Civil society organizations and taxation: Emerging trends and priorities

During the summer of 2020, the International Budget Partnership (IBP) and the International Centre for Tax and Development (ICTD) worked collaboratively to complete a broad scan of civil society organizations (CSO) working in the taxation space with a specific interest in domestic taxation. The scan was the brainchild of IBP after noting the lack of a comprehensive picture of the emerging field of civil society engagement with domestic taxation issues globally. Their objectives were to understand the broad features of the field and the challenges faced by CSOs with the view of informing IBP’s future work while providing a resource for other actors in the field including CSOs, governments, and donor agencies. This scan also coincided with the emergence of IBP’s Tax Equity Initiative which “works to promote citizen engagement with budget policies and processes to make them more equitable and inclusive”. ICTD has also taken growing interest in this field, launching a Tax and Civil Society research stream in June, funding partners in Africa and elsewhere to develop research in this field.

Prior to this scan, individual international NGOs like Oxfam and ActionAid had published reviews on the taxation work their partners were doing globally. The Global Alliance for Tax Justice and others also have lists of organizations working on tax issues, but they lack any details or analysis of the work done by individual organizations. Following the scan, IBP produced a paper entitled: “Of Citizens and Taxes: A global scan of civil society work on taxation” which substantiates the findings of the broad scan using an online survey and in-depth interviews conducted with selected organizations to obtain a clearer picture of the work they are doing. This blog will however highlight some key takeaways from the scan focusing predominantly on organizations in low- and middle-income countries, given ICTD’s research focus in this area, and on how CSOs can use this scan to inform the work they are doing.

The Broad CSO Scan

 width=The CSO scan database has a sample of 171 organizations working across 66 countries and 7 regions: sub-Saharan Africa (74 organizations); Asia (30 organizations); Latin America and the Caribbean (30 organizations); Europe (16 organizations); Middle East and North Africa (13 organizations); North America (6 organizations); and Oceania (including Australia, 2 organizations).  This information was compiled using the organizations’ websites and evidence on recent work on domestic taxation from reports, briefs, campaigns, blogs, etc. The database provides a comprehensive overview of what each organization does, types of work they are engaged in, how they approach their work (theory of change), types of taxes (both domestic and international and if they are linked), if they are part of any international networks, and their main publications on tax from recent years.

International and Regional Networks

The CSO scan revealed that strong regional and international (both South-South and North-South) civil society coalitions exist in this space. Networks such as Tax Justice Network Africa (TNJ-A), Latindadd and Tax and Fiscal Justice Asia have contributed to an environment in which civil society groups have been able to enter into, receive support, and build capacity around the issues of taxation, and have started to engage in international and domestic debates around tax policy, tax reforms and tax administration.

The Asian CSOs, compared to other organizations in the sample, are the most heterogeneous in terms of aims, ideologies and practice. This is unsurprising given the continent’s size and varying socioeconomic and cultural contexts. There is, however, noticeably less coordination and fewer networks and linkages between the listed organizations. The sub-Saharan Africa sample has a similar heterogeneity to Asia. On the continent overall there is a general dependence on large aid bodies, charities, and state aid organizations with fewer fully independent or locally funded CSOs. The Asian CSOs tend to have links with trade unions and labor organizations which is less apparent in sub-Saharan Africa. However, there is a genesis of national CSOs emerging which are becoming increasingly involved in issues around domestic revenue mobilisation (DRM). This is likely due to organizations like TJN-A which has robust membership on the continent.

In the Middle East and North Africa there is a focus on domestic policy, democratization, civil society participation and transparency. These factors are often placed in intersection with social issues such as broader democratic participation, civil rights, and gender disparities. The Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND) plays a central role in the region by facilitating and publishing most of the research and reports produced in the region. In Latin America, Latindadd is a crucial network and is an example of a pioneer in South-South cooperation collaborating well with the Africa Forum and Network on Debt and Development.

The existence of these networks is important as they provide a neutral space for collaboration and sharing of best practices, especially given the relatively new taxation policy practice arena in lower-income countries.

What does this mean for ICTD work going forward?

The CSO scan is a useful tool for myriad organizations working in the taxation space. Organizations like ICTD can use the scan to align research work with policy interest areas like tax expenditures where it is still unclear if these are effective. Some regional gaps exist, a key one being in Asia, and it is therefore important to support work there. Addressing constraints, particularly funding and capacity (technical and human resources) would go a long way in shifting the locus of influence and power from regional networks to national and grassroots CSOs. While the CSO scan tells us a lot about what the field broadly looks like, many questions remain unanswered and are an area of future work for both ICTD and IBP.

These include questions such as:

  • What makes CSO tax work effective?
  • What are the roles of international and regional networks and coalitions in domestic tax work?
  • What does a progressive domestic tax policy agenda look like?
  • What is a compelling narrative for progressive taxation that can counterbalance the powerful narrative of individual wealth and entrepreneurship?

*Ruvimbo Chidziva is pursuing a master’s degree from the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at the University of Toronto and is a Research Assistant at the International Centre for Tax and Development. Fariya Mohuiddin is a Senior Program Officer for the Tax Equity Program at the International Budget Partnership. 


Fariya Mohiuddin

Senior Program Officer, Tax Equity, International Budget Partnership

Fariya joined the International Budget Partnership as a Senior Program Officer in 2019. Prior to joining IBP, Fariya was the Strategic Programs Researcher at the Tax Justice Network where she provided research and network building support to Tax Justice Network’s programs. Her specific focus has been on developing a human rights, feminist, and gender equality focused network of tax activists and researchers, and she was the lead organiser for all of Tax Justice Network’s major convenings from 2017 to 2019. Fariya has also worked with the International Centre for Tax and Development, the World Bank Group, the Ford Foundation, and Open Society Foundation on research projects on political accountability, citizen engagement and transparency in West Africa. She holds both a Bachelor’s of Arts (Economic and International Relations) and a Master’s of Global Affairs from the University of Toronto.

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