The political economy of property tax in Africa: Explaining reform outcomes in Sierra Leone
African Affairs 114/456
Effective local government taxation is critical to achieving the governance benefits widely attributed to decentralization, but in practice successful tax reform has been rare because of entrenched political resistance. This article offers new insights into the political dynamics of property tax reform through a case study of Sierra Leone, focusing on variation in experiences and outcomes across the country’s four largest city councils. Based on this evidence, the article argues that elite resistance has posed a particularly acute barrier to local government tax reform, but that ethnic diversity has sometimes served to strengthen reform by fragmenting elite resistance. Furthermore, opposition councils have had stronger incentives to strengthen tax collection than councils dominated by the ruling party, in order to increase their fiscal autonomy. More generally, heightened electoral competition can lead to sustained revenue gains by encouraging city councils to adopt a more contractual approach to tax reform that stresses transparency, engagement, and equity.
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