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On 13 June 2019, the Parliament of Tanzania passed the Finance Act 2019 (the Act) which came into force on 1 July 2019. The Act amended the Tax Administration Act, Cap. 438 to establish an office known as Tax Ombudsman Service. This Office is established within the Ministry of Finance and Planning under section 28A of the Act.
The mandate of the Tax Ombudsman Service shall include reviewing and addressing any complaint by a taxpayer regarding service, procedural or administrative matters arising in the course of administering tax laws by the Tanzania Revenue Authority (TRA), the Commissioner General or a staff of the TRA.
On 4 March 2022, the Minister for Finance and Planning published the Tax Administration (Administration of Tax Ombudsman Service) Regulations 2022 and Tax Administration (Tax Ombudsman Service Complaint Procedure) Regulations 2022 (The Tax Ombudsman Service Complaint Procedure Regulations).
The Tax Ombudsman Service Complaint Procedure Regulations, provide for: Who may lodge a complaint; the procedure of lodging the complaint; and the procedure of handling and determining complaints.
According to the Tax Ombudsman Service Complaint Procedure Regulations, a person may lodge a complaint on matters arising from: non-compliance of procedures or maladministration by the TRA in administering tax laws; delay in release of documents or assets seized during the investigations of tax affairs; delay in responding to a complaint submitted by a taxpayer; or non-response of letters or documents sent to the TRA.
We note that the Tax Ombudsman Service Complaint Procedure Regulations are general which may give the impression that the Ombudsman Office can handle all the taxpayers’ complaints. On the contrary, our understanding is that the Ombudsman will only handle administrative and procedural issues which means that tax decisions on technical issues will still need to be taken to the appellate such as the Tax Revenue Appeals Board and the Tax Revenue Appeals Tribunal, where the taxpayer is aggrieved with such decisions.
In addition, where a taxpayer is aggrieved by an administrative or procedural decision undertaken by the Commissioner which can be handled by both the Ombudsman office and the Tax Revenue Appeals Board, our view is that a taxpayer can explore both avenues without any restrictions.
Key to note is that the Tax Ombudsman Service Complaint Procedure Regulations shall not allow a person to lodge a complaint to the Ombudsman unless the complainant had, before lodging the complaint to the Tax Ombudsman, made a written representation to the TRA and the TRA rejected the complaint; the complainant did not receive any reply within a period of thirty days after the TRA received the representation; or the complainant is not satisfied with the reply of the TRA. In addition, the Ombudsman office shall not entertain a complaint in respect of the same subject matter which was settled through the Tax Ombudsman Service in any previous complaint unless new evidence or information likely to affect the outcome of the previous findings has thereafter become available.
A complaint to the Tax Ombudsman may be lodged orally or in writing by any person who is not satisfied by the services rendered, procedural or administrative matter undertaken by the Commissioner General or staff of the TRA in the course of administering a tax law. The person lodging the complaint shall lodge the complaint by filling in a ‘Complaints Form’ as set out in the Schedule to these Regulations. The complaint shall then be lodged within 90 days after the occurrence of the event causing the complaint.
Upon receipt of the complaint, the Ombudsman shall register it, proceed to determine, and record his findings and recommendations within 30 days. In determining the complaint, the Ombudsman may resolve the matter amicably through mediation, conciliation, or any other method which he may consider appropriate. The Ombudsman is required to submit these findings and recommendations to the Minister for directions to the TRA within fourteen days from the date of determining the complaint.
The Tax Administration (Administration Of Tax Ombudsman Service), Regulations on the other hand, shall apply to the process of appointment of staff of the Tax Ombudsman Service and the conduct of the functions of the Tax Ombudsman. Under these regulations, the Ombudsman will be required inter alia to perform his duties independently and objectively, maintain confidentiality of taxpayers’ complaints, devise means of resolving complaints effectively and determine causes of complaints. Should this be achieved, we expect the TRA to operate more efficiently and effectively in administering tax laws in Tanzania. This will also ensure tax compliance and timely resolution of taxpayers’ complaints.