Professor Annet Wanyana Oguttu – First Black Woman to Obtain a Tax Law Doctorate Degree In South Africa

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Published on November 22, 2013 with 1 Comment


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Ugandans have made tremendous achievements and continue to make an impact in their careers wherever they live.  One such Ugandan is Professor Annet Wanyana Oguttu of the University of South Africa. Sandra A. Oder interviewed Professor Oguttu who provided insights into achieving one’s goals through focus, consistence, resilience and having the right aptitude. [The Association of Ugandan Professionals in South Africa. - AUPSA]

Professor Oguttu is an all-time achiever. At the occasion of the 2012 “South African Women in Science Awards” (WISA), held on 24 August 2012, the Minister of Science and Technology (Mrs DNM Pandor) presented to Oguttu the 2012 “Distinguished Women in Science Award: Social Sciences and Humanities” (second runner-up) for “outstanding contribution to building South Africa’s scientific and research knowledge base”.

Prof Oguttu completed her doctorate in Tax Law at Unisa in 2008. She is the second woman to have completed a doctorate in Tax Law at a South African university and the first black woman to do so. She is currently a professor of Tax law in the Department of Mercantile Law at Unisa – the first black woman to hold the position of full professor in the College of Law at Unisa. She is the subject head of the Tax Law group; as such she is at the forefront of lecturing and developing new qualifications and modules in Tax Law, as well as supervising postgraduate dissertations and theses in Tax Law.

In 2009, she pursued postdoctoral studies in International Tax Law at the University of Michigan, and received an award in recognition of her academic excellence and outstanding contribution to the intellectual community of the University of Michigan.

Prof Oguttu is a National Research Foundation (NRF) C2 rated researcher. She was also a recipient of the “Unisa 2011 Women of the Year Award” and the “Unisa 2010 Top Performer Award”.

Prof Oguttu has published 23 articles in top national and international journals, of which 18 are in peer-review journals on topics relating to international tax taw and she has written three book chapters. She has presented lectures on various international tax law topics at national and international conferences.

In 2013 this accomplished South African tax law expert and Unisa professor, Annet Wanyana Oguttu was selected to be a member of the South African Tax Review Committee announced recently by the Minister of Finance, Pravin Gordhan. The committee will be chaired by Judge Dennis Davis.

WHO IS ANNET WANYANA OGUTTU?

I am a Ugandan, married to Dr. James Wabwire Oguttu and have three children. I am a professor of taxation law at the University of South Africa (Unisa). I hold a doctorate in tax law from Unisa, a master’s degree with specialization in tax law and bachelors of law degree from Makerere University.

HOW DO YOUR FRIENDS AND FAMILY DESCRIBE YOU?

My parents still call me ‘baby girl’. I have been described by my close friends as being friendly, focused and resilient, and a blessing to many. They also say that I draw out the best in them. My husband says I am gifted and a great wife. My siblings say I am their role model while my son Timothy says I am the best mum he could ever have.

HOW DO YOU DESCRIBE THE STATE OF TAXATION IN UGANDA?

My knowledge of tax laws, which is in practice largely country specific, is with respect to the South African position since this is where I have done my studies and practiced. However my general knowledge of how any country could achieve a successful tax system is relevant in analyzing the state of Uganda’s tax system.

The government of every country has an obligation to build the country’s economy, its infrastructure, and to promote the economic welfare of the country in general. To finance its expenditures, the government needs to generate income so as to finance its labor force and to provide public goods and services. A government could generate the funds by increasing the amount of money in circulation in the economy or by borrowing money. However, the most important source of generating (own) revenue for any government is by levying taxes. A tax is a compulsory contribution, payable in money, to a taxing authority, with the primary purpose of funding public expenditure. Thus, the efficient administration of a country’s tax system is instrumental in building its economy and infrastructure. By implication, the state of a country’s infrastructure is a clear indication of the state of its tax administration. Many developing countries including Uganda are lagging behind in this regard.

