The Money Man of Africa on a crusade

Sligo native Kieran Holmes receiving a Burundi vase from President of Burundi, Pierre Nkurunziza, who thanked Kieran for his efforts in building the revenue authority in Burundi.

HE IS described as the anti-corruption crusader for Africa. And he’s from Forthill.

Kieran Holmes has been working as Commissioner General for the Burundi Revenue Authority for the last four years. This is not simply an office job – while in Burundi, he had the backing of a fully armed personal security team.

After going to school in Sligo Tech, he managed to work three jobs to secure a place in Trinity College, where he qualified with a Degree in Economics.

From there he got a job with Irish Revenue, which was the beginning of his journey to Africa.

Kieran told The Sligo Champion: "I was born in the UK, but reared in Sligo.

"We moved over when I was six months.

"I come from a long-standing Sligo family, mostly from Forthill and Benbulben Terrace.”

He continued: "I joined the Irish Revenue Commissoners in 1977 and worked with them for seven years before going overseas.”

Kieran was 31 when he left and took charge of the tax administration of Kiribati, an island in the Central Pacific.

He said that travel had always been on the agenda.

"I had itchy feet, even when I was in Sligo. I had an urge to see what the world had to offer.

"In that sense, I think I was the only one in my family who liked the idea of travelling.”

His siblings are living in Sligo, as is his mother.

While in Kiribati, Kieran helped increase revenue by 400% during the six years.

He also worked with the IMF on establishing a new tax law as well as negotiating a double taxation agreement with Australia, meaning Aussie fishing boats were a taxable entity of the country.

After Kiribati, his work brought him to Lesotho and Swaziland in Africa.

By creating new tax laws, better tax administration and taxation agreements to improve business environments, revenue gains increased dramatically.

Lesotho saw a whopping 2000% rise. However, it wasn’t without its dangers although, these didn’t deter his plans to help countries struggling.

Kieran added: "I have also worked in Botswana, Yemen and Rwanda...what I do is help countries improve their tax systems. "This usually takes between six and eight years. I work on building new computer systems and creating new laws.”

Kieran Holmes pictured with his protection team in Burundi

He said: "There are a lot of challenges involved – I could talk for hours!

"The people do not understand the importance of tax systems, the importance of building the state, how good infrastructure brings investment to the country and creates a better life.

"Even though I am working in tax systems, what it really is about is poverty reduction.” He took over the management of Burundi’s new Office des Recettes in June 2010.

Yesterday, June 30th, was his last day in the post.

He helped the country become more financially independent of international assistance.

New tax laws were enacted and a web-based system was set up to allow declarants file from their offices.

Four years on, and the country collects a year’s revenue in only six months.

Kieran said: "Burundi was the hardest country for me to work in. Usually, I work as a consultant, in Burundi I had the top job.

"I was the only expatriate in the government, the only person from overseas in tax, it was quite hard.”

Kieran went into the job with a clear idea of what was required to turn the country’s corruption around.

He fired every tax official and introduced new codes of practice. Openness and transparency were the new words in government.

Kieran decided to break down the tax office’s cement walls and replace with glass doors, to remove secrecy in a sense.

Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza, who has been in power since 2005, has praised the revenue authority’s achievements in dealing with corruption.

Kieran has a base in South Africa, where his three children live.

"My son, Ruairi is a chartered accountant in Capetown, while my daughters, Aisling and Sinead, are studying Economics and Politics in Johannesburg.

"I am hoping to take three months off and rest, travel Europe, visit Ireland.

"I have no home in Ireland at the moment as I have been gone 30 years.

"I am always excited about the next challenge... the job tends to find me.”

by Emma Gallagher