I thrived on teamwork, says Jenkins

MASERU – He is a taxman. A bad golfer. A saxophone player. An avid reader. A rock climber. A crossword fanatic. A fisher. He loves Africa.

That pretty much sums up how the outgoing commissioner general of the Lesotho Revenue Authority (LRA), Charles Jenkins, defines himself.

Many colleagues he worked with at the revenue authority for the past three years will probably be surprised that their former boss was all those things.

For instance, many did not know that he was a saxophone player until three weeks ago when they organised a farewell party for him.

He says he had a good time and many were pleasantly surprised when he took the saxophone and started belting out the tunes.

“Many were surprised when I started playing,” said Jenkins who has spent nearly three decades in Africa.

In fact he likes to call himself a musician of some sort.

He played in three bands when he was working in Lagos, Nigeria.

Another surprise: Age might have taken its toll on him (he is 53) but in his heydays he was quite a good rugby player.

He played fly half for the university team.

But even now at 53 he still has energy to scale top mountains in Lesotho.

Jerkins became the former LRA boss on Friday 5 o’clock when his three-year contract ended.

He is humble about his achievements but the record speaks volumes about his ability.

The numbers and targets that he has surpassed as the country’s top taxman are not so modest.

When he took up his position on March 1, 2006 the LRA had slightly missed its revenue collection target for the 2005 fiscal year.

“The authority was performing adequately,” said Jerkins who is a Welsh by descent (his accent gives him away).

However, from 2006 the national purse started bulging.

For the 2006-07 year the authority surpassed the revenue target by M102 million.

The following year they beat the target by M222 million.

“For the 2008-09 year I think we have surpassed the target by about M400 million. That comes to about M700 million over the past three years.”

He refuses to take credit for the achievements during his tenure.

“It’s about team work. We have built a strong team at the LRA.”

He also refuses to look at it in terms of numbers but what value the money will have to the people’s lives.

“I always tell our people that we have to look at what value the money adds to the people. The new referral hospital will cost about M1 billion. That means our extra effort has raised more than 60 percent of the amount required for that hospital.”

But does the over-collection of tax mean that he has been chasing taxpayers down rivers and up mountains to pay up?

He answers with an emphatic “No!”

We developed a new focus that treats a taxpayer as a customer to be given services, he said.

Under him the LRA has changed its payoff line from “Pay Tax and Build Lesotho’s Future” to “Serving You – Serving the Nation”.

The change has paid off.

“We are treating taxpayers as customers and not some criminals waiting to be caught out. We have also broadened the tax base.

“We have improved efficiency and tried to convince the compliant taxpayer that they are not competitively disadvantaged by paying their taxes.”

But that does not mean they don’t go after the tax evaders?

Said Jenkins: “We do have a litigation section in the authority. We have taken people to court but that doesn’t normally help because tax collection is about building relations.”

He says encouraging voluntary compliance is the most cost effective way of doing things.

Where to now for the father of two?

Jenkins says he has two options.

They are not solid yet but they are promising.

He can either go to Swaziland or Sierra Leone.

Swaziland is in the process of forming a revenue authority and they need a commissioner general.

He attended an interview for that job on February 20.

He does not want to say how the interview went but it must have been fine because he had the time to indulge in one of his many hobbies during the trip — reading.

He read Knots and Crosses by Ian Rankin during the trip.

It’s a crime novel about a detective with a troubled past.

Jenkins could also go to Sierra Leone to join the revenue authority there but not in the position of commissioner general.

“It will be a broader consultancy and advisory services for the revenue authority.”

He however admits that he is hoping that he gets the Swaziland job because it is more challenging.

In any case he gets to be close to Lesotho, a country which he says his daughter and son “love so much”.

Jenkins came to Africa in 1980 when he was still a 24-year-old doing his PhD research.

He first landed in Malawi.

He then crossed into Zambia and taught for four years at the University of Zambia.

He stayed in Zambia until 1996 when he moved to Kenya.

In 1999 he moved to Nigeria where he spent four years before moving to South Africa.

He was doing some freelance consultancy in South Africa when he saw the advert for the job of the commissioner general in Lesotho.

He applied and got the job.

He doesn’t regret the move.

“I don’t regret anything. I have made lots of friends and I will miss everything about this place. I had a good time here. I spent lots of good weekends at Oxbow Lodge.”

Jenkins is confident that he is leaving the organisation in capable hands.

Khabo Letjama has taken over as the acting commissioner-general of the LRA

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