Treasury Cabinet Secretary Njuguna Ndung’u has tapped Harvard-trained corporate financial advisor Humphrey Wattanga Mulongo to be the next Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) commissioner-general, restoring the reign of outsider chief executives at the State agency.
Mr Wattanga is tasked with delivering President William Ruto’s ambitious plan to collect Sh2.768 trillion in tax revenues set out for the taxman in the current financial year and cross the Sh3 trillion mark by 2024/25.
The KRA was expected to collect Sh2.191 trillion in ordinary revenues in the 2022/2023 financial year but achieved Sh2.166 trillion in a year when revenue shortfalls put the taxman in the crosshairs of the Ruto administration.
Read: KRA board cuts term limit of next commissioner-general
The appointment, however, extends a streak of heartbreaks for acting chief executives who have found themselves overlooked in the recruitment of substantive CEOs for State corporations.
Mr Wattanga, an outsider at Times Towers, beat the rest of the candidates, including Rispah Simiyu, who has been acting as commissioner-general following the resignation of James Githii Mburu on February 23.
Ms Simiyu was serving as the commissioner of domestic taxes at the time of her acting appointment.
Mr Wattanga’s immediate task will be to actualise the collection of the controversial 1.5 percent housing levy, which has been challenged in court.
Towards the end of this month, employers are expected to remit the back-dated levy.
He is also expected to give the taxman a humane face amidst a tough economic environment that has pushed some taxpayers to resort to tax evasion and avoidance schemes.
Mr Mburu opted to resign less than eight months into his new term, a clear indicator that he was not on friendly terms with the new administration of President Ruto.
During his campaigns, Dr Ruto had accused his predecessor, Uhuru Kenyatta, of weaponising the KRA to settle political scores.
At the heart of this alleged tax ‘witch-hunt’ that would see the taxman go after Ruto’s close associates was Mr Mburu.
President Ruto has never concealed his displeasure with the KRA’s previous aggressive clampdown on the rich in an effort to recover unpaid taxes and raise national revenues.
Mr Wattanga who said mobilising capital for development is a noble challenge that he ‘fervently seeks to pursue with a passion’, holds a Master’s degree in Business Administration from the Wharton School of Finance, University of Pennsylvania, USA and a Bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry (cum laude) from Harvard University, USA.
The Alliance High School alumnae has over 15 years of global experience serving as a business development, corporate finance and transaction advisor to private equity entities, private sector companies, development finance institutions, governments and public organisations.
He previously served as a commissioner and the vice-chairman of the Commission on Revenue Allocation (CRA), where he was responsible for ensuring effective coordination and creating constructive synergy among the various committees.
The recruitment process started on April 12 following Mr Mburu’s abrupt exit to reportedly pursue personal interests.
The man who has over two decades of experience as a financial advisor will be expected to ride on the new taxes and levies in the Finance Act 2023 in hitting the target.
Mr Mburu took over from Mr John Njiraini, who had served as KRA commissioner-general between 2012 and 2019.
“In exercise of the powers conferred by section 11 (1) of the Kenya Revenue Authority Act, 1995, the Cabinet Secretary for the National Treasury and Economic Planning appoints— Humphrey Wattanga Mulongo to be the Commissioner General of Kenya Revenue Authority, for a period of three (3) years, with effect from the 22nd August 2023,” Prof Ndung’u said.
Unlike Mr Mburu, who was a long-time insider at KRA’s audit and intelligence units before he was appointed KRA Commissioner-General in July 2019 for a three-year term, the new KRA boss is an outsider and many will be keen to watch whether he will deliver on his mandate.
After leaving CRA, where he served for six years, Mr Wattanga joined Meghraj Capital, the investment banking advisory arm of the Meghraj Group as the managing director.
He is a member of the Kenya Institute of Bankers (KIB), a professional umbrella body for the banking and finance sector in the country.
In his curriculum vitae, the new KRA boss lists a study conducted while at CRA on the optimal own-source revenue that each county government can generate from key revenue streams among the key assignments he performed as the lead person.
The study found that counties have a revenue potential of Sh260 billion, but were only collecting a paltry Sh38 billion per year.
Nairobi County, for example, was collecting Sh9 billion against a revenue potential of Sh65 billion.
A founder and director of the elite Nova Academies in Kenya, Mr Wattanga also mentions that he partnered with Securities & Trading Technologies of South Africa in 2010 to advance and support the Nairobi Securities Exchange (NSE) in automating bond trading.
“This shortened the trade execution period from 12 days to just 3 days, and the value of bonds traded per annum immediately jumped 400 percent, from Sh100 billion to Sh400 billion. The system has since been further advanced to real-time trading, which has seen the value of bonds traded per annum go up to Sh856 trillion,” he said.
Read: Githii Mburu: Tale of ruthless taxman forced out in radical surgery
Mr Wattanga describes himself as a seasoned corporate and public finance professional with a strong interest in the systematic analysis of transformative market opportunities and the evaluation of their potential.
“I am driven by the practical application of innovative technology and financial structuring to enhance market linkages, unlock resource potential, and optimize the mobilization of capital for investment and development,” he said.
At Alliance, Mr Wattanga won the Dr Ouko Award for Academic Excellence for attaining the first position in the country during the 1990 national examination.
At Wharton School, Mr Wattanga majored in information systems strategy and economics and says it provided him with a firm foundation on which to anchor his drive and motivation.
Other executives that left with Mburu that have also since been replaced include Lilian Nyawanda (Commissioner, of Customs and Border Control), Terra Saidimu (Commissioner, Intelligence & Strategic Operations) and David Kinuu (Commissioner, Corporate Support Services).
David Mwangi, David Yego and Nancy Ngetich have taken up their respective roles in acting capacity.
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