Effective local government taxation is critical to achieving the governance
benefits widely attributed to decentralization, but in practice successful tax
reform has been rare because of entrenched political resistance. This article
offers new insights into the political dynamics of property tax reform through
a case study of Sierra Leone, focusing on variation in experiences and outcomes
across the country’s four largest city councils. Based on this evidence,
the article argues that elite resistance has posed a particularly acute barrier to
local government tax reform, but that ethnic diversity has sometimes served
to strengthen reform by fragmenting elite resistance. Furthermore, opposition
councils have had stronger incentives to strengthen tax collection than
councils dominated by the ruling party, in order to increase their fiscal autonomy.
More generally, heightened electoral competition can lead to sustained
revenue gains by encouraging city councils to adopt a more contractual approach
to tax reform that stresses transparency, engagement, and equity.