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RENEW’s Legal Corner: May 2022

By Tsegamlak Solomon, Lincoln Ford & Sintayehu Abebe | Fri May 06 2022
Our take on May’s developments in the investment ecosystems of East Africa.

The New Directive by the Ministry of Revenues Eases the Deductibility of Loans
The Ministry of Revenues (MoR) issued a directive related to keeping tax books of accounts. The new directive No. 176/2014, which repealed Directive No 152/2011, aims at bringing clarity to the business community on keeping books of accounts and having supporting documents with an ultimate goal of creating consistency in terms of application. The new directive has made some noteworthy changes. However, perhaps the significant one is related to the registration and documentation of loans. 
Previously, taxpayers were required to show a loan agreement that was notarized at Documents Authentication and Registration Services (DARS) in order to recognize a certain entry to the company’s books as a debt. Otherwise, there is a high probability that the transfer will be considered an income and subject to tax. This has been a major dispute area between the taxpayers and the tax authority.
The rigidity of the process at DARS to get a loan agreement notarized added to the fact that most businesses are family-owned and lack of awareness resulted in shareholders usually putting their personal money into their business at times of distress without DARS registration and facing excessive taxation. 
The new directive has provided some clarity to that. Even though the burden of proof still rests on the taxpayer, now a loan can be proven in different ways in addition to proof of notarization at DARS. Despite the upgrades to the law, be advised that not getting a loan agreement notarized at DARS will have consequences in terms of stamp duty penalty. The business community is still advised to get the loan agreement notarized at DARS, however, the consequence of not doing so is now less grave. 
NBE has Released a Complete Guidelines for Telecom Operators
In 2020, the National Bank of Ethiopia (NBE), came up with a Licensing and Authorization of Payment System Operators Directive - ONPS/02/2020, which allowed telecom operators to engage in payment and related services in Ethiopia. As a follow-up to this, NBE has introduced a Complete Guide on Payment System Operator License Process that stipulates the details of the licensing process for the financial firms that want to engage in related businesses. 
The guideline has five phases detailing the application procedure to secure the license. These include to whom the application should be addressed, documents that should be submitted with the application, company formation and the authorization process.    
Basic Food Items Can Now Enter Ethiopia on Franco Valuta Basis 
In an effort to control the food inflation in Ethiopia, triggered by internal and international factors, the government is taking new measures. As part of this move, the Ministry of Finance has issued a circular allowing the Ethiopian diaspora and Ethiopians’ who live abroad to import basic food items into Ethiopia without a foreign currency permit. 
In a circular which is written to the Ethiopian Customs Commission, the Ministry of Finance has given permission to the diaspora and Ethiopians who live abroad to import oil, wheat, sugar, rice and instant milk under the franco valuta scheme. The new circular waives the restrictions that were imposed on the volume that is allowed. Under the new circular there is no minimum requirement and persons who are considered eligible can import any amount of the basic food items which are listed under the Directive. 
NBE Has Come up with a New Directive for the Implementation of Technology in Core Banking Operations
NBE has introduced a Directive that obligates commercial banks to automate their system, at least their core business processes. As per this law, commercial banks are required to automate their customer due diligence, loan processing, loan portfolio management, and interest banking services among others. 
NBE has set a time frame for banks to modernize their banking processes, which is within the next two years starting from the effective date of the Directive. Not complying with the Directive within the set time framework will result in an ETB 10,000 fine each month. If a bank fails to automate its core banking business within additional two years, it will face partial or full suspension of related core business in due consideration of the nature of the function.

The End of Umeme’s Monopoly over the Supply and Distribution of Electricity
The Ugandan Parliament has passed an Electricity Amendment Bill 2022 which, if ratified by President Museveni, will end Umeme Limited's (“Umeme'') monopoly as the sole bulk power supplier of the country. Umeme has been operating under a 20 years electricity distribution concession effective March 2005 from the Government. Umeme is Uganda’s main electricity distribution company, listed on the Uganda Securities Exchange and cross-listed on the Nairobi Securities Exchange of Uganda and is currently distributing about 97% of all electricity used in the country. 
The new bill permits suppliers to receive generation and transmission licensees to supply electric power in bulk directly to categories of customers specified by the Minister. The assent of President Museveni is the only remaining hurdle for the bill to be implemented.
The implementation of the presidential directive will take away Umeme’s service territories where it is not licensed. It will also give a selling power to industries at a tariff that eliminates the current expensive distribution costs of Umeme. 
Uganda Import Rule Over Age-Old Cars
In a new directive by the Uganda Revenue Authority (URA), imports of vehicles older than nine will be cleared under the East African Community’s Single Customs Territory (SCT) which allows members of the bloc to jointly collect customs taxes. Complementary to this directive, any vehicle nine years old or more from the date of manufacture shall no longer be cleared under the current warehousing regime. As a result, based on CRSP The price of used cars will be inflated as it attracts an import duty of 25%, excise duty (ranging from 25% to 35%) and value-added tax of 16% payable cumulatively and in that order.
The likely impact of this directive will be first, a decrease in vehicles sold on the automobile black market in Kenya and secondly, it will create a tough environment for Ugandan importers as they will be required to lodge import declaration forms in their respective home countries and pay relevant taxes upfront to facilitate the export process. Thus, the price of automobiles will likely imminently increase. However, for some, this is viewed as positive news from an environmental point of view because consumers will inevitably opt to purchase newer cars that have lower carbon emissions. Kampala, Uganda’s capital, is currently reported to have the second-worst air quality in Africa.

Rwanda to Benefit from $25m Initiative for Climate Resilient Crop Varieties
Burundi, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are part of the countries listed for consideration in the new initiative that strives to ensure environmental conservation and increase food security. According to an article in the New Times, the  $25 million regional initiative dubbed “Transforming Agri-Food Systems in West and Central Africa” (TAFS-WCA) initiative has been launched by CGIAR, a global research partnership to improve nutrition and food security within the context of climate change in West and Central Africa through nutritious, climate-adapted and market-driven food systems. Rwanda depends greatly on agriculture for both domestic consumption and export. Earlier this year, a prolonged drought eroded more than 40% of Rwanda’s farmer’s produce, mainly beans and maize. This situation was exacerbated when the heavy rains that came, later on, damaged the crops that had survived the dry spells. This initiative will offer farmers some relief from the adverse and sometimes unavoidable effects of climate change subsequently ensuring food security and steady yields for consumption and export.
Ukrainian Refugees Could be Sent  to Rwanda
In an interesting twist, senior officials in the UK have stated that Ukrainian refugees entering the country with illegal documentation may be relocated to Rwanda. The process will begin in the next few weeks following a $158M deal struck by the British government and Rwanda last month. Thousands of illegal migrants who haven’t yet been processed in the UK will be granted asylum or refugee status. According to an article in The Guardian UKTom Pursglove, the minister for justice tasked with tackling illegal migration stated in defense of the new immigration scheme that, “This is a new and untested policy at this point in time. I do think that in the fullness of time we will see this policy, as part of a wider package that we are introducing, really shift the dynamic.” The Migration and Economic Development Partnership will likely be beneficial in achieving Rwanda’s economic and social transformation by integrating the asylum seekers into the workforce.
4. Current Retail Selling Price
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