Friday, November 13, 2015

An Idiot's Guide to Getting a Tax Compliance Certificate (TCC)

A guest post by Muendo 

Taxes, are the dues that we pay for the privileges of membership in an organized society. Franklin D. Roosevelt

One thing, as sure as death is, you will pay taxes. As to how it is used, it is the prerogative of the government of the day as well as the citizens to keep the government in check to see how the paid taxes are being used to better the welfare of the citizens. I posted a Tweet, after getting my Tax Compliance Certificate and I got a few people including Mr. Banks, asking how I went round the process. So here is my story. I hope it will educate some of y’all on this long process.

On company registration, after you have received that blue/white document from the State Law Office saying that you are a legal entity recognized by the Government of Kenya, you have to go to the next step, which is getting a Personal Identification Number (PIN) for the company. In this new regime, unlike others, you can’t do any business with the biggest spender of our taxes, the government and its agencies, without a PIN. In fact for you to open and a bank account, for you to buy assets in your company’s name, for you to transact with any organization in .KE, you will be required to produce a PIN Number. It is a mandatory requirement. (I suspect soon the government will abolish ID numbers and use your PIN to locate every single thing about an individual. Instead of ID numbers, your PIN will serve as the ID number), (those are just my thoughts). How do you get your PIN in our modern society? KRA went the tech way to get you plugged in to the system. They have a robust system called iTax. Any new employee above the age of 18, and any registered organization, has to register with iTax to get their PIN.

Take that a notch higher, for you to increase the chances of you getting awarded a Tender, as everything in this country is tendered, you need another document called a Tax Compliance Certificate (TCC). The Tax man aka Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA), certifies that you have submitted your returns and paid all your liabilities before it issues you with that piece of paper stipulating that you are cleared to conduct business for the next 6 – 12 months.

Normally, for start-ups, the first years certificate is quick to get as your business is new and there is nothing much for them to look in to. (Though, rumour has that they (KRA) are also slowly going to the route of issuing TCC to directors of the companies and will slowly keep an eye on them as well. How true that is I am yet to find out) Now since KRA introduced iTax to the Kenyan system, it killed a few birds with one stone.

Previously, people never cared much about paying taxes. Now, if you are doing business you have to have an Electronic Tax Register (ETR) machine that captures the Value Added Tax (VAT) that you charge to your customers. Unless, you are selling zero rated commodities, it is assumed that every enterprise (Start-up, SMEs, Blue Chip, Multinationals etc.) has a PIN number and an ETR machine. Every transaction is/will be captured there and therefore a customer is issued with an ETR receipt. A normal ETR receipt has your PIN number and the amount you are charging the customer plus VAT and a breakdown of what the VAT is.

Again, previously, the Tax man used to assume that all Kenyans are upright and outstanding citizens who will pay their VAT after balancing their accounts (There is a way that you need to do, briefly explained as, (1) there is what you are charged by your suppliers and then (2) there is what you charge your customers, (3) the difference is what you remit to the KRA, hence the term 'doing your returns'). Anyways, not many Kenyans including the ones in authority, seemed to fit that tag. They would find tax loopholes, using their accountants and tax lawyers,  and exploit them. And the government would lose revenue. So, the Tax man,  aka Njiraini, decided to tighten the belt to curb that habit. So every time you supply the government with substandard goods with over inflated prices, because people have to eat, then the said agency snitches/alerts Njiraini and company, that company X has supplied us with goods/services/consultancy, and here is 6% of the tax they are going supposed to pay. Ask them where the other 10% is. And once the 6% is held, the agency, in return sends you an electronic withholding tax certificate.

As an upright citizen, who wants to be in the good books of the Tax man, you are given up to the 20th of every month to file returns of the previous month. Now, KRA will check up on its database and see how many organisations have submitted 6% with your company name in there and compare it with the returns you have submitted. Occasionally, you will find scenarios, where the Tax man needs to refund you some money. Problem with KRA is, once that is the case, it can take up to 2 years even more before they decide/remember they need to do tax refunds.

That aside, once you have filled your returns, whether nil or you have a liability (This is where you owe KRA money) or a Tax refund is required, you comply with the law of the land. Failure to file returns attracts a hefty fine of Kshs. 10,000 (~$100) per month for the months you haven’t filed your returns plus a percentage interest determined by a tax officer that you need to pay per month till you finish you with your liability. This is not a joke, especially, now that the government is tightening its laws on taxes and widening its tax base.

Here is a weird thing that KRA does. It waits for say 3-4 years of a company existing. And then, it is expected you have to have audited accounts say for the past two years (That is assuming you are done with your tax amnesty of 18 months – not sure whether this exists anymore,) and you have gotten a few good tenders here and there, and then they knock on your door, to find out how you are carrying out your business and how you have been performing in doing tax returns.) Assuming you are an upright citizen means, you have 4 years of an annual Tax Compliance Certificate issued and you have about 3 years audited accounts. They will request for all, and I mean all, documents to support your claim of existence. And by all I mean, from receipts, to P&L Accounts, to Audited accounts, to bank statements. Who the heck remembers stuff that they did 4 years ago? The Tax man will flip through records and see whether you have dodged taxes or you have acquired your TCC in a fraudulent manner. If you are a citizen of no morals, they will subject you to a fine of a percentage of your gross turnover and give you a time period to pay, failure to which, all assets you own will be liquidated and the money is recovered. I know that a bit to well, as a relative was being auctioned for tax non-compliance.

Also, KRA is now working overtime to ensure that all companies are registered on iTax. There is a budgeted Kshs 8 billion to be spent in catching up with you if you are not iTax compliant.

So, finally; 

Here's an idiot’s guide to getting a TCC

1. Register at the iTax platform and get your PIN.

2. Submit your returns every 20th of the month. You had better submit a Nil return than be late to submit the returns. Be prompt in doing your accounts reconciliation every month. Now, there are times you can’t afford an in-house accountant do your books, There are some great fellas, who I have worked with that can help you with that. Talk to Plus People Ltd. They are the people behind this great platform called Uhasibu. They have really assisted me in getting my books in order and ensuring that I use the Uhasibu system to run my small company. Also get an Auditor or a certified tax accountant to help you decipher and navigate the Kenyan tax laws and the levies that you need to pay as well as how to bring down your tax liability.

3. Make sure you get the Withholding Tax certificate, each time, whatever agency you deal with submits that 6%. As much as the system is automated, follow through is important. I am talking from experience. I have a government agency I am chasing since February 2015, to give me my withholding tax certificate.

4. Use the iTax system to submit your returns before the 20th. This is now an easier way, than to go queue at times towers to make your returns. 

5. It takes approximately, two (2) weeks between the expiry of your TCC and receiving a new TCC. Plan appropriately. During those 2 weeks, I do loads of client visits and queue up business for the next “financial” year. In those 2 weeks, Njiraini and Co, will be looking through your accounts and performance before giving you a clean bill of health. I know we people at .KE have this thing, I know a guy who can shorten that process, if you do well and good. But that’s the average time if you don’t know a guy.

6. Make sure you do annual audited accounts, just in case KRA guys show up and want to see what you have been up to. Also, a great rule of accounts, it moves, have evidence of what happened (Receipts, Invoices, Petty Cash vouchers etc).

7. In case things go wrong, occasionally they do, have your auditor in place, when this KRA officers check up on you. They kind of know how to navigate those murky waters while you sort things out with the Tax man. 

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