Since the early 1990s, many countries in sub-Saharan Africa have established semi-autonomous revenue authorities (ARAs), organisationally distinct from ministries of finance, with some real operational autonomy, and with staff paid at rates substantially higher than those in comparable public sector jobs.
This has been seen by some observers as a step to dilute the power of the central state executive. We demonstrate that this is a misreading of the story of revenue authorities in Africa. Both African governments and the international development agencies involved in the reforms see ARAs as a means of increasing central government revenues, and thus enlarging the authority of the (central) state.
To date, there is little sign that the creation of revenue agencies has actually increased public revenues. It has, however, facilitated a range of reforms in the ways in which taxes are assessed and collected, and deflected pressures that might otherwise have emerged for substantial privatisation of tax collection.