Explaining informal taxation revenue generation: Evidence from south-central Somalia (with Fabrizio Santoro — abstract)
Co-financing community-driven development through informal taxation: Experimental evidence from south-central Somalia (with Fabrizio Santoro — abstract)
Formalisation: A critique and new research agenda (with Max Gallien – abstract)
The political economy of taxation in Somalia (with Najibullah Nor Isak – abstract)
Why do armed groups tax? (with Tanya Bandula-Irwin, Max Gallien, Ashley Jackson, and Florian Weigand – abstract)
Tax and governance in the context of scarce revenues: Implications of inefficient tax collection in rural West Africa (with Rachel Beach – abstract)
Works in progress
Informal revenue generation and the state: Evidence from Sierra Leone (book manuscript)
In this project, I explore the relationship between informal tax institutions and the state. My research asks whether informal taxation contributes to or crowds out the development of more effective formal structures, and considers the conditions under which informal taxation plays a complementary or competitive role with the state. I inductively develop a theoretical framework to explore variation in the nature of relationships between informal taxing actors and the state. I show that informal tax institutions can bolster state authority and state building in unexpected ways. Informal tax institutions can act as brokers of state building, while states may use these institutions to bolster their own authority. The result is that states may seek to sustain informal processes and outcomes, even where we may expect that they would challenge the state’s legitimacy. Critically, I show that the politics of state building are in part played out in conjunction with informal institutions, forcing us to reconsider the notion and structures of statehood in practice.
My analysis draws on a mixed methods research design, combining a largescale survey of taxpayers; over 300 in-depth interviews with key stakeholders, including community and government leaders; over 50 focus group discussions with community leaders, chiefdom authorities, and taxpayers; the compilation of public revenue sources and handwritten informal tax records; the consultation of historical records; and ethnographic immersion over more than a year of fieldwork.
My dissertation, which forms the basis for this book project, was awarded the 2019-2020 Canadian Political Science Association Vincent Lemieux Prize, recognizing “the best PhD thesis submitted at a Canadian institution, in English or in French, in any sub-field of political science, judged eminently worth of publication in the form of a book or articles”. The prize jury notes that, the work “is an example of innovative research in political economy…The theoretical framework is sound, and the author manages to integrate the current literature but also brings her own contributions. It is also an excellent empirical project that includes an original survey and hundreds of interviews. It is well written but does not sacrifice sophistication to parsimony. It is also argued with rigour and clarity, and presented in a way that makes it interesting and accessible to diverse audiences in political science.”
Between Allah, the people and the state: Situating zakat in modern Muslim-majority states (with Max Gallien, Umair Javed, and Soukayna Remmal)
Although precise estimates of the volume of zakat paid every year are difficult to come by, it is a substantial part of social spending: the annual global zakat pool is estimated to make up between 200 billion and 1 trillion USD. How do citizens in modern Muslim-majority countries conceive of zakat? In this paper, we explore how citizens in Muslim-majority countries zakat, attempting to situate it between religion, charity, and the state. In particular, we ask how the role of the state in zakat affects how citizens conceive of and situate the practice. There is substantial variety in the organisation and function of zakat today, with critical differences in the degree to which states have involved themselves in zakat practices and the respective relationships between citizens, states and other governance providers. It seems plausible that a greater role of the state in zakat, including top-down legal mandates, people may think of zakat more like a tax than a religious contribution. We explore this possibility in the context of Morocco, Pakistan, and Egypt, combining conceptual discussions of zakat, formal and informal taxation and charity with an empirical exploration of zakat practices today. We draw on three nationally representative surveys conducted simultaneously in 2020 and covering over 5000 respondents and over 2,500 zakat payers.
