2009-10-03 10:15:00 TRA, Tanesco in showdown over stolen taxTanesco CEO Dr Idris RashidIf the money was stolen from TRA that has nothing to do with Tanesco, says utility official BY Mkinga Mkinga THE CITIZEN The scam involving theft of billions of shillings from the Tanzania Revenue Authority (TRA) electronic payment system (TRA.com) has taken a new twist, with two government institutions distancing themselves from the money that has reportedly been stolen. This arose after TRA wrote to two parastatals, whose tax payments amounting to billions of shillings were reportedly intercepted and siphoned by unscrupulous ICT wizkids with access to the tax authority's electronic system, demanding that the state firms pay due taxes equivalent to the money said to have been stolen. But one of the two firms, Tanzania Electric Supply Company (Tanesco) has distanced itself from the alleged theft, saying the stolen money " if there was any money stolen "was out of its domain, therefore, it should not be involved in any way whatsoever with the theft. The Tanesco public relations manager, Ms Badra Masoud, told The Citizen recently that the firm had nothing to do with the money that is said to have been stolen through the TRA system. "If the money was stolen from TRA, that has nothing to do with Tanesco,"she said, noting that Tanesco has not received any letter from TRA to that effect. She said information that Tanesco money paid as tax to TRA was stolen was also news to them. "We have been reading this in newspapers, we don't have any knowledge about Tanesco money being stolen. It's not our money, I'm sure... It might be some other parastatal's cash, but not Tanesco," she insisted. There was no immediate reaction from Tanzania Telecommunication Company Limited (TTCL), which has also been linked to the scam. Questions we sent to the company last week are still unanswered. Speaking exclusively to this paper, TRA Commissioner General Harry Kitilya confirmed that TRA has written to Tanesco and TTCL demanding that they pay overdue taxes. "As far as we are concerned, we have not received the money from Tanesco and TTCL. They are supposed to pay due tax and we don't expect to hear anything contrary to that," said Mr Kitilya. Elaborating, the TRA chief said the authority has a very secure system that its customers use to pay taxes without a hitch, adding that the issue of losing billions of shillings through the TRA.com does not arise. "All taxpayers know our account and they are also familiar with our system, and our accounts are under the name of the commissioner general, and we are sure that our system is secure... how can money get lost?"posed Mr Kitilya. Mr Kitilya said he wants to know where the money was directed to, otherwise TRA won't have any compromise with parastatals involved in the emerging scandal in which it is reported that between Sh6.5 billion and Sh100 billion, purported to have been paid by TTCL and Tanesco, were stolen by crooks who hacked into the TRA electronic payment system. "I need to prove through bank statements that the money was deposited in our system... the statements will show, otherwise they still owe us," Mr Kitilya stressed. He revealed that TRA has written a letter to TTCL and other taxpayers on this matter. The head of the revenue authority further said they have also invited the Prevention and Combating of Corruption Bureau (PCCB) to investigate. Reacting on the issue, Tanesco said they were not among parastatals whose money has been swindled via the TRA.com system and not reached TRA account. Speaking exclusively to The Citizen last weekend, the Tanesco's PR boss, Ms Masoud, said her company had neither sent any such money as indicated in the reports, nor is it aware of the stolen billions purportedly directed to the TRA account. The Citizen's efforts to reach the TTCL authorities for comment proved futile as the mobile number of the acting managing director went on ringing with no response. This paper had recently reported that investigators from the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) have established that inordinate hours taken by TRA personnel to clear tax payments made through electronic transfers, might have allowed a syndicate to steal billions of shillings remitted by state corporations. The investigators have confirmed that it took four to six hours for tax payments made through TRA.Com to be authenticated by the tax body's officials from the IT Department. Sources close to the team investigating into the disappearance of the money told The Citizen that most of TRA staff were not conversant with the new electronic money transfer system. Both the minister for Finance and Economic Affairs, Mr Mustafa Mkulo, and the Bank of Tanzania governor, Prof Benno Ndulu, have been separately quoted in the media as saying only $5 million has been lost to an international cyber syndicate. But other sources hint that $77 million may have been stolen. "We have also learnt that other officials were simply lazy or took too long to verify the payments and as a result, allowed time for hackers to steal the funds," a source close to the investigators, who requested for anonymity, said.