This case study assesses whether Zambia’s tax and fiscal policies have been impeded by political and technical constraints. Tax policy is a deliberate—yet intricate—process requiring not just well-measured choices, but also stability. Zambia has undertaken several tax reforms that have included broadening the tax base, establishing a revenue collection agency, and introducing a value-added tax (VAT). A careful examination of developments over the last two decades shows that the process has since been characterized by seemingly unending and erratic tax policy changes. The single most important factor driving this instability is the exemption of the mining sector. The exemption has its roots in how the country handled the privatization process. This has been accentuated by fierce political disquiet over the leniency and the opaque manner with which the sector is treated in tax policy. Incessant tax policy changes designed to rectify this have done little to improve revenue mobilization. What Zambia needs is decisive action on a number of fronts, including consensus-building for balanced minerals benefit schemes; tax stability and predictability; tax expenditure policy reform guided by an explicit benefit cost assessment; direct address of the perverse influence of politics on fiscal policy; and political commitment to further entrench VAT policy and increase both its elasticity and administrative efficiency.
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