Many e-government initiatives introduce technology to improve efficiency and avoid potential human bias. Electronic tax filing (e-filing) is an important example, as developing countries increasingly adopt online submission of tax declarations to replace in-person submission to tax officials. This study examines the impact of e-filing on compliance costs, tax payments, and bribe payments using experimental variation and data from Tajikistan firms.
Three different levels of intervention were implemented in this study. At the first level, firms only received general training on taxation. This group served as the control. At the next level, firms received both the aforementioned general training and information about e-filing, registration procedures, and instructions on how to use the system. At the next level, firms received what the previous group received, but also logistical help with a trained specialist.
Firms that e-file exhibited lower compliance costs, spending five fewer hours each month on fulfilling tax obligations. There were no significant average effects of e-filing on tax or bribe payments, but significant heterogeneity existed across firms by their baseline likelihood of tax evasion. Among firms previously more likely to evade, e-filing doubled tax payments, likely by disrupting collusion with officials. Conversely, among firms less likely to have been evading, e-filing reduced tax payments, suggesting that officials had previously required them to pay more. These firms also paid fewer bribes, as e-filing reduces opportunity for extortion. In all, the results indicate that e-filing reduces compliance costs and makes the distribution of tax payments across firms arguably more equitable.
Oyebola Okunogbe, Economist, the World Bank
Victor Pouliquen, PhD Candidate, Paris School of Economics