The Carrot and the Stick: Evidence on Voluntary Tax Compliance from a Pilot Field Experiment in Rwanda

Key findings from a pilot field experiment on tax compliance, is discussed in this paper. A key objective of the paper, is to provide lessons learned on implementing this type of study in low-income countries, and reporting initial econometric results. Section 2 summarizes some characteristic features of low-income countries that researchers need to factor into their research plans and design. These include administrative constraints; the effectiveness of physical letters, for which processes are not streamlined; and shortcomings in the taxpayer registry. Although the success rate of the letter delivery exercise compared relatively well with other similar studies, sending a large number of letters is a burden for the revenue administration, both in terms of letter preparation and delivery. This makes it particularly important for low-income countries to experiment with other delivery methods. The larger field experiment that was conducted, included emails and SMS’s, along with physical letters. Despite these challenges, this pilot confirms that large-scale field experiments are indeed feasible in Africa, especially when the local revenue authority is committed to the project. In terms of econometric results, the analysis reported in Section 5 suggests that information letters can be an effective way to nudge taxpayers into complying more.