Within the development field, tax administration reform is an area of relative success. Over the past two decades, the national revenue systems of most countries in anglophone Africa have undergone major reforms.
These comprise, in particular, the introduction of Value Added Tax (VAT), the adoption of ‘advanced’ tax administration practices, and the creation of semi-autonomous revenue authorities. What do these reforms imply for emerging patterns of politics and governance in anglophone Africa?
The first conclusion is conceptual and theoretical. The impact of these reforms has been shaped by the broad context within which they were being implemented, especially the increasingly transnational character of many important policymaking relationships (Orenstein and Schmitz 2006; Stone 2008; Weiss 2005). Senior African revenue staff feature increasingly in transnational expert networks, and face a wider range of employment opportunities, public and private, both at home and abroad.
The second conclusion is that these revenue reforms have contributed only modestly to statebuilding. While the new revenue agencies are in many respects impressive organisations, actual revenue collection has not increased much; improvements in organisational capacity have been concentrated at national and capital city level; potentially synergistic improvements in the capacity to formulate tax policy have not occurred; and some anticipated spillover benefits from improving the revenue collection apparatus have not been realised.
The third conclusion is that, while these reforms have made it possible for governments to raise revenue from the organised private sector in a more ‘Weberian’ (institutionalised, rule-bound) and a more consensual manner, they have also increased the possibility that the taxation system will be shaped by private sector interests, making it difficult for governments to raise the revenue that they claim they need.