clearance was delayed by the paralysis of the Simba System, the electronic platform that the taxman launched six years ago to expedite clearance and check against graft abetted through manual systems.

Ms Beatrice Memo, senior deputy commissioner for Customs, said once the system is restored, additional staff would be deployed in the next days, to ensure clear the backlog.

On average, about 1,700 containers are cleared per day, which means if the system is not restored soon, there would be a major congestion of cargo at the port.

“We will have a dedicated team to deal with oil documents and other essential cargo once our system is up,” Ms Memo said.

For traders, however, they are likely to count losses as Ms Memo said KRA would not reimburse costs incurred during the period the system is down.

In 2005, Simba was installed to seal the many loopholes through which the government lost billions of shillings in revenue leakages.

The system outage comes at a time when the taxman is under intense pressure to meet revenue collection targets.

Already, the agency estimates that revenues from airtime, beer and cigarettes will be hit due to price wars.