Tax specialist delivers "real change" in South Sudan

yambio market
Yambio market, where traders are now contributing to state tax revenues. (Photo: UNDP)

In February 2011, Western Equatoria State established a State Revenue Authority (WESRA), to administer the collection of taxes, as well as customs and excise duties. WESRA marked the beginning of a remarkable process of organisational development, which has seen a transformation of the state government's capacity to collect and manage revenue. Until WESRA was formed, state revenue was virtually zero. In just four months, the State Revenue Authority increased state revenue to approximately US$ 850,000.

UNDP contributed to this achievement through the efforts of its revenue specialist, Olympio Attipoe, who is working in the state Ministry of Finance. Olympio is one of 150 UN Volunteers recruited by UNDP to help state governments build capacity. The UN Volunteers are working in all ten states of South Sudan in areas such as finance management, urban planning, civil engineering and rule of law.

Highlights

  • Olympio is one of 150 UN Volunteers recruited by UNDP to help state governments build capacity.
  • The State Revenue Authority increased state revenue to approximately US$ 850,000 in just four months.
  • The state's Council of Ministers has created a consolidated bank account to allow for deposits across the state.
  • With the help of UNDP, the government of Western Equatoria State has taken some crucial steps towards becoming well administered, responsible, prosperous and accountable to its citizens.

 When he arrived in Western Equatoria, Olympio realized that for the state government to finance public services for the community, the revenue collection agency must dramatically improve its revenue collection and management services.

It was an uphill battle for Olympio.  To boost the new organisation, he worked on improving internal structures, systems, and procedures as well as developing staff skills. Olympio conducted intensive specialized training for the revenue collectors, and is helping to recruit more staff to help manage next year’s budget.  He has developed a reference book and training manual, “Principles of Taxation”, which is to be used by state revenue collectors in training.  WESRA – with input from Olympio – has developed a draft bill and organizational structure to act as a revenue regulatory framework.

Olympio also went on a public awareness drive. He ran a twice-weekly radio program to discuss the importance of revenue collection and public funding for public services. A number of prominent community and religious leaders joined in, including the Paramount Chief of Azande and the Bishop of Yambio who were active speakers on the program.

“We are missing civic education, and our people are ignorant about the importance of taxes.  They need to be taught that the money they raise through taxes can make us grow,” said the Bishop of Yambio, Peter Munda.

Since the big increase in revenue, the state’s Council of Ministers created a consolidated bank account where the revenue from across the state will be deposited. The Council plans to collect a full year of revenue before developing plans to utilize the funds for the benefit of local people, particularly in health and education sectors.

Laurence Sulubia, Director General of WESRA, said, “In the past each government department used to collect taxes and utilize the fund without remitting into a centralized account. The system was inefficient and ineffective as money collected is immediately used without accountability.”  Sulubia welcomed the change, and commended Olympio for the improvements he has overseen in just a few months.  The centralised accounting of revenue is a major step towards preventing corruption and misuse of funds in the state.

Today, with the help of UNDP, the government of Western Equatoria State has taken some crucial steps towards becoming well administered, responsible, prosperous and accountable to its citizens. The state’s Economic Advisor, Gobson Magaya, said the future of revenue collection in the state is promising and growth is certain. “We collected sizable amounts of taxes in a very short time. A real change has occurred. This is the fruit of the UNDP revenue specialist and we are very grateful to him for the high quality and capacity building training workshops he designed. We are glad to have in place the nucleus for a professional revenue structure.”

Olympio believes that the State Revenue Authority is still faced with numerous challenges, including “the capacity and ability of its current staff to perform efficiently and professionally.”  Olympio’s work to improve Western Equatoria State’s financial management and accountability continues through the support of the UN Development Programme.