URA, 5 supermarkets to face off in court over ‘discriminatory selection’ in pilot project

Mega Standard Supermarket A Mega Standard Supermarket poster is seen on top of a building. Image credit: Spurzine.com.

Five supermarkets want the civil division of the High Court to block Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) from using them in a pilot exercise for a new electronic receipting and invoicing system.

The supermarkets are Capital Shoppers Ltd, Quality Supermarket, Kenjoy Supermarket, Jazz Supermarkets Ltd and Mega Standard Supermarket Ltd.

The outlets, in a case filed by Ortus Advocates, want the High Court to issue a “temporary injunction” against URA, barring the Authority from using them as “pilot candidates” for the implementation of the aforementioned system dubbed  “Electronic Fiscal Receipting and Invoicing Solutions (EFRIS) until final disposal of the main Cause for Judicial Review”.

Judicial review is the principal mechanism used by the courts to police the exercise of public law functions. It seeks to ensure that bodies exercising public law functions act lawfully and fairly and do not abuse their powers.

According to court documents, Efris is to be rolled out on July 1.

The supermarkets want URA temporary blocked from enforcing it since it is “selective”.

That being said, they want the Efris to be launched once all businesses in Uganda have been onboarded and registered to the platform.

URA will also be restrained from subjecting these supermarkets to penal tax for not using the e-receipting and e-invoicing system “until the underlying issues such as discriminatory selection and enforcement are addressed” if it loses the case.

Why sue

According to Ponsiano Ngabirano, the founder and chief executive of Capital Shoppers, between Feb. and March 2020, URA, “without any consultative process or legal framework in place, issued notices to the” supermarkets “informing them that they had been selected for” the pilot exercise.

URA developed Efris to help it monitor transactions of businesses as they issue e-receipts and e-invoices.

When the supermarkets received a May 25, 2020 letter notifying them that they were to be used in the pilot phase of the project, they protested the move in a letter to URA written by Ortus Advocates.

Ngabirano says up to now URA hasn’t responded nor has it addressed their concerns.

“The pilot exercise was scheduled to start on 15th May 2020 and the Applicants’ (Supermarkets’) premises are at imminent risk of being intruded by the Respondent (URA) to enforce an illegal policy without any clear guidelines or Pilot Participation Agreements executed between the Applicants and the Respondent,” states Ngabirano’s affidavit.

The supermarkets say URA’s decision was “unjust, illegal, discriminatory, and unfair”.

URA’s decisions of selectively hand-picking businesses to partake in the experiment without any legal framework or selection criteria, the supermarkets argue, violates taxation principles, including the principle of fairness, neutrality and Uganda’s International obligations under the World Trade Organization (WTO) Trade Facilitation Treaty to which Uganda is a state party.

“The Applicants’ rights including the right of business privacy, commercial confidentiality, data protection and customer trust are at a high risk of being breached if the respondent goes ahead to experiment on the Applicants as pilot candidates without a proper legal framework and/or Pilot Participation Agreement being put in place,” reads the court filing.

The supermarkets assert that without a proper legal framework detailing the selection criteria, duties and obligations of URA, they are unable to offer informed consent to their businesses being utilized as candidates for the Efris pilot exercise.

The case is to be heard on June 26.

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