Working Paper 117

The value added tax (VAT) is supposed to be a tax on consumption that achieves greater economic efficiency than alternative indirect taxes. It is also meant to facilitate enforcement through the ‘self-enforcing mechanism’ – based on opposed incentives for buyers and sellers, and because of the paper trail it creates. Being a rather sophisticated tax, however, the VAT is complex to administer and costly to comply with, especially in lower-income countries. This paper takes a closer look at how the VAT system functions in practice in Rwanda. Using a mixed-methods approach, which combines qualitative information from focus group discussions with the analysis of administrative and survey data, we document and explain a number of surprising inconsistencies in the filing behaviour of VAT-remitting firms, which lead to suboptimal usage of electronic billing machines, as well as failure to claim legitimate VAT credits. The consequence of these inconsistencies is twofold. It makes it difficult for the Rwanda Revenue Authority to exploit its VAT data to the fullest, and leads to firms, particularly smaller ones, bearing a higher VAT burden than larger ones. There are several explanations for these inconsistencies. They appear to lie in a combination of taxpayer confusion, fear of audit, and constraints in administrative capacity.


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.
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