Tax Accountability Through Citizen Participation & Education
You can watch the full webinar here.
With less than a decade remaining to realise the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), strengthening domestic revenue mobilisation (DRM) as a reliable source of finance has gained importance, and effective tax systems are the central component of governments’ DRM strategies. Establishing strong bonds between tax administrations and citizens is crucial to building tax systems capable of mobilising the resources needed to achieve the SDGs and ensuring that their policies represent the popular will of citizens.
Against this backdrop, the webinar “Enhancing Tax Accountability through Citizen Participation and Education”, co-organised by the Addis Tax Initiative (ATI), the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and Save the Children, highlighted the importance of integrating accountability into taxpayer education, and the benefits of citizen participation in tax policy and administration.
Over 50 participants from 31 countries attended the webinar which was held on 2 December 2022 and moderated by Ms Fariya MOHIUDDIN from International Budget Partnership (IBP). The interactive session featured representatives from the OECD, Save the Children, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and the Ecuadorian tax administration (SRI). Delegates from CabDost India, Policy Forum Tanzania, and the Kenyan National Taxpayer Association (NTA) enrichened the discussion with their insights from the perspective of civil society organisations (CSOs). After the presentations and panel discussion, participants had the opportunity to engage with the speakers through a Q&A session.
The webinar: bringing together tax authorities and citizens
A moderated discussion presenting the main findings of the OECD’s 2021 report Building Tax Culture, Compliance and Citizenship: A Global Source Book on Taxpayer Education and the Save the Children’s 2019 report Taxation with Representation: Citizens as Drivers of Accountable Tax Systems kickstarted the event. Both studies revealed that incorporating accountability into taxpayer education is key to improve tax morale and compliance, increase tax revenues, and strengthen the progressivity of tax systems.
Mr Joseph STEAD (OECD) outlined the methodology of his organisation’s report –a survey of 140 taxpayer education initiatives in 59 countries- and highlighted a constant feature: the approach to accountability through the notion of the social contract in all the initiatives. Stead concluded his intervention with a clear recommendation: more scope for partnerships between government and non-government organisations within the efforts towards tax accountability.
Save the Children’s paper studied how, where, and under which conditions civil society organisations (CSOs) have successfully engaged with governments in low and middle-income countries in advocating for more accountable tax policies over the last 20 years, explained Mr Andrew WAINER, the organisation’s representative. Mr WAINER underlined greater evidence of success at the local level than at the national, as the link between taxes and local service delivery is clearer at this stage. Thus, he highlighted the role subnational advocacy can play in order to serve as a foundation to support and build national tax policy.
Following the insights on the reports, Mr José SALAZAR from the Ecuadorian tax administration (SRI) and Ms Yamuna SASTRY from CabDost India presented experiences in educating taxpayers through dialogue and facilitation of technical processes implemented in their respective countries.
Mr SALAZAR introduced a rolling plan for tax knowledge dissemination enforced by Ecuador’s tax administration. Through workshops, seminars, and buzz groups – both virtually and in-person – SRI promotes actions aimed at improving the fiscal behaviour of previously identified taxpayers who experience difficulties in meeting their tax obligations.
Using India’s gig sector as an example, Ms SASTRY (CabDost) evidenced the disconnection between citizens and the tax system: “Many gig workers are eligible for tax refunds, but they do not know”. Advocating for mass tax education on the ground, CabDost led a number of initiatives to bring about a vernacular understanding of taxation in India, including a banking-tax facilitator integrated App at the service of citizens.
A panel of speakers featuring the standpoint of USAID as well as CSOs in Kenya and Tanzania built on the previous discussions. Mr Nicholas LEKULE, from Policy Forum Tanzania, brought up the issue of corruption around tax practices and highlighted tax awareness and public participation as key drivers to improve tax morale and compliance. Mr ROZNER from USAID thoroughly reflected on the earlier interventions and noted the perceived adversary relationship between revenue authorities and the civil society, although the goal is shared: accountable and effective tax systems. Mr ROZNER stressed the important role CSOs can play in driving tax compliance, especially through partnerships with state actors. Ms Irene OTIENO from the National Taxpayer Association in Kenya shared observations, experiences, and challenges the organisation notices in its efforts towards tax accountability and accurately connected them with the speeches of her co-panellists. Ms OTIENO noted that taxpayers hold different interests, hence it is important to acknowledge different approaches to tax accountability. She also suggested to reverse the narrative and use the notion of tax accountability to move masses in supporting anti-corruption measures, instead of using corruption as a pretext for tax non-compliance. Finally, she voiced a capacity gap on the part of CSOs: they present basic submissions, but the reality is much more intricate, bringing up again the civil society’s disengagement from the tax system.
A Q&A session with the audience followed the panel discussion and put an end to the webinar. An important takeaway of the webinar is clear: State actors, such as revenue authorities and ministries of finance, and non-state actors including civil society organisations (CSOs), play a crucial role in raising awareness about the link between taxes, public service delivery, and inclusive development.
The Addis Tax Initiative
The webinar “Enhancing Tax Accountability through Citizen Participation and Education" was organised within the framework of the ATI Consultative Group 4 which supports the implementation of Commitment 4 of the ATI Declaration 2025, by enlarging the space and capacity of state and non-state actors in ATI partner countries to engage meaningfully in tax and revenue matters.
The ATI rests upon the vision of tax systems that work for people and advance the SDGs and aims to promote fair and effective domestic revenue mobilisation, policy coherence, and the social contract through partnerships and knowledge building.