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African governments let too many taxpayers off the hook (Economist)
August 18, 2018
By: The Economist
The range of tax breaks can be bewildering
Tax collection in Africa resembles an exasperating fishing expedition, in which the big fish wriggle into tax havens and the tiddlers hide in the informal sector. It is made even harder by a self-inflicted problem. Governments give out a range of exemptions, thereby poking holes in their own nets.
Consider “tax expenditures”, a measure of the revenue lost by deviations from usual tax rates. Taxmen in Kenya and Uganda let about 5% of GDP slip through their fingers in this way, according to the World Bank. In the few African countries where data are available, governments forgo revenues worth a third of those they actually collect. The cost is felt in crowded classrooms and on rutted roads.
Not all that money should, or could, be recouped. The figures include concessions for items like textbooks and medicines. And not every tax expenditure is a giveaway, argues Maya Forstater of the Centre for Global Development, a think-tank. For example, firms that export goods or import capital equipment may be entitled to value-added-tax refunds, but the process can be so unworkable that some governments just grant exemptions instead.