By Stephen Twinoburyo
I was invited to join friends on October 21, 2010 in giving moral support to a Ugandan lady that was attaining an academic achievement of historic proportions. Prof Annet Wanyana Oguttu was giving her inaugural lecture as a professor in the College of Law at the University of South Africa (Unisa). The topic was “The challenges of tax sparing: A call to reconsider the policy in South Africa”. The event took place in the packed Senate Hall of Unisa.
The welcome address was given by the Vice Principal Academic Research, Prof MC Mare. This was then followed by an introduction by the Executive Dean of the College of Law, Prof NL Mahao, who read an impressive CV of the new professor and marveled at her commitment to academic work.
Professor Oguttu then came on and gave an intensely academic but yet captivating lecture on tax law and treaties governing countries. She thoroughly discussed the issue of tax sparing such that some of us left the hall feeling like tax experts. She went through the potential benefits of tax sparing treaties between countries, examined the developments in this area undertaken by bodies like OECD and also cautioned on the potential dangers, especially areas of possible abuse.
What I found important to South Africa were the closing recommendations she made. To show that the government held her lecture in great regard, the Chief Director of tax and compliance at the South African National Treasury, together with some members of his staff were in attendance. It was reported that the South African government is in the process of signing some tax treaties and Prof Oguttu’s work is crucial in guiding the government. She recommended that South Africa re-examine and re-model some of its existing tax treaties as some of them are unworkable, unfavourable or open to abuse. She also made important recommendations for future tax sparing treaties and I think this is information the National Treasury officials found very useful. Prof Oguttu is undoubtedly an asset to the country’s tax laws.
Professor Oguttu ended by thanking her colleagues that supported her through her journey to this position. She thanked the large group of Ugandans that came to give her support, friends, lecturers from the neighbouring University of Pretoria, members of the College of Law present as well as members of her church. She also recognised her country Uganda, the pearl of Africa, and thanked her father, Mr Francis Kiggundu, that flew from Uganda to share with her family this great moment. As would be expected the greatest vote of thanks went to her family. She thanked her husband, Dr James Oguttu, who also works at the same university. She says he has been the driving force behind her achievement and a great pillar of support. He edited her work and guided her in her research that sometimes she wondered if he is not an expert in tax law. Her two young children too have been an inspiration. Though they may not have fully grasped the enormity of the occasion, it may in future provide a memory that spurs them on. As a Christian, she gives glory to God for all her achievements. She made two parting comments that will surely act as an inspiration to many: “if one has a dream and is hard-working, nothing will stand in their way” and “unless God builds a house, the builder builds in vain”.
The moment that left everybody agape came when the head of the Mercantile Law department, Prof M Sigwadi, gave a closing response. In 2009, Prof Oguttu was recognized by the University of Michigan for her outstanding academic work. She is the second woman, and the first black woman, to have completed a doctorate in tax law at a South African university. And now this…. she is the first woman to be appointed a full professor at the College of Law of the university of South Africa. From my estimation, the oldest she can be is 40 years of age. Her and her husband are a young couple. What an achievement! I have known this family for the past couple of years and I am proud to have them as friends. The intellectual discussions I have held with Dr James Oguttu have always been stimulating and educative. The two Oguttus are a great inspiration.
This is an achievement obtained at Unisa, a top ranked university in Africa and one that produces the largest number of LLB graduates in South Africa, far exceeding the Department (ministry) of education targets.
Professor Oguttu deserves red carpet treatment. Such achievements are rare. You indeed do us proud!