Ugandan citizens are largely unaware of the role that taxes play in the development of the economy and also of their fiscal responsibility not to evade taxes. Many of them are also largely unaware of their fiscal right to know how the taxes collected are utilized in building the country’s economy. An ideal tax system is one that adheres to certain equitable criteria: tax neutrality, equity, certainty, simplicity and cost-effectiveness. An effort towards tax equity would be for Ugandans to see accountability from the government as to how taxes are utilised. This should ideally be portrayed in a comprehensive annual Budget Speech – showing an equitable distribution in the funding of the various sectors of the economy, followed by provision of basic public services.

For income tax purposes, Uganda predominately applies the source basis of taxation in that only income earned by residents and non-residents from within Uganda’s borders is taxed. Countries that predominately apply the source basis of taxation often miss out on the taxation of income earned by residents from foreign sources. So, such countries often have provisions in place that deem certain income earned by its residents as sourced within that country.

Uganda like many other African countries has over the last few decades seen an influx of foreign investors. The taxation of cross-border investments is a major challenge for most developing countries since their international tax laws largely lag behind trends set by the developed countries where the investors come from. Most international tax laws are quite complex to administer. Developing countries like Uganda often lack the administrative capacity to administer such laws. In addition, many developing countries’ tax administrations lack the capacity on the workings of tax treaties, which are very instrumental in encouraging foreign investment and the prevention of fiscal evasion and avoidance that could result from foreign investments.

I am an instructor at the African Tax Institute which is based at the University of Pretoria. This institute brings together tax officials from various African countries and trains them on various tax issues. I give lectures on international tax law and tax treaties and I am glad to say that over the years that I have been involved with the Institute, Uganda’s tax authority has always sent some delegates for training.

HOW ARE THE TAXATION LAWS IN SA DIFFERENT FROM THOSE OF UGANDA?

There are different types of taxes levied in the world today. These include: Income tax, Value added tax, Capital gains tax, Donations tax, Estate duty and Excise duty. Countries introduce these taxes depending on the capacity they have to administer the same. As mentioned earlier, for income tax purposes, Uganda predominantly applies the source basis of taxation whereby only income earned by residents and non-residents from within Uganda’s borders is taxed. South Africa’s tax regime applies the source basis of taxation to tax its non-residents but the residence basis of taxation is applied to tax the worldwide income of its residents. For a country to apply this system, it has got to have the administrative capacity to cast its tax net worldwide. That is why the residence basis of taxation is applied mainly by developed countries. South Africa appears to be the only African country that applies the residence basis of taxation in line with how it is applied internationally.

Unlike most African countries, South Africa portrays aspects of a developed and developing country. The developed aspect of its economy explains why it has over the years introduced tax laws that other developed countries have in place. For instance, South Africa also has various laws for the taxation of international transactions which are in line with international trends. South Africa regularly takes measures to build its administrative capacity to administer these complex laws. It for instance has in place an e-filing system that has been instrumental in ensuring an efficient submission of tax returns. In 2011, South Africa introduced the Tax Administration Act to ensure proper administration of its taxes. Fiscal accountability and political will on the part of South Africa’s government is evidenced by the policy measures adopted by National Treasury, working hand in hand with the South African Revenue Services, to ensure the efficient collection of taxes and administration of the tax system. The comprehensive annual Budget Speech by the Minister of Finance often gives an indication as to how much tax was collected in the previous year of assessment, how various sectors of the government are going to be funded in the current year, the new taxes, rates and measures that will be introduced to prevent any fiscal evasion and avoidance. Uganda should emulate South Africa in this regard by coming up with a comprehensive budget that is not only heard but also one that is seen to show accountability with regard to taxes collected.

WHO ARE YOUR MENTORS?

In terms of mentoring my personal values, I have to appreciate the role my parents played in instilling in me the values I hold today. These were also cemented by my teachers in primary, secondary schools, and at tertiary institutions. We often rarely acknowledge our teachers but they played a big role in building the foundations we have built on. In terms of my career, I really appreciate the mentoring, counsel and guidance that I received from the promoters of my doctorate degree: Professor Riel Franzsen at the University of Pretoria and Professor Christian Schulze at Unisa.

