International Tax and Public Finance Volume 29 Issue 4, August 2022

The value-added tax (VAT) is meant to be an efficient and self-enforcing tax on consumption. Yet, being a rather sophisticated tax, the VAT can also be complex and costly to administer. By examining the case of Rwanda, this paper assesses the extent to which the VAT’s potential materialises in the context of a lower-income countries. Using a mixed-methods approach, which combines qualitative information from focus group discussions with the analysis of administrative and survey data, this paper makes two contributions. First, it documents reporting inconsistencies in VAT data, providing new evidence on how weak capacity prevents tax administrations in lower-income countries from reaping the full benefits of the VAT. Second, it shows that the VAT, as applied in practice, differs substantially from its theoretical functioning. This generates differences in tax burdens across firms, despite a proportional tax rate, with important distributional implications. We also document that the VAT chain often breaks down, with implications on the VAT’s efficiency.


Giulia Mascagni

Giulia Mascagni is a Research Fellow at the Institute of Development Studies and Research Director of the ICTD. Her main area of work is taxation, but she also has research interest in public finance, evaluation of public policy, and aid effectiveness. She is an economist by training, holding a PhD in Economics from the University of Sussex. Her main geographical interest lies in African countries, with a particular focus on Ethiopia and Rwanda.

Roel Dom

Roel Dom is an Economist at the World Bank, focusing on tax and customs, and in particular on the role of trust and digitization. Prior to joining the World Bank, he worked as a Research Fellow for the International Centre for Tax and Development and for the Overseas Development Institute, where he worked closely with revenue administrations in lower-income countries and fragile states.

Fabrizio Santoro

Fabrizio is a Research Fellow at the Institute of Development Studies, and the Research Lead for the second component of the ICTD's DIGITAX Research Programme. His main research interests relate to governance, public finance, and taxation, with a strong focus on impact evaluation methodologies and statistical analysis. He holds a PhD in Economics from the University of Sussex.

Denis Mukama

Denis Mukama is the Assistant Commissioner Research, Planning, Statistics and M&E officer at Rwandan Revenue Authority.