Researching the politics of development



Zambia Revenue Authority professional performance amidst structural constraints, 1994-2019

Working paper 158

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Caesar Cheelo and Marja Hinfelaar

The objective of this paper is to understand the RRA’s relatively high, and yet uneven, performance. While the organisation is effective regarding overall revenue collection, and processes of tax filling and payment, it is much less so with regard to everyday bookkeeping, reporting and provision of inputs to policymaking. The paper argues that the dominant nature of the political settlement and the ruling elite’s paradigmatic ideas of national self-reliance supported the performance of the RRA in extracting revenues. On the other hand, the top-down pressure on the RRA to perform produced a range of perverse incentives in the organisation, making everyday processes of bookkeeping and reporting secondary. In addition, vested interests regarding property tax and the tension between state-centred and market-led ideas about development led to a series of policy gaps that limited revenue mobilisation. Furthermore, the vulnerability of the elite anchored in its minority status, and its origins in the diaspora, meant that the state in general, and the RRA in particular, while autonomous from social pressure, might not be much embedded in society. This led to an uneven performance. The organisation performed well in the raw task of extracting revenue, which requires a high level of autonomy, but much less so when its tasks, such as providing advice to policy formulation, required some embeddedness with key segments of society.