The 2019 annual income tax returns filing season will perhaps go down the books of history as one whose due date was not characterised by long queues. In fact, as someone put it in a certain circle, if Kenya had an equivalent of the Guinness World Records, the just concluded filing exercise would have easily entered in the records. For the first time, there were no queues of taxpayers at Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) offices countrywide. Traditionally, a few days to the deadline would be marked with overwhelmingly long queues.
When KRA rolled out the iTax technology in 2014 to modernise tax administration in Kenya, there were mixed reactions regarding the system from various stakeholders. While some saw the technology as an opportunity for enhanced tax compliance and efficiency in tax administration, others felt that it was an obstacle to tax compliance.
The argument was that Kenya was not yet ripe for such technologies given the then low uptake of information and communication technology, especially at the rural settings. Besides being perceived as a jigsaw, sensitising members of the public about iTax was like to marketing a product or a service that potential buyers already have an attitude towards it.
Despite the mixed reactions, one thing was for sure: iTax was here to stay and there was no turning back whatsoever. Since implementation of iTax in 2014, it has taken a raft of measures to encourage usage of the system to the taxpayers and to actualise the tagline “iTax ni rahisi”. Apart from periodic enhancements to match the expectations of the taxpayers as well as other strategies, leveraging on digital communication has been key in bringing iTax closer to the hearts of taxpayers.
A few years ago, use of traditional media to communicate important messages such as tax due dates to stakeholders was the only reliable method. The messages would still not reach all members of the target audience since the audience is highly segmented in terms of demographics. A television advert, for instance, would run but some would miss out. Unless one waited for a rerun of the message, making reference was a challenge.
In the recent past, internet penetration has been substantially high in the country, thanks to the proliferation of portable communication gadgets such as cell phones, which support internet connectivity. In a 2017 report, the Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) reported a 12.5 per cent increase in internet penetration in Kenya. Contemporarily, the rate of penetration could be higher than this.
Because of this exponential growth, a perfect environment for digital communication to thrive has been set. Although at its early stages of penetration digital communication was perceived as a preserve for the private sector, the public sector is fast catching up with this new trend of communication, and KRA is leading the pack. KRA has substantially leveraged on the digital space to sell one of the arguably most difficult products to sell: tax. Using both traditional platforms and digital platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn, KRA has managed to effectively communicate tax issues to different segments of taxpayers. The digital space has especially been instrumental in the annual returns filing awareness.
As mentioned earlier, leveraging on digital communication during the 2019 annual tax returns filing season was phenomenal. Digital communication was among an array of factors that accounted for not only early filing among the taxpayers but also increased the number of filers from last year’s 3.2 million to 3.6 million this year.
Digital communication channels facilitate flexibility in the way the message is delivered to the target audience. This has enabled KRA to simplify the apparently complicated tax jargon to resonate with taxpayers from all walks of life. Digital communication platforms have also proved to be perfect vehicles for delivering messages that match the contemporary events around the world.
Thanks to the modern digital communication channels, which give taxpayers room for feedback and interaction, taxpayers now give KRA a ‘face’ they can easily associate with. As Brand Quarterly reported in an article titled “How digital empowerment has changed marketing communications” (2017), with proliferation of digital communications, customers are no longer on the listening end; they now have an opportunity to speak their hearts out. It is from the customer feedback that KRA makes informed decisions about what the taxpayers want in order to enhance efficiency in service delivery.
Although the role played by traditional communication platforms cannot be downplayed, digital communication is highly indispensable in the current era. The private sector seems to have learnt this from the onset and the outcome has been evident. There is therefore a need for more public sector players to embrace digital communication.