My husband has played a major part in mentoring me. He has been my best friend since we were at Makerere University. He has always been interested in my career development, planning ahead for me, and often coming up with ideas of what my next projects should be. He has been very supportive and is always ready and willing to take care of the children when I needed to concentrate on my studies. I could never have asked for more.

I also want to acknowledge various national and international academicians whose writings have shaped my research arguments and influenced my perspectives on various tax law issues. My interactions and discussions with some of these renowned experts in the field of tax law at both national and international conferences have been enriching. What is striking is that although many of them are world acclaimed experts, and one would expect them to be high and mighty, they are very humble individuals.

The Oguttu family at Annet’s graduation ceremony, Pretoria, 2010

WHAT’S YOUR TIP FOR GETTING TO THE TOP?

I would not want to give a typical answer to this question. For me, one of the most important things is to be humble because God will always exalt the humble. Never forget that whatever we have and how you made it thus far was not by your own efforts alone. Many people help you along the way and God was watching over you.

The second thing is to never let success get to your head. Always aim higher, never settle in the past. God expects you to go from glory to glory. The third tip is to always be resilient. There will always be setbacks and hindrances in life but always find strength within you to come back when trials and tribulations hit. Where there’s a will, there’s always a way.

WHAT’S YOUR BEST INVESTMENT ADVICE?

I will also not give a typical response to this question. For any question on investment tips, one would get an answer regarding investing in property, businesses and the like. It goes without saying that as one’s career advances, investing in tangible assets or business of whatever form is inevitable and is expected of us. But beyond this, I believe that it is important for one to invest in oneself as a person. We often tend to look at others or at the things we own to validate our self worth. We even peg our self-esteem to positions we hold and properties we own. Often when a financial crisis hits, it is not uncommon to find that the person behind it is empty, having nothing within them to hold onto. They will often fall prey to all sorts of abdications and desertion by friends and relatives who only held them in high esteem for what they had and not for who they are.

Invest in building yourself: this ranges from advancing your studies, developing good eating habits, exercising regularly and developing a Godly-value system. These intangible investments will build in you a calibre of a person whose personality and character can withstand the odds of life. Such traits will overflow into your ability to make wise decisions, being able to value others and be a blessing to many. In short, work from the inside out and not the other way round. What is the point of gaining the world and losing yourself at the end of the day?

WHAT DO YOU CONSIDER YOUR GREATEST ACHIEVEMENT?

My greatest achievement was when I was appointed a full professor at Unisa in 2010.

WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR BEST BUSINESS DECISION?

I chose to further my studies and kept going even when times were tough. One can easily get sidetracked and derailed because of the need to make money and to fend for the family. I chose to keep going on with my studies which I believe is the best business decision I made.

I also chose to study an area in tax law which given its complexity is often intimidating for many lawyers. I took a step further and chose to specialize in international tax law which has helped me acquire a global perspective. It is because of my expertise in this regard that I can comment authoritatively on South Africa’s income tax laws and especially those that relate to international transactions.

UGANDA CELEBRATED ITS 50 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE ON 9 OCTOBER LAST YEAR. WHAT DOES UGANDA NEED TO GET AHEAD?

Fifty years of independence is a great milestone. One thing that I am proud of with regard to the people of Uganda is that, many of them have over the last five decades come to realize that blaming colonialism, past governments or whatever system of oppression for why they cannot advance, is not going to work. Generally, Ugandans do not sit around and wait for hand-me-downs. They are a resilient people, very hardworking, very industrious, a people with a will to “make it” despite the circumstances. Unlike in economies like South Africa where citizens can look up to the government for social grants and where they will strike for their rights to efficient delivery of public services, Ugandans just know that they have to work hard to get these services. This hard work that has brought many Ugandans thus far is commendable.

