Working Paper 114

There is increasingly strong evidence that taxation can contribute to expanded government responsiveness and accountability. However, such positive connections are not guaranteed. Rather, they are shaped by the political and economic context and specific policies adopted by governments and civil society actors. Without an environment that enables tax bargaining, there is a risk that taxation will amount to little more than forceful extraction. We consider how such enabling environments may be fostered through two mixed methods case studies of tax transparency and taxpayer engagement in Sierra Leone and Ghana. We highlight two key sets of findings. First, tax transparency is only meaningful if it is accessible and easily understood by taxpayers and relates to their everyday experiences and priorities. In particular, we find that taxpayers do not just want basic information about tax obligations or aggregate revenue collected, but information about how much revenue should have been collected and how revenues were spent. At the same time, taxpayers do not want information to be shared with them through a one-way form of communication, but rather want to have spaces for dialogue and interaction with tax and government officials, including through public meetings and radio call-in programmes. Second, strategies to encourage taxpayer engagement are more likely to be effective where forums for engagement are perceived by taxpayers to be safe, secure, and sincere means through which to engage with government officials. This has been most successful where governments have visibly demonstrated responsiveness to citizen concerns, even on a small scale, while partnering with civil society to foster trust, dialogue and expanded knowledge. These findings have significant implications for how governments design taxpayer education and engagement programmes and how civil society actors and development partners can support more equitable and accountable tax systems. Our findings provide concrete lessons for how governments can ensure that information shared with taxpayers is meaningful and accessible. Moreover, we show that civil society actors can play important roles as translators of tax information, enablers of public forums and dialogues around tax issues, and trainers of taxpayers, supporting greater tax literacy and sustained citizen engagement.

Read the brief in Krio here. 

Read the brief in French here.

Read Enabling tax bargaining: Supporting more meaningful tax transparency and taxpayer engagement in Ghana and Sierra Leone, a journal article based on this working paper, published in ODI’s Development Policy Review in December 2021.


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.

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.

Rachel Beach

Regional Programme Specialist for the Arab States for UNDP Tax for SDGs and TIWB (Tax Inspectors Without Borders)

Fariya Mohiuddin

Fariya Mohiuddin is the Senior Program Officer, Tax Equity at the International Budget Partnership. Prior to joining IBP, Fariya was the Strategic Programs Researcher at the Tax Justice Network working on developing a human rights, feminist, and gender equality focused network of tax activists and researchers. She has also worked with the International Centre for Tax and Development, the World Bank Group, the Ford Foundation, and Open Society Foundation on research projects on political accountability, citizen engagement and transparency in West Africa.
Read the 2-page brief
Read the 2-page brief