The African Tax Administration Forum (ATAF) that is holding its 5th General Assembly in Gaborone this week has been dogged by controversy ranging from allegations of maladministration and unethical practices.
Sources have revealed that at the height of tensions within the organisation, its single largest funder – South African Revenue Services (SARS) – threatened to pull out; a move that would have led to its collapse.
Besides drawing huge revenue from SARS which houses in Pretoria, ATAF is member states funded based on countries total Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and also relies heavily on international donors. Sources say SARS was so unhappy with governance issues at ATAF that they wrote, threatening to pull out his organisation from ATAF. It has been feared that donors would pull out once SARS and other concerned members cancel their membership.
Various sources have sighted many concerns including the irregular recruitment process which have resulted with the institution being dominated by one race with blacks accounting for a small portion of only 26 per cent. It has also worried observers that the institution has become a retirement berth for former Commissioner Generals of a number of African countries.
Indigenous Africans are also allegedly given very few consultancy jobs, meaning that only particular groups take the lion share of the highly paying jobs.
Romeo Ella, ATAF’s Manager for Media and Communications denied all allegations against his organisation, dismissing maladministration and ethical tendencies claims.
He said as far as he was concerned their working relationship with SARS is very strong. “We have had a very good relationship with SARS in the past 10 years. We are hosted by them and hence there are no official grounds for those allegations,” he said.
Ella said they have more black employees than it is claimed and that they have no bias against blacks in offering consultancy jobs. “To give you example, I have recently awarded a media consultancy job to a Ugandan lady. We are a truly continental organisation – we are multi-national and multi-cultural, covering all people in the continent. We are a sound organisation which is actually growing. If that was not the case donors would have stopped supporting us,” he declared.
As Botswana rolls out the red carpet for ATAF hierarchy critics are questioning whether the country is endorsing the alleged rot at the organisation. Kenneth Matambo, the Minister of Finance and Economic Development – under whom the local tax agency Botswana Unified Revenue Services (BURS) – falls is scheduled to officiate at the General Assembly on Tuesday.
The Assembly is held under the theme ‘Moving Africa beyond AID through tax revenue mobilisation’.
ATAF says in its website that its mission is to “serves as an African network that aims at improving tax systems in Africa through exchanges, knowledge dissemination, capacity development and active contribution to the regional and global tax agenda. Improved tax systems will increase accountability of the State to its citizens, enhance domestic resource mobilisation and thereby foster inclusive economic growth.”
Its formation was “inspired by the deliberations at the “International Conference on Taxation, State Building and Capacity Development in Africa” held in Pretoria, South Africa from 28 - 29 August 2008. Commissioners, Senior Tax Administrators and Policy Makers from 28 African countries resolved to work towards the establishment of an African Tax Administration Forum".
According to Ella, part of the General Assembly’s agenda would be to elect a new council. It was not immediately clear if any of the BURS senior executives were standing for elections.