Nevertheless, having paid taxes, Ugandans need to know that they have a right to know and demand that the government provide certain basic goods and services to its people. Since independence in 1962, our previous and current governments have put certain infrastructure in place, for which they should be commended. But 50 years later! One expects that a lot more should have been done. The sorry state of Uganda’s public hospitals, for example, that is reported in every other Ugandan newspaper, is heartbreaking – 50 years after independence. Ugandans should not only hear but also see political will on the part of our government to ensure efficient administration of taxes and that these taxes are equitably distributed in the funding of the various sectors of the economy.

WHAT DO UGANDAN LEGAL TAXATION PRACTITIONERS NEED TO GET AHEAD?

Most legal practitioners find the volume, detail and complexity of tax law overwhelming and intimidating. This is because tax statutes are technical in nature, often very complex and sometimes illogical in content and form. However, tax law invariably impacts on most areas of law practice. Lawyers should therefore have some knowledge and understanding of tax law even if they do not intend to practice as tax lawyers, as they may often find themselves in the situation of having to advise a client on a legal problem that may also involve some aspect of tax law. Tax law is certainly not an area in which ignorance is bliss!

In any efficient tax system, tax laws are never static. Tax practitioners require continuous study to keep abreast with the frequent amendments to the legislation and trends in international practices. Tax practitioners would thus need to keep themselves updated regularly on such developments. It is thus recommended that tax practitioners without a formal qualification in tax law should endeavor to upgrade their skills set, so that they can build up their knowledge capacity in this area.

In a globalized economy, a tax practitioner may be required to provide advice to clients regarding their cross-border investments. Although a tax practitioner is not generally expected to have a perfect knowledge of all foreign tax systems, he or she should have some know how on the workings of international tax laws, and where there is a tax treaty between a foreign investor’s country of residence, and the country in which they wish to invest, the tax practitioner should get acquainted with the provisions in the relevant treaty.

WHAT ADVICE DO YOU GIVE TO ASPIRING YOUTH?

I would want them to know what it takes to get ahead. We all have it in us to succeed as none of us came empty-handed from God. We all have a gifting from God. Find your aptitude and go for it.

Furthering your studies is very important. A first degree is not enough in the corporate world of today. In making a career choice, it is always advisable to do something you love and are passionate about. However in the capitalistic world of today, what we are passionate about may not be marketable – one needs to find a balance, if they are to bring a paycheck back home. You may have to dream afresh and find a course that will give you an edge. In today’s globalized economy, you will never go wrong if you embark on a course that has an international perspective. I chose to study international tax law and this gave me a niche which has taken me far in my career.

HOW DO YOU SPEND YOUR SUNDAY?

My Sundays are dedicated to worshiping God. It is very important for one to rest and acknowledge the giver of life and all wisdom – the one from whom all blessings flow. After church, I spend quality time with the family; having simple fun with the kids and generally relaxing. Like my mother often did, I usually prepare a great Sunday meal. I love to hear the dinning room filled with laughter from satisfied souls.

WHAT KIND OF MUSIC DO YOU LISTEN TO?

I listen to gospel and Christian music. One of my hobbies is singing and I do sing in our church worship team. I also love reading a lot and I love water so when I take my holidays, the Durban beach is not usually far from my list of holiday destinations.

Source – The Association of Ugandan Professionals in South Africa. – AUPSA

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About Ugandan Diaspora Team

The Uganda Diaspora Network is a forum aimed at bringing together Ugandans who live and work abroad by celebrating their contributions overseas and also encouraging them to give of their time, talents, ideas and expertise whilst inspiring the next generation of Ugandan leaders. Every year the Ugandan Diaspora Network will organise an annual Social Networking Gala and will also produce a quarterly publication highlighting the successes of the various Ugandans residing overseas. Please send us those inspirational stories and philanthropic work involving Ugandans abroad. We shall share these stories using this platform that is rapidly growing and expanding. The Next Diaspora Social Networking Gala will be Held on 30th December 2012 at The Kampala Serena Hotel.

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