Dr. Farida Abdul: My PhD instilled a culture of humility
Tax compliance bears an impact on domestic revenue growth and ultimately our day-to-day lives. This year 3.6 million Kenyans filed their returns before the June 30 deadline, with this figure including 400,000 more than those who heeded the tax man’s call in 2018. In Kenya, tax is the single largest source of government revenue and it is the most viable strategy in the long run to wean a country out of foreign aid dependency.
A study on tax compliance behaviour of large and medium-sized business taxpayers in Kenya thrust Dr. Farida Abdul into the pool of Doctors of Philosophy in Accounting. Though Dr. Abdul’s career began in banking, she had it clear in mind that academia was where she would find fulfillment. She has been teaching tax and public finance at the Strathmore University Business School for the past ten years. She describes her journey in academia and the impact of tax compliance levels on the country’s economy.
How would you describe your PhD journey?
It was difficult because I was not a full-time student so I had to balance the PhD with full time work. I was lucky that my supervisors, Dr. James Mcfie and Prof. David Wang’ombe, were easily accessible and gave me a push when I needed it. They made the process less tedious as I was able to hand in my thesis corrections online.
How does it feel to be called Daktari?
It humbles me when I look at the journey I have taken to be where I am today. I have learnt the culture of humility that is very peculiar to Strathmore University. I’ve also come to appreciate respect; the student-professor relationship is a long-term one. Strathmore allows you to easily interact with everyone; students, lecturers and even the Vice- Chancellor!
If you were having a conversation with a PhD fellow, what would you tell them in assist them manage their time?
For a PhD you really have to change your lifestyle in order to survive. Time is very crucial for any student as there are so many deadlines to meet. You have to look at your studies on a daily basis. When I was pursuing my PhD, I was also a member of the Monetary Policy Committee which came with a lot of travel. I’d read in the plane, and at airports; wherever I was I made sure I read.
Why did you choose accounting?
Throughout my career I have been in accounting; I have a great association with our accounting bodies such as the Kenya Accountants and Secretaries National Examinations Board ((KASNEB) and the Institute of Certified Public Accountants of Kenya (ICPAK). I did my undergraduate studies in Kenyatta University (BA, Business studies) and my master’s at the University of Nairobi (MBA, Accounting).
I accredit this interest to having started my career by doing the CPA course. At the time, Strathmore College only had the undergraduate programmes and CPA was being offered by the Strathmore School of Accountancy. It was the evening programme and we would be about 80 students in a class.
What was the main factor that made you choose your thesis topic?
I worked at the KRA income tax tribunal for two terms of three years, with the last term ending in 2016. At the tribunal, I handled disputes between KRA and taxpayers. This helped me to understand tax from a legal perspective. Tax and accounting are intertwined as most of the disputes arise from application of accounting procedures.
There aren’t many Kenyan PhD studies in the area of tax and it’s still a growing discipline. Strathmore is also one of the few universities that offer tax courses at the master’s level. Having supervisors well versed in tax matters also assisted in the choice of topic.
What impact will the thesis have?
My thesis has a lot of policy implications in taxation; I carried out interviews with people and institutions steeped in taxation. In Kenya we are 50% compliant, a figure that is low. The country is having a shortage of funds, and I hope my thesis recommendations can be applied.
The problem in Kenya is that there is no connection between the tax amount being collected and the output whereas in developed countries the output, through aspects such as quality education and healthcare, is clearly seen. Kenyans will then ask what the government is doing for them. Corruption is a major challenge facing the country; it doesn’t encourage Kenyans to be tax compliant.
Do you think we will get to 100% tax compliance?
I’m not really worried. KRA has undergone tremendous change. At the moment we are at 22% of GDP in terms of collecting tax in comparison to 35% in European countries. In 2017, we were at 17% and we are now targeting 29%. We are doing well but we are not where we should be.
How would you encourage the young who may feel disillusioned with the state of affairs in the country?
I think change begins with us. Here at Strathmore, we can’t leave change to the Vice Chancellor; it’s a combined effort. Everyone’s part, however small, is significant. For a student, it is essential to achieve excellence in order to bring about change.
This article was written by Wambui Gachari.
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