Tax Culture: Perspectives from an African State


Universally, Tax Culture is not a very common topic but it is critical to administrative governance and economic development. This article argues that the Tax Culture of any milieu is an assemblage of various indices and criteria. These include: the history of taxation; tax laws; tax information; tax education; tax revenue mobilisation; tax system transparency; tax delinquency; tax dispute resolution; and taxpayer satisfaction. The article sheds light on these instrumental wheels of the Tax Culture of Ghana by providing the research results of field surveys conducted a decade and a half ago. Though dated, any observer of the Tax Culture of Ghana, and indeed of much of Africa and the Global South, will realise that little has since changed. In some instances, the article provides more up-to-date evidence beyond the 2005 data. The article goes beyond an assessment of the Tax Culture of Ghana and articulates recommendations for improving the same. Additionally, it attempts to interconnect issues of Taxation, Good Governance and Legal Pluralism. Although popular themes in public discourse in Africa today, these concepts are often spoken of in different thematic spheres other than taxation. The article links these themes in practical and concrete ways to taxation, cast in the light of historical institutionalism –an examination of the institutions of taxation, governance and traditional authority as they interacted through time.

Keywords: Africa, Ghana, Tax Culture, Good Governance, Legal Pluralism, Traditional Authority, Chieftaincy, Tax History, Tax Laws, Tax Information, Tax Education, Tax Revenue Mobilisation, Tax System Transparency, Tax Delinquency, Tax Dispute Resolution, Taxpayer Satisfaction


“Question: What do you understand by tax?
Answer: You spend your time working and somebody thinks you do not deserve it and because he has power over you he takes some from it.”

“Question: Why would you not want to pay tax?

Answer: I actually feel pains in my body when I pay tax”1

The research project on Tax Culture, which this article springs from, was initiated in order to solicit from the Ghanaian people their opinions and expectations about the payment of tax in general, with the potential aim of establishing the Tax Culture of Ghanaians. The study also aimed to examine the role of traditional authority and decision makers in encouraging voluntary tax compliance, enhancing tax mobilization and assisting with tax dispute resolution. First, we conducted research into the historical and cultural context of taxation in Ghana. This was meant to provide a clearer understanding of the context in which modern systems of taxation operate. The overall aim was to bring this learning to bear on efforts at improving good governance in tax administration in Ghana and improving professionalism in Ghanaian tax officials on the one hand and voluntary tax compliance by the populace on the other. Thus, the results of this study could assist in the development of an effective tax collection and tax administration policy for the country. The underlying assumption of the research project is that we can better appreciate the internal mechanism of a tax system by examining the economic behavior of communities to which the tax system applies. A tax system, which is structured to reflect the history and culture of the community to which it applies, will have a better chance of maximizing efficiency and equity in the processes of raising revenue.

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