This study explores how small business owners talk about their tax responsibility, especially in non-enabling institutional contexts.
It identifies two main types of tax responsibility discourses amongst these business owners: (1) duty-based and (2) rights-based. The duty-based talks see taxation primarily as the citizens’ responsibility to governments, which should always be fulfilled unconditionally, while rights-based talks see taxation primarily as the government’s responsibility to citizens, which should be fulfilled first, in order for the government to earn the trust of citizens for higher tax compliance. Further analyses reveal that these talks are anchored on four common discursive themes – i.e. socio-economic development, legal, moral, and philanthropic themes, which business owners respond to in different ways. The paper argues that understanding these diverse responses will help tax regulators respond to taxpayers’ attitudes effectively.