ICTD Working Paper 66

In low-income and post-conflict countries, and particularly in rural areas, citizens often pay a range of ‘taxes’ that differ substantially from statutory policies. These ‘informal taxes’, paid to a variety of state and non-state actors, are frequently overlooked in analyses of local systems of taxation. This is problematic as it leads to misunderstandings of individual and household tax burdens, as well as of systems of local governance. This study thus seeks to capture the reality of taxation in peripheral areas of Sierra Leone. It is based on a taxpayer survey covering 1,129 heads of households, in-depth interviews with government and chiefdom officials, and focus group discussions with community stakeholders across three rural districts of Sierra Leone. We describe the variety, extent, magnitude, and enforcement mechanisms associated with different types of taxes, finding that non-state informal revenue collection is highly prevalent, representing a significant proportion of taxes paid by individuals. Exploring taxpayer perceptions of the different types of taxes, we find positive perceptions of payments levied by non-state actors relative to those levied by local and central governments in terms of fairness, transparency, accountability, and service provision. We conclude by considering the implications of these findings, particularly in the context of on-going fiscal decentralisation reforms in Sierra Leone. Read the 2-page brief version here.

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Samuel Jibao

Samuel Jibao is the Director of the Centre for Economic Research and Capacity Building in Freetown, Sierra Leone. He is also an Assistant Lecturer at the African Tax Institute at the University of Pretoria, and the former Commissioner-General of the National Revenue Authority of Sierra Leone.

Wilson Prichard

Wilson Prichard is an Associate Professor at the University of Toronto, a Research Fellow at the Institute of Development Studies, and Chief Executive Officer of the International Centre for Tax and Development. His research focuses on the relationship between taxation and citizen demands for improved governance in sub-Saharan Africa.

Vanessa van den Boogaard

Vanessa van den Boogaard is a Research Fellow at the ICTD and a Senior Research Associate at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at the University of Toronto. She completed her PhD thesis on informal revenue generation and statebuilding in Sierra Leone, and has ongoing research on the topic in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Somalia. Vanessa leads the ICTD’s new programme on civil society engagement in tax reform and co-leads the research programme on informal taxation.
Read the 2-page brief
Read the 2-page brief