Though many know Milly Nalukwago Isingoma as the Assistant Commissioner - in charge of Research, Planning and Development - at the Uganda Revenue Authority (URA), she wears many hats. She is the head of the East African Revenue Authorities Technical Committee (EARATC) research sub-committee. She is also one of ICTD’s key researchers in Africa as well as a member of ICTD’s Centre Advisory Group (CAG).
The Makerere University-trained revenue administrator is very passionate about her work. She has extensive research and tax revenue analysis experience within Uganda and the East African region, and has authored a number of studies, both for the URA and the ICTD.
You work with the URA, but why are you interested in tax?
My interest in tax is drawn from the fact that tax drives growth of our respective economies. When tax administration is efficient, and the proceeds well managed, then growth becomes automatic. Furthermore revenue administrations are key enablers for tax harmonization and integration, which are trade enablers in a region.
You’ve recently co-authored an ICTD Working Paper on Unitary Taxation, specifically focusing on tax harmonization in the EAC. What are the existing challenges and opportunities that the regional bloc has to deal with in order to realize this?
Challenges faced by the EAC in terms of tax harmonization are not very fundamental. There are instances where domestic taxes are viewed as a national issue that should not be subjected to regional policy. There is also fear of revenue loss and possibility of tax competition. However, the opportunities available are immense. This is because the EAC countries enjoy similar macroeconomic architecture. We have similar institutional structures such as the Revenue Authorities. There is political good will like that motivated the creation of the Single Customs Territory (SCT). There is also increasing cross-border investments such as banking, hotels manufacturing, etc. We carry out budget consultations and also have a lot of private sector involvement. The opportunities therefore outweigh the challenges, and the harmonization process has already started. For instance, 30% corporation tax is levied across all the EAC countries.
Other than this project, what are the other research areas of interest to which you are most dedicated?
I am currently the advisor to the Africa Tax Outlook publication by ATAF. It is a comparative study of 15 African countries in areas of policy and tax administration.
I am also interested in the taxation of High Net worth Individuals (HNWI) who are currently not compliant. I thus guided a team with the support of the ICTD, to carry out research on taxing HNWIs in Uganda.
I have successfully carried out annual East African Revenue Comparative studies, detailing revenue performance and administration in the five East African revenue Authorities.
Also, together with the International Finance Corporation (IFC), we carried out a study on tax incentives in East Africa, and the findings were that tax incentives are not a determinant of investment decisions.
Why are you particularly interested in these issues?
For a long time, we’ve had technical assistance (TA), mostly from international partners. I felt that it was time we expose what has been done in the past, and what can be done. This initiative serves well when it is done in Africa and by Africans.
The URA has in the last 10 years improved its revenue collections. What did it do differently, that other revenue authorities in Africa could learn from?
Leadership, staff development and process improvements were and remain the main ingredients.
The URA built a strong and committed leadership team. Similarly, it created staff welfare schemes and reengineered its processes. These were key in improving service delivery and in return, increased revenue collections.
In your opinion, what role does/can the ICTD research play in the development policies/discussions in Africa and other developing countries?
The ICTD encourages research in the areas of tax policy and practices, which involves professional researchers, revenue administrations and or Ministry staff. This is important as it ensures that the research informs policy decisions in both the revenue authorities and the ministries. I've actually co-authored a summary brief about how researchers can work effectively with African revenue authorities, using recent examples of ICTD research projects as case studies.
How can ICTD research be made more relevant and accessible to practitioners and policymakers?
ICTD has developed the Government Revenue Dataset. Availability of these statistics to researchers would help improve its usage. Marketing of the ICTD research done by holding meetings in African countries, where key stakeholders and policymakers in the respective Ministries of Finance (as well as influencers) are invited, would also trigger debate that can help improve the respective policy direction.
Most developing countries are currently grappling with a big informal sector and how to make it productive through revenue mobilization. The informal sector is one of the areas that the ICTD is focusing on, and further emphasis on this while working with the technocrats from these respective countries would be a major breakthrough, in terms of improving the livelihood of the citizens of these respective countries.
To what extent has doing research for the ICTD helped you grow as a researcher?
My doing research for the ICTD has led to an exponential growth in my research expertise. I have been exposed to international researchers, who have peer-reviewed my work and given me a very new global perspective to research. This experience has also helped me share the good practices in East Africa, as well as learn from international best practices.