Working Paper 160

Tax registration drives have become an increasingly popular intervention to expand the coverage of tax nets across sub-Saharan Africa. However, doubts have recently been cast on their impact, as there is increasing evidence that they do not lead to a substantial increase in revenue, and might skew the tax registry by overrepresenting vulnerable groups. There is little explanation available for these outcomes, as the literature focuses on the outcomes of these exercises – rather than on their processes and premises. We seek to fill this gap through an evaluation of a tax registration exercise of small- and medium-sized enterprises in Freetown, Sierra Leone, implemented by the National Revenue Authority. We argue that the conflicting objectives between national and international stakeholders, as well as between street- and higher-level officials, combined with a technocratic view of the exercise that underestimated its political nature, led to its likely unsatisfactory outcome in revenue terms. However, we also identify non-revenue outcomes that may still be seen as positive from the perspective of policymakers, such as familiarising many businesses with a revenue authority that they previously had very little engagement with. While this outcome of registration exercises is frequently overlooked by similar evaluations, it is one that local officials recognise as important in ‘building future taxpayers’.


Max Gallien

Max Gallien is a Research Fellow at the ICTD. His research specialises in the politics of informal and illegal economies, the political economy of the Middle East and North Africa and development politics. He completed his PhD at the London School of Economics. Max co-leads the informality and taxation programme with Vanessa, as well as the ICTD’s capacity building programme.

Giovanni Occhiali

Dr Giovanni Occhiali is a Development Economist based at the Institute of Development Studies, where he works on a number of projects related to Tax Administration and Compliance, Tax and Governance and co-leads ICTD’s capacity building programme together with Dr Max Gallien. His research focuses on Sub-Saharan Africa, and outside of the field of taxation his main interests are energy economics and industrial policies. He holds a PhD from the University of Birmingham and prior to joining ICTD, he was a Researcher at the Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei and an Overseas Development Institute Fellow at the National Revenue Authority of Sierra Leone.

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.
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