Informal Taxation in Post-Conflict Sierra Leone: Taxpayers’ Experiences and Perceptions

Citizens often pay a range of ‘taxes’ that differ substantially from statutory policies, in low-income and post-conflict countries and particularly in rural areas. These ‘informal taxes’, paid to a variety of state and non-state actors, are frequently overlooked in analyses of local systems of taxation. This problematic situation leads to misunderstandings of individual and household tax burdens, as well as of systems of local governance. This study thus seeks to capture the reality of taxation in peripheral areas of Sierra Leone. It is based on a taxpayer survey covering 1,129 heads of households, in-depth interviews with government and chiefdom officials, and focus group discussions with community stakeholders across three rural districts of Sierra Leone. In this study, the variety, extent, magnitude, and enforcement mechanisms associated with different types of taxes are described, finding that non-state informal revenue collection is highly prevalent, representing a significant proportion of taxes paid by individuals. Exploring taxpayer perceptions of the different types of taxes, the conclusion is that positive perceptions of payments levied by non-state actors relative to those levied by local and central governments in terms of fairness, transparency, accountability, and service provision. The paper concludes by considering the implications of these findings, particularly in the context of on-going fiscal decentralization reforms in Sierra Leone.