No end in sight to TRA standoff on wreckage of Kenyan aircraft
By Patrick Chambo, Holili Moshi
A Raging wrangle between the Tanzania Revenue Authority (TRA) in Kilimanjaro Region and the TRA head office in Dar es Salaam, which is centred on tax exemption granted by the bigwigs in the city to the chagrin of a customs manager in the region, seems to have no end in sight.
The wrangle hinges on an ill-fated four-seater aircraft, the property of a Kenyan aviation firm, East Africa Air Charter, which crash-landed on Mount Kilimanjaro last November, killing four tourists and the pilot.
The mangled remains of the plane have been confiscated by TRA regional authorities pending payment of due taxes that should have been paid in advance for tour activities carried out around Mount Kilimanjaro.
Then TRA Kilimanjaro regional customs manager Ben Asumbisye has vowed to defend national interests to the end to ensure that revenue was paid by the Kenyan tour operators before collection of the plane wreckage, currently stored at the Holili customs border post in the region.
However, in a new twist to the puzzle, Asumbisye was recently transferred to Tanga Region in what he interprets as a calculated move to make him succumb to the orders of his bosses in Dar es Salaam to release the plane wreckage unconditionally.
When asked in a telephone interview to comment on whether tax should be paid first before the mangled plane was released, TRA Commissioner General Harry Kitilya and current TRA Kilimanjaro Regional Manager Patience Minga both confirmed to be aware of the stand-off, but each said the issue did not concern their offices.
Kitilya said the TRA regional manager was better-placed to clarify the issue while Minga said TRA spokesperson should give details on what had transpired.
Not to be outdone, the now transferred Asumbisye stressed that, although he had been moved to Tanga, TRA regulations regarding collection of due revenue had to be adhered to.
``I have been taught to serve the nation faithfully and not to succumb to incorrect and illegal orders from above,`` he maintained.
Before being shifted to Tanga, Asumbisye had said resolutely that tax evaded by operators of the ill-fated Cessna aircraft amounting to millions of shillings had to be paid accordingly because tour operators from Kenya were allegedly notorious for taking advantage of weak security measures on the Tanzanian side to bring in tourists circulating Mt Kilimanjaro with impunity.
Before his transfer he had received a written memo from TRA headquarters instructing him to effect immediate release of the plane wreckage.
However, Asumbisye was adamant that tax evasion had to be brought to an end, vowing that this time around the defaulters had to pay, the exemption memo from a top ranking officer in Dar es Salaam notwithstanding.
``We cannot work in this way,`` Asumbisye was quoted as saying.
Earlier, owners of the aircraft had argued their case before Asumbisye, claiming that they had not intended to fly over the mountain on the Tanzanian side, had strong winds not forced the plane to drift across the border.
However, the customs manager would not buy the yarn, insisting that tax payment was not an option but obligatory. He suspected that his transfer had something to do with his firm stand on the matter.