Zakat, tax, and redistribution: Obligation and charity in times of Covid-19 (with Max Gallien, Umair Javed, and Soukayna Remmal)
Popular support for taxation in times of crisis: Tracking taxpayer perceptions in Sierra Leone (with Wilson Prichard and Nicolas Orgeira)
Informal taxes fill gaps in state crisis responses: Evidence from Sierra Leone during Covid-19 (with Wilson Prichard and Nicolas Orgeira)
Tracking the tax impacts and implications of Covid-19 in Rwanda and Sierra Leone (with Wilson Prichard, Giulia Mascagni, Fabrizio Santoro, and Nicolas Orgeira)
Engendering taxation (with Anuradha Joshi and Jalia Kangave)
Most literature on gender and tax is focused on the Global North, with a small but growing body of work focused in the Global South, primarily exploring indirect, small, and informal taxes. There is little on the gendered implications of the recent falls in trade taxes and changes in personal income taxes or the role of formalization and taxation of small business. In this paper, we draw attention to the ways that countries are increasingly raising revenues through taxes that are both regressive and biased against women’s livelihoods and care responsibilities, while foregoing revenues by offering incentives to and allowing tax avoidance by large corporations, transnationals and high net-worth individuals. We argue that the key issues around taxation for poor women in the global south relate to small and micro business taxation, informal taxes and fees, and consumption taxes such as VAT. Governments can seek not only to remove implicit biases against women, but use tax policies to enhance the status of women in the economic sphere by incentivising labour force participation, land asset ownership and the growth of women-owned businesses. Simultaneously, governments should use tax policies to reduce the biases against women (e.g. girls enrolment in school or childcare costs) by not raising revenue through user fees, and properly resourcing public services.
Cash transfers, informal revenue generation, and inequality in Somalia (with Fabrizio Santoro)
We partner with an NGO in Gedo region in south-central Somalia and undertake a randomized controlled trial of a matching grant programme involving cash transfers to vulnerable populations. We explore whether cash transfers enabled vulnerable populations to contribute to and participate in community development projects. We draw attention to the ways in which local leaders influence and mediate the relationships between vulnerable individuals and participatory community development projects and highlight the ways in which unconditional cash transfers can effectively be made conditional through social norms and institutions.
The paradox of weak chiefs in Sierra Leone
Informal taxation and the provision of public education in Sierra Leone
Using original data, I track the extent of informal taxes and payments made to access “free” primary public education and assess the equity implications of informal education taxes where they serve as an effective barrier to access education.
States concessions to chiefs: Informal revenue generation as patrimonial resources distribution in Sierra Leone
Labour, tax, and development: Shifting norms around labour taxes from the colonial era to today
Informal revenue generation and inequality in the DRC
Using original data from the eastern DRC, I am completing a paper project assessing the distributional effects of informal taxation on quality and access to a broader range of public goods.
A tax by any other name? Conceptions and perceptions of taxation across languages (with Ane Karoline Bak Foged)
As taxation has become a prominent issue on the international development policy agenda, a growing body of research has focused on taxpayer perceptions and experiences of taxation. A strand of this research emphasises the importance of the historical, political and social context of taxation and we position ourselves in line with this research as we explore the emic definitions of taxation across contexts, languages, and time periods. We show that the conception of taxation in different contexts is highly shaped by the language used to describe it, with language in turn being a product of histories of colonialism, conflict and extraction by societal, traditional and political actors. We argue that studies of taxation, particularly survey-based research, needs to be complemented, if not informed, by a deeper understanding of the meanings ascribed to taxation in a given context. This will strengthen measurement and interpretive validity of taxpayer perception data as well as provide important nuances to and perhaps explanations of how variations in and dynamics of taxpayers experience and interact with the tax system.
Data collection in progress
The logic of armed group taxation: A new dataset (with Tanya Bandula-Irwin, Max Gallien, Ashley Jackson, and Florian Weigand)
Block management system and formalisation: An ethnography and evaluation of a taxpayer registration process in Freetown (with Max Gallien and Giovanni Occhiali)
City markets and informal taxation in Africa (with Max Gallien)
Informality and trust in the state in times of Covid-19: Evidence from Lahore (with Deepta Chopra, Max Gallien, Shandana Mohmand, and Umair Javed)