Hon. Richard A. Ajuik
Chieftaincy Institution and Revenue Mobilisation in Ghana:
An example from Builsa Traditional Council
To understand the Ghanaian chieftaincy institution and its role in revenue mobilization, it is incumbent to equally understand how the chiefs from the pre-colonial era have been involved in revenue mobilization either formally or informally.
Historically, and before colonial rule, the chieftaincy institution was the pivot of the whole society, more or less the government of the day. The chief had different departments made up of the Native Court, the Native Police and the Native Treasury. Under the Native Treasury, the chiefs had the power to tax the natives. This tax could be in cash or kind. The taxing system varied from one community to the other. The various sources of revenue included the following: property levies; funeral contributions; community welfare levies; land rent; special development contributions; tolls; royalties from traditional councils paid to paramouncies; fundraising during festivals and other festive occasions; levies on game, timber and mineral products; funeral contributions; burial fees; and other special levies.
Information about taxes and the purpose of the tax was often communicated to everyone. This could be done by the town crier or gong-gong beater or at a durbar organized for the purpose. All persons above the age of 21 years had a tax quota (sometimes there was discrimination on the basis of sex in terms of the amount payable). Those in industry had a special tax quota, and persons who were not permanent residents had a different tax quota. In some places, professionals and identifiable trades such as market women and fisher folk also paid special levies, mostly in kind for the sustenance of the chief’s palace and for ongoing community projects. Special levies were also collected from the lease of land. The chiefs and elders decided on when to impose taxes and how much. These payments were usually made annually. The annual taxes were obligatory for everybody: from the least citizen to the most important. The tax did not always have to be money; it could be farm produce such as corn, palm oil, livestock etc.
There were many mechanisms for collecting these taxes. Fundraising could be done on the spot during festivals or fundraising durbars; taxes could be collected by family heads and transferred to the chief’s treasury; and house to house collection by the officials of the Native Treasury. Communal labour was also considered a form of resource mobilization. The amount imposed was often negotiable depending on a person’s circumstances. Disputes that emanated from the collection of levies were referred to the head of the extended family for settlement. It is when such steps failed that the chief would sit with his council to decide on the case. This could be an open or closed hearing. Many penalties, including being ostracized, could be imposed on tax defaulters. Other penalties were special fines (foodstuff, farm animals, drinks or cash); preventing the burial of the dead from a defaulting household; preventing defaulters from farming on community land; assault by the youth for disobeying the chief’s order; physical labour, and banishment.
The administration of this system of taxation was not cumbersome and was easy to execute because of the allegiance subjects had for their chiefs and the reverence everyone had for chiefs. On the other hand, there were mostly no written records of taxes collected and this made transparency and tax dispute resolution difficult". (Atuguba 2006, p. 36-37; and Hoffman and Metzroth, 2010).
Despite the deliberate attempts by various governments after independence to weaken the chieftaincy institutions, the institution continues to wield power from the people and therefore has become indispensable in Ghana’s growth and development agenda (Atuguba, 2006). The Asantehene (King of Asante) for example mobilised revenue for his council through gold royalties and concessions; and from the business community. The gold royalties and concession mobilization is done with mining companies through agreements in exchange for land, whiles the business community mobilization is done through voluntary contributions. Sometimes depending on the amount of money required, house to house contributions are made. Similar contributions are made by his sub-chiefs for their own councils and the king council as well. It must be noted that this are informal revenue mobilisation, yet the citizens willingly contribute. GTZ (2006, p.26) noted that in Ghana, for example, "the traditional chiefs in particular plays a strong role in tax collection, although this is not generally accepted".
The situation is not different from Northern Ghana which has similar mode of mobilizing revenue during festivals. To the Builsa Traditional council, for example, contributions either in cash, goods or animals (Maize, Rice, Millet, Cows, Goats and Sheep) are made by the people during the "Feok" festivals. The process takes two-way approach: a top-down approach in the form of information about the up-coming event (festival) from the paramount chief’s council to the divisional chiefs, sub-chiefs, headmen and then to the family heads and on the other hand a bottom-up approach where contribution starts with the individual households which is collected by the family heads and then coordinated by the headmen through the sub-chiefs, divisional chiefs and finally to the paramount chiefs’ council. Certainly, the role of chiefs in revenue mobilization in Ghana is not only an old tradition but a cultural mechanism for social and economic development which has evolved through the various generations until today. How then can this experiences and practices be brought to bear on the current system of Tax Administration in Ghana?
The argument is that by improving on the role of chiefs the collection of both national and local taxes can be improved. The challenge is that chiefs in Ghana are not formally paid and so their source of livelihood is sometimes based on the informal contributions from their citizens. Therefore, creating a platform for them to contribute to National and Local Government revenue without addressing the salary issue would receive a fierce resistance. I will recommend strongly that chiefs should be formally paid and be charged with revenue mobilization responsibilities in addition to their traditional roles.
Atugaba, R., 2006: The Tax Culture of Ghana. Revenue Mobilization Support, Ghana. Research Report by Legal Resource Centre, Ghana and GIZ.
GTZ (Gesellschaft für technische Zusammenarbeit), 2006: Public Finance and Administrative Reforms: Sustainable Public Finance through Good Financial Governance. Third Public Finance Conference,7-8 September in Eschborn.
Metzroth, M. K. and D. B. Hoffman (2010): The Political Economy of Decentralization in Ghana. Center for Democracy and Civil Society, Georgetown University.