The official role of the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) board, currently headed by Anthony Mwaura, is to make policy decisions, which are subsequently implemented by the tax authority’s management and staff.
So it was odd when on February 28, Mr Mwaura sent a statement to newsrooms announcing the suspension of tax reliefs indefinitely.
The Code of Governance for State Corporations, popularly known in public service as Mwongozo, tasks a board chairman of a parastatal with the responsibility of guiding the board in decision-making but leaves the day-to-day running of the organisation to the chief executive officer (CEO).
Ordinarily, the announcement of the controversial decision to suspend the payment of tax refunds, exemptions, waivers and abandonments even if it had been taken at the board of KRA should have been made by the commissioner-general, who is also its chief executive.
Rispah Simiyu is the acting commissioner-general following the exit of Mburu Githii.
This was not the first time that Mr Mwaura appeared to usurp the role of the commissioner-general or exercise executive powers at one of the most critical State corporations.
Last month, the KRA ran a full-page advert with Mr Mwaura explaining how the taxman expects the collection of 16 percent value-added tax (VAT) to increase by as much as 45 percent upon implementation of e-TIMS, a new electronic register that captures and sends to the taxman all transactions, especially invoices, in real-time.
In the wake of a Business Daily report on the mismatch between trade figures given by the customs authorities in China and Kenya, Mr Mwaura announced staff changes affecting senior managers at the agency were underway.
He said several senior officers at the border points, as well as ports, had been redeployed in the shake-up that also targeted deputy commissioners as well as at least two commissioners.
“KRA is a no-go zone now and several transfers have taken place at our border points and ports. There is also a shakeup of deputy commissioners and one or two commissioners,” Mr Mwaura told the Business Daily.
Past KRA chairpersons tended to keep a little distance on management decisions, preferring to limit their public appearances during special occasions like when the tax authority unveiled its strategy.
But Mr Mwaura, who was appointed the chairperson of the KRA in November last year, is increasingly playing both the role of the CEO and chairman — akin to an executive chairman in private companies.
Though they have some similar responsibilities, an executive chairman is an employee of the company while a non-executive chairman is not.
Depending on the personalities that occupy the offices, the roles of the CEO and chairman can sometimes appear to overlap.
In public service, board overreach is common among political appointees always keen to be seen by their bosses to be working, even if that means taking up roles that are not within their mandate.
Because the chairperson of the KRA, for example, is handpicked by the President while the Commissioner-General is appointed competitively by the Cabinet Secretary for the National Treasury and Economic Planning, it could be tempting for the former to overreach and even exercise executive powers.
For the KRA, it does not help that the chairperson, just like any other employee, has an office at the Times Towers, Nairobi.
Mr Mwaura’s confusion, while raising eyebrows, is understandable.
Unlike his predecessors—Francis Muthaura and Dr Edward Sambili who had stellar careers in the civil service— the man who has been tasked with helping the KRA to increase the country’s tax revenues to Sh4 trillion has never headed a State corporation before.
Neither does he boast of a corporate governance discipline.
Before being appointed the chairman of the KRA his encounter with the government was mostly as a supplier of some goods.
He would later shoot to infamy when his companies, Hardi Enterprises and Toddy Civil Engineering Company, were implicated in a City Hall scandal for allegedly receiving irregular payments amounting to Sh102 million.
In 2002, Mr Mwaura, an engineer, established Toddy Civil Engineering Company in Karatina town, Nyeri County. Karatina is also the hometown of Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua.
At the time, the company had only two employees and specialised in civil engineering, construction, lease of machinery and supply of construction materials.
By 2006, Toddy was doing business with the government through State departments and agencies such as Kenya Urban Roads Authority (KURA) and Tana Water Works Development Agency (TWWDA).
It has also worked with the Kenya National Highways Authority (Kenha) among other entities.
His appointment to the KRA board leadership is attributed to his loyalty to President William Ruto, who has rewarded a lot of individuals that stuck with him during the campaign with plum jobs in government.
He served as the chairman of the elections board of the President's United Democratic Alliance (UDA) party.
His performance in the party role was not without blemish, with nominations suspended in some parts of the country owing to fracas and claims of ballot stuffing.
His boss, Dr Ruto, defend him, saying Mr Mwaura and his team “worked under very minimum supervision and they did their job the best way that anybody could have”.
But at the KRA, Mr Mwaura is set to come under much sharper public scrutiny as the several clarifications he and senior managers had to issue on his recent statement on the suspension of tax waivers demonstrated.
The first ambiguous statement announcing the indefinite suspension of payment of tax relief was made by Mr Mwaura.
It generated more heat than light, with a lot of taxpayers not understanding which reliefs exactly had been suspended.
“The suspension of the tax relief follows concerns from taxpayers, initiating the need to restructure rules and procedures governing tax exemptions,” Mr Mwaura said in a press statement, noting that payment of refunds would resume after the completion of the audit process.
The KRA was forced to issue a second statement clarifying the first one, albeit even this subsequent statement did not help with clarity. The second statement was issued by the Deputy Commissioner for Corporate Policy.