ZRA Boss’ belief in local solutions pays dividends

By Mumbo Lombe FZICA, ACCA, MBA
From time immemorial, Zambian leaders have called on citizens to find local solutions to local challenges. Unfortunately this call has not been taken seriously by many Zambians.

Evidently many Zambians prefer foreign goods and services to local ones. Painfully so, this is very evident in the ICT space where Zambia spends millions of dollars every year on ICT solutions that do not fully resolve local problems and whose source codes are contractually withheld by developers thereby perpetuating dependence on them at a price.

Even our manufacturing sector has suffered the same fate; Zambians would rather buy imported popcorns than locally produced ones. This has severely shrunk the market for locally produced goods.

It is against this unacceptable and shameful state of affairs that the Zambia Revenue Authority, management, at the insistence of the Commissioner General, partnered with the Copperbelt University in 2018, to develop a local tax collection and enforcement system. Gladly the entire team of over 50 developers and system programmers that was put together by ZRA and CBU was all young Zambians managed by two Zambian Directors from the CBU and ZRA.

This risky decision by Mr. Kingsley Chanda and Professor Ngoma the Vice Chancellor of the Copperbelt University saved the government over USD3 million per year which was being paid to foreign companies.

The usual arm chair critics within ZRA and outside heavily criticized the Commissioner General and predicted a disastrous outcome. On 5th January 2020, the Commissioner General and the Vice Chancellor successfully launched TaxOnline II and the Indian based company whose system ZRA was using for six years was effectively out and Zambians took on the challenge. Money saved and the source code owned by ZRA thereby ensuring data security.

Speaking at the signing of the partnership agreement in Kitwe, the Commissioner General gave the CBU the challenge, expressed hope and confidence in their capabilities and this greatly motivated the University.

It can be done and it was done! A risk was taken and results are positive. A system developed by Zambians for Zambia.

ZRA and CBU are now working on exporting the system to other other countries in Africa.

Arising from this success story, the Commissioner General has now set up a fully resourced department called Innovation and Project Management Dept that is being headed by the current Project Manager for TaxOnline II. His intention is to find local ICT solutions for the Zambia Revenue Authority and reduce the annual ICT bill which is currently over USD10 million largely paid to foreign companies.

As CBU walks away from the project with pride and confidence, there is a loud call on all Zambians to believe in themselves and their products. Buy Zambia by Zambians.

Yes CBU made money from the project but as Chanda said in his address to his management team, he would rather pay a local institution than a foreign company.

The night mares of missing a deadline for a tax return simply because an excel worksheet contained an unnoticed comma, exclamation mark or any other special character are long gone, all that is needed is bearest logic, then you are good to beat any tax return deadline.

Anyone who could have used any of the previous ZRA tax platforms can attest to this observation.

Oscar Chavula,proprietor of Lusaka’s popular Radio station, HOT FM, recently wrote…..

“Let me give you an unbiased example of where there is a will there is a way.

For years, I detested the Zambia Revenue Authority website and system. It was convoluted and at best a maze to work with. A bad off the shelf solution.

Just over a year ago the Zambia Revenue Authority undertook to modernize and simplify their systems.

A very difficult venture by any standard.

As an IT person, I watched as the process came online, as expected a few teething problems due to the complexity of the under taking.

Mr Chanda and his team engaged the Copperbelt University to build a system from scratch at a minimal cost, incorporating student and faculty for a year at their Kalundu office.

This past week I took time to use the system extensively, the integration is continuing but it is simple, intuitive, user friendly and Zambian to its core.

A system I can openly say is well built, secure and sweet. That to me is a Zambian solution to a Zambian problem.

Someone called the shot and took the risk… I love it!”

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