Africa’s rapid growth and urbanization will require stable local governments to deliver goods and services to billions of people, and the continent can look to an underutilized source of revenue, the property tax, write the authors of a book published by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy.
In Property Tax in Africa: Status, Challenges, and Prospects (Paperback $40.00, 625 pages: ISBN: 978-1-55844-363-1), Riël Franzsen and William McCluskey of the African Tax Institute at the University of Pretoria provide the first comprehensive study of the property tax in Africa, laying out challenges, opportunities, and pathways to improvement. They analyze property tax systems in 29 countries and offer four regional overviews, highlighting the key political, administrative, and technical issues that affect how these systems function.
The book comes at a critical time for Africa. The world’s fastest growing continent, Africa has added more than 500 million people since 1990, and by 2050 it will hold a quarter of the world’s population. The continent is rapidly urbanizing, and together with Asia will absorb most of the world’s urban growth in the coming decades.
“Nowhere are the fiscal challenges of urbanization more pronounced than in Africa,” Lincoln Institute President and CEO George W. “Mac” McCarthy writes in the book’s foreword. “Establishing high-functioning systems capable of delivering reliable annual revenue flows to help cities make ends meet will require a lot of work. But there is plenty of room for optimism.”
The property tax contributes relatively little revenue in most African countries, representing only 0.38 percent of gross domestic product, on average, compared to more than 2 percent the mostly developed countries that make up the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Property Tax in Africa identifies many common challenges, including poor tax collection and enforcement, weak administration, and inadequate systems for assessing property values.
Despite the relatively low utilization of the property tax in most African countries, some cities generate significant revenues from the tax. The property tax represents 42 percent of all locally generated revenue in Freetown, Sierra Leone, 23 percent in Nairobi, Kenya, and 21 percent in Accra, Ghana, for example.
The book also highlights some successes in cities that have been able to bolster their property tax systems. The city of Kitwe, Zambia undertakes supplementary valuations, which have increased the number of properties on the tax rolls and increased assessed values, leading to greater revenue. In Kampala, Uganda, officials from the national Uganda Revenue Authority and the Ministry of Finance collaborated with the local government to set up a new office for revenue collection, which more than doubled the collection of property tax in four years.
A resource for property tax scholars as well as public officials and practitioners on the ground, the book makes recommendations for improving the performance of the property tax in Africa, including the following:
- Thoroughly analyze the property tax system and decide how it relates to national economic development goals.
- Audit the legal underpinnings of the property tax and redraft laws, as needed, to lay the groundwork for more effective systems.
- In most countries, concentrate reform in the largest cities.
- Focus on collection and enforcement systems first.
- Plan gradual transitions that allows the tax administration to catch up and taxpayers to get used to the new system.
In addition to continent-wide and regional overviews, the book includes detailed analyses of the 29 countries: Benin, Botswana, Cabo Verde, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Cote d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, The Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Madagascar, Mauritius, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.