Tax Bargaining, Fiscal Constraints, and Fiscal Capacity in Ghana: A Long-Term Perspective

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Abstract

Many Sub-Saharan African countries are unable to generate sufficient tax revenues for public purposes. While it is widely accepted that governments’ ability to tax is shaped by politics, the precise mechanisms through which this relationship takes place in practice remain elusive. Based on a historical analysis of four major tax reforms in Ghana from the 1850s to the late1990s, this article captures the various ways in which taxpayers negotiate with the state in an attempt to limit the extent of taxation, especially in cases where state reciprocity falls short of what people expect. Our evidence suggests that, far from being a recent development, effective taxation in Ghana has long depended on the ability of the state to convince taxpayers that tax revenues will be used for the public benefit. A history of misappropriation of tax revenues, overt corruption, and profligacy diminished taxpayers’ support for governments’ tax efforts. More generally, the article points to the importance of understanding how tax bargaining works in practice and people’s perceptions of their governments over the long term to overcome resistance to tax reforms.

African Affairs, 119, 475, 177-202

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