Working Paper 193

Delegating tax collection to informal leaders could raise tax revenue but runs the risk of undermining the local accountability of those leaders. We investigate this trade-off by exploiting whether city chiefs in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) were randomly assigned to collect property taxes in 2018.

To measure accountability, we study the other side of the social contract: the distribution of resources by chiefs in a government cash transfer programme in which they had discretion over the recipients of development aid. In line with the preferences of citizens, chiefs who collected taxes allocated more programme benefits to poorer households and thus made fewer inclusion and exclusion errors. They were no more or less likely to pocket benefits themselves or allocate them to their families.

Across a range of measures, citizens appear to have updated their beliefs of chiefs who collected taxes. We provide evidence that collector chiefs allocated aid to poorer households because door-to-door tax collection created opportunities to learn which households were in greatest need. In contrast to concerns of ‘decentralised despotism,’ the paper thus finds evidence of a chief’s accountability benefiting from delegating tax responsibilities to local leaders in low-capacity states.


Augustin Bergeron

Augustin Bergeron is an Assistant Professor of Economics at the University of Southern California. His research lies at the intersection of development economics, public economics and political economy.

Elie Kabue Ngindu

Elie Kabue Ngindu is the research manager at ODEKA (L'Organisation d’Etudes Economiques sur le Kasai), based in Kananga, DRC. His research focuses on the economic development and culture of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Gabriel Tourek

Gabriel Tourek is an Assistant Professor of Economics at the University of Pittsburgh. His research focuses on the development of fiscal and state capacity, and the equity of taxes and transfers in low-income countries.

Jonathan Weigel

Jonathan Weigel is an assistant professor in the Department of International Development at the London School of Economics, and an affiliate of STICERD, CEPR, and EGAP. His research explores the role of state capacity in development with a focus on taxation.