Caught in a Trap: Zambia’s Mineral Tax Reforms
Investments that involve unrecoverable costs, relies on the good faith of the government not to raise taxes after costs have been incurred. Regrettably, features inherent within the political economy of natural resource industries and particularly within poor countries, makes a stable investment environment difficult to achieve. Indeed, some suggest that countries may fall into a trap in which one episode of instability breeds the conditions for future instability, creating a vicious circle that prevents a country fully benefiting from its mineral wealth. The recent rise in commodity prices is one feature that has influenced reforms in mineral industries around the world. While the general determinants are becoming better understood, each country may offer new insights into this problem. The focus in this paper is on Zambia’s experience to understand what determined the tax reforms there. In addition, it explores the successes and failures of the mechanisms used to ensure a stable investment environment in Zambia. The paper finds that contract clauses between mining companies and the Zambian government provided some stability, even if no arbitration has so far occurred. In addition, no protection was provided by certain tax structures imposed so far. This paper suggests a better enabling environment, including greater diversification and government administrative capacity, may make these strategies more successful in the future.