Public Channels of Access and State-Citizen Encounters in the Namibian Tax System

DOIhttp://doi.org/10.1177/00953997221133503
Published date01 February 2023
Date01 February 2023
Subject MatterArticles
https://doi.org/10.1177/00953997221133503
Administration & Society
2023, Vol. 55(2) 264 –293
© The Author(s) 2022
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DOI: 10.1177/00953997221133503
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Article
Public Channels of
Access and State-Citizen
Encounters in the
Namibian Tax System
Johanna Söderström1
and Marcus Wangel1
Abstract
The ability to access the state as a taxpaying citizen is important for the
purposes of building trust and reciprocity, voicing grievances and disseminating
knowledge, and strengthening tax compliance and transparency. Based on
original empirical data, this paper elaborates a theoretical argument of how
state-citizen encounters in the case of taxation are conditioned by five
interacting factors. Drawing on interviews with tax officials and taxpayers
in Windhoek, Namibia, this paper shows that these five factors are weakly
present and negatively reinforce each other, thereby providing insights
into the Namibian tax system and everyday state-citizen tax encounters in
developing countries.
Keywords
taxation, state-citizen interaction, Namibia, compliance, awareness
Introduction
For the taxpaying citizen, being able to approach and access the state is sig-
nificant for a number of reasons. It is an important indicator of governmental
1Department of Government, Uppsala University, Sweden
Corresponding Author:
Johanna Söderström, Department of Government, Uppsala University, Box 514, 751 20
Uppsala, Sweden.
Email: Johanna.soderstrom@statsvet.uu.se
1133503AAS0010.1177/00953997221133503Administration & SocietySöderström and Wangel
research-article2022
Söderström and Wangel 265
performance, accountability, and legitimacy (see e.g., Fjeldstad et al., 2012;
Levi, 1988; Levi et al., 2009; Putnam et al., 1992; Rothstein, 2011; Speer,
2012). It enables space for building mutual trust and reciprocity, voicing
grievances, disseminating knowledge, and exchanging ideas (Evans, 1996;
Fjeldstad, 2004; Kitschelt, 2000; McCulloch et al., 2021; Van de Walle &
Bouckaert, 2003). In young democracies and post-conflict societies, such
space can be integral to strengthening state-society relationships and sus-
tainable state-building processes (Andrews, 2013; Brinkerhoff &
Brinkerhoff, 2015), but also lead to corruption and coercive government
(Orock & Mbuagbo, 2012).
This article offers a case study of state-citizens encounters in Namibia to
shed light on everyday taxation practices. We focus on taxation, specifically
public channels of access in which citizens as taxpayers are able to encounter
the state in the form of its tax authorities. Such channels of access often con-
tribute to the wider institutionalization of a society and socialization into a
robust tax culture; this setting can be conducive to improved tax compliance,
augmented transparency and trust, and a stronger mutual understanding of
the challenges involved in maintaining a system of taxation, both in the
Global North (Rothstein & Stolle, 2003; Steinmo, 2018) and the Global
South (Bräutigam et al., 2008; Broms, 2015; Moore et al., 2018). These
encounters play an important role in constructing images of the state among
citizens (Johansson, 2020; Kruks-Wisner, 2018; Lund, 2016), and influence
perceptions of whether taxation is coercive and or it contributes to the com-
mon good. For instance, getting a fair assessment of one’s tax appeal, or
experiencing bureaucratic arbitrariness and discrimination based on one’s
gender, religion, or ethnic belonging may shape both citizenship practices
and ideals (Kitschelt, 2000).
The main aim of this article is to understand everyday experiences of
taxation in Namibia, through the eyes of both taxpayers as well as tax offi-
cials. On the basis of this case study, with its explicit micro-level perspec-
tive, this article seeks to shine light on two interrelated questions: 1) What
public channels of access formally exist with regards to taxation in the
country?; and 2) What are the awareness, perception, and usage of these
channels among taxpayers? As one of Africa’s youngest democratic states,
critical state-building processes are still ongoing in Namibia. Tax-paying
culture is still being institutionalized, although tax compliance is relatively
high. The Namibian context can help further our understanding of the con-
ditions and outcomes of encounters between the state and its citizens in
their capacity as taxpayers, as the country has a relatively developed tax
administration while still facing many of the same challenges found across
Sub-Saharan Africa. The central focus of this article is to understand tax

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