Purak Adhikari and his childhood friend grew up studying together. After completing their Bachelor’s Degrees, they witnessed problems in their society that they wanted to improve but didn’t have the freedom to do so at their jobs. So they looked towards social entrepreneurship. They don’t have a registered company as of yet but have started their work and even bagged the prize for runner-up in the municipal and public administration category at the SUTC. The idea that won them these accolades was Automata, an online tax payment system that simplified tax payments and made them more reliable for citizens and government officials alike. This is their first major product but their long term vision is to create several systems using tech development that can automate tasks more easily as the name Automata suggests. Here is what Adhikari had to say about his ideas and his vision for this organization.
1. Could you give us a general introduction of your idea?
We developed a product (Automata) that could be used to view and potentially pay local level taxes online. The current constitution has given local governing bodies a lot of power where certain taxes can be paid at the ward office. We were focusing on those tax payments and creating a platform where you could look at your tax records and possibly have an online payment system as well. We developed an online recording database that you could view on your phones and computers and officials at the ward office had the ability to view and alter those records. As a consumer, you could pay your taxes and look at your own tax records on this software. We were the category runner up for the municipal and public administration.
As we thought more about this we learned more about the system itself. Currently, you can use an online payment system for certain kinds of taxes, usually income taxes, but not all of them. Wealth tax, house rent tax, motor vehicle tax, advertisement tax, entertainment and business tax fall under the jurisdiction of the local government according to the Constitution of Nepal 2072. Yet, citizens need to visit their ward offices to record their payment. In the age of automation, visiting offices for paperwork is extremely inefficient. Not only are the queues cumbersome, but also there is a question of transparency and accountability. We wanted to work on that specific problem and figured we could tackle it using the software we developed. As for the SUTC, we felt like they liked our product as it addresses a big national issue.
2. Why do you think this product is important?
One of the major uses is that you can look at the deadlines for when your taxes are due. Right now, we tend to pay our taxes when it becomes a necessity, for example, if you have to travel somewhere and you need documentation that shows you’ve cleared all your taxes. If we have to sell land or a vehicle, that’s when we go back to check whether or not we’ve paid them. Because of this, the government incurs a significant loss. Even when it comes to fines, no one goes out of their way to pay them or find out when they are due. So, what our app also does is it gives you a notification when a deadline for payment is approaching and tells you how much money is remaining. It can tell you whether or not they have received your payment and if the deadline is shifted then that gets updated too because now you don’t owe them anything.
The way we pay our taxes now is quite informal. The official in charge opens up a file, s/he looks for your name and makes a note next to it saying you’ve paid your taxes. Tomorrow, say there’s someone else in charge and suddenly the file isn’t there anymore, it’s like you never paid them. Another concern is the validity of existing records. Could someone have been bribed to fill in faulty records of payment? If your taxes were found not to be paid, who is to be questioned or held responsible? We want to avoid situations like those and make the system more efficient. Using a machine or software allows one to reduce the amount of manpower required for the task or simply reduce the workload that falls upon them. And in situations of any sort of ambiguity, there is always a record of who accepted your taxes on the computer software. Hence, transparency and accountability are ensured at the government offices while at the same time creating a convenient system for citizens. In the big picture, the country will benefit as the uncollected annual revenue will sharply drop.
3. Why did you want to start this project?
My friend and I have studied together since we were in school and wanted to do something together after completing our Bachelor’s Degrees. When we got our first jobs our employers deducted the tax and TDS from our paychecks before we received them. We knew we had paid our taxes, but even so, I couldn’t view my own tax statement because the company pays tax for the entire organization and not individually. The taxes collected from all the employees were used to pay a minimum tax for a certain number of employees. I didn’t think this was right, if I paid my taxes it should be visible on some kind of record. More recently, they have started a system that allows us to keep these records with the PAN card, but that still isn’t sufficient because most other countries have completely switched to online transactions. Even in India, most of their government-related transactions are carried out online now.
4. So which tax categories can be paid on this website?
As I’d mentioned earlier, there are some that the local government can now collect and then there are other taxes that fall under the state and the federal government. We’re focused on local taxes i.e. wealth tax, house rent tax, motor vehicle tax, advertisement tax, entertainment tax, and business tax. Rental tax is a big issue as people sometimes claim their tenant is a relative, meanwhile, they collect their rent without paying their taxes. In the past, taxes were segregated, hence citizens had to make rounds of government offices just to clear theirs. Now, based on the law and constitution, all these taxes can be paid at the local level. We pay local taxes at the ward office now, and if everyone is paying their taxes in one place anyway then why not digitize it to achieve more efficiency.
5. Is your company registered?
No, not yet. We are waiting to hear from some government officials so we can move forward with this project. Once we hear from them we will register and if we don’t, we’d like to develop better products and get a good team together before we register the company. Currently, it’s just the two of us but we have a few friends who are interested and have told us they would be willing to leave their jobs to come work with us. We are waiting for the right opportunity.
6. What are the major challenges of your organization?
Governmental cooperation. There are certain protocols for obtaining projects from the government. They can directly give you a tender for projects within a certain budget but beyond that budget, they are required to make a call for bids. In that scenario, the person with the lowest bid or the most experience typically gets the project. As for us, we’re a new startup with no experience so getting a project from the government can prove to be difficult for us. That’s our biggest obstacle for now but expanding into the private sector or the social sector would be another thing that’s a challenge for us too.
7. Do you consider yourself a social entrepreneur?
No, not yet. I’m still learning and our product is not even on the market yet, so no, I wouldn’t consider myself an entrepreneur. But that is the direction where I am headed. My friend and I both had jobs after we graduated out of college but both of us quit and dedicated all our time and efforts towards this project. The excitement and satisfaction we felt while working on this project was something we never had at our jobs. We really want this to work out. Our plan is to start our own company, work on other similar projects and dedicate all our time towards this.
I think there’s a rise in not just social entrepreneurship but social engineering entrepreneurship. A lot of our seniors were involved in interesting projects of their own like reviving traditional Nepali technologies. Our long term plan with Automata is to make it a household name for automation. If we get a chance to make more products we want to move towards automation.
The toughest thing with making that decision is convincing yourself. Especially when your family doesn’t have experience with business and entrepreneurship. My family has a very academic background and their personal belief is that you must keep studying as much as you can to get the right job. Entrepreneurship is kind of foreign to them so it is difficult to consider it an option. You have to convince yourself that you can do this and that you can last.
It can’t just be you either, you need some good trusting friends who will help you no matter what. You need to work with people with the same aim as you. Then you just have to go for it. Once you decide, you just have to dive into it, that’s what my personal experience so far has been.
8. Is there anything you would like to share with our readers?
Our services are for digital solutions, we haven’t registered a company yet but we have 14 companies that we are providing web services for. We also occasionally go to schools and carry out training activities related to automation and robotics. We’re also developing our own products, so if you need any kind of digital solutions, automation work (on a small scale or even industrial automation), and if you want to have a workshop on any of these topics we can be of service. We’re looking for investors too if anyone might be interested.
For more information about Automata, please connect with Purak Adhikari at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Interviewed and article by Jyotika Shah.