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.

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License, which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. For commercial re-use, please contact¬†[email protected]

Authors

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.
Download