Inside Look: Tech-Driven Tax Reform in Taunggyi, Myanmar

Visiting the field with The Asia Foundation, The Renaissance Institute and Koe Koe Tech to learn more about our pilot project to digitize government tax collection.

The team in Taunggyi, including staff from The Asia Foundation and Renaissance Institute.

The city of Taunggyi sits on the top of a hill not far from the famous shores of Inle Lake, Myanmar. We visited the area as part of a team from The Asia Foundation, The Renaissance Institute, and Koe Koe Tech to check in on a pilot project that is digitizing the tax collection process for district governments.

One of the largest challenges facing public finance in Myanmar is tax collection. By some estimates, regional governments collect less than 10% of their potential tax base. The pilot project in Taunggyi uses a mobile app built by Koe Koe Tech to address the underlying issues of tax collection in the country and increase the revenues that fund crucial public services ranging from infrastructure to trash collection.

Koe Koe Tech’s tax solution focuses on an Android-based app that runs on smartphones and tablets. The system allows Development Assistance Organizations (DAO’s) to manage all records digitally, record payment status, and digitize tens of thousands of paper tax forms. Its broad platform can be used to collect property taxes, water fees, and business license applications electronically. The new system enables the biannual tax collection to be completed three times faster than was previously possible.

Screenshots of Koe Koe Tech’s app for local tax officers, including secure login, local language content, and graphical interface.
The Koe Koe Tech app for tax collection provides a platform to process property taxes, water fees, and local business licenses.

Another significant improvement Koe Koe Tech’s software has provided is in the time necessary to complete property tax collection. According to DAO staff, a process that used to take six months now takes just two. The vast majority of paperwork can be completed digitally through the app.

Paperwork for business licenses before (left) and after (right) the DAO staff began using Koe Koe Tech’s app. Previously, the process was all on paper forms and required dozens of handwritten sheets. Now, the process is entirely electronic and produces two hard copy receipts, autocompleted and autosigned by the app.
A DAO staff member uses Koe Koe Tech’s technology to process business license applications in Taunggyi.
Local tax staff in Taunggyi.

Local tax collectors say the biggest improvements with the new technology are a reduction in paperwork and an increase in the tax base — resulting from new property registration. Before the new smartphone & tablet-driven system, staff had to stamp 25,000 individual sheets of paper over the course of each six month collection period. Now, an automated system prints single page receipts with an electronic signature.

Koe Koe Tech’s smartphone and tablet-driven system allows tax collectors to gather property and water taxes, including photos of the meter reading.

According to senior DAO and government officials, trash collection is another major concern for local citizens in Taunggyi. Many go to the local DAO’s Facebook page to highlight specific areas issues with current trash collection. The team ran a training session to show local DAO staff how to track the city’s illegal trash dumps using Google Maps and better respond to citizens’ complaints in specific parts of the city.

Training local DAO officials on Google Maps, so they can pinpoint specific locations of illegal trash dumping.
Meetings with local officials and a waste management company.
Street scenes near Taunggyi, Shan State, Myanmar.
Street scenes near the DAO offices in Taunggyi, Shan State.

The team’s joint efforts include an emphasis on the need to tie tax rates to inflation, so that the growth of the DAO’s expenses doesn’t outpace its revenue. This remains one of several challenges for the local government in addition to registering all remaining households and updating property valuations.

Because of these issues like limited registration data, the average property tax in Taunggyi is equivalent to the cost of two cups of tea every six months.

Through Koe Koe Tech’s application, DAOs are able to address these underlying challenges, improve the district tax process, and expand their funds for public services.

As the DAO Executive Officer U Aye Ko told us, the Koe Koe Tech app “increases the efficiency and improves the accuracy of our tax records. That means more revenue.”
Economist Lachlan McDonald, with the Renaissance Institute, discusses the importance of pinning tax rates to inflation.
Taunggyi DAO tax officers use the Koe Koe Tech app in the field in July 2017.

Photographs by Steele Burrow. Select images by Asia Foundation staff.

To learn more about Koe Koe Tech’s social impact technology in Myanmar, visit www.koekoetech.com.