Working paper 158
Caesar Cheelo and Marja Hinfelaar
From an initial survey of public sector experts, the Zambia Revenue Authority (ZRA) was regarded as a relatively high performer among public sector institutions in Zambia. This paper utilises a political settlements approach to track how the distribution of power within Zambia’s political settlement influenced ZRA’s tax policy and administration from its inception in 1994 to 2019. We find that ZRA’s performance over the reference period was highly uneven. Broadly, 1994-2005 was a formative period for the authority, with relatively low performance. Then, between 2006 and 2015, due in part to strong political will and external support, ZRA achieved and maintained a favourable level of professionalism and specialisation, held a clear mandate, and established tax targets and internal organisational reforms. But, throughout, ZRA struggled to overcome structural constraints to revenue generation. Policy stability came out of an era of ‘technocratic consensus’ that emerged in the 2000s. Generally, ideas shared by political rules and leading bureaucrats centred on growth, fiscal prudency and domestic resource mobilisation aimed at gaining more autonomy, namely weaning Zambia off donor support and conditionalities. This push was augmented in 2011 by Patriotic Front’s (PF) political commitment to resource nationalism. In contrast, 2015-2019 saw a new political settlement dynamic that affected the role of most economic institutions in Zambia, which exposed ZRA to undue political influence. Ultimately, with a high number of political turnovers amidst the increasingly fractious settlement during the reference period, ZRA experienced episodes of vulnerability to politically motivated institutional reforms and reorganisations at the political expediency of the ruling elite.