Economics serving society
Justine Knebelmann

Justine Knebelmann

Phd Student

Paris School of Economics, EHESS

Campus Jourdan – 48, boulevard Jourdan, 75014 Paris

5th floor, office 32

Phone +33(0)1 80 52 13 53

Thesis Supervisor: COGNEAU Denis

Academic year of registration: 2017/2018

Thesis title: Fiscal Capacity and State Construction in Sub-Saharan Africa


  • Bringing property owners into the tax net: avenues of fiscal capacity and local accountability. Evidence from Dakar, Senegal with Victor Pouliquen and Bassirou Sarr

Ongoing field experiment. 

Property taxes are levied for local governments and often represent an important component in their budget funding. As such they play a crucial role in the face of increasing needs for public services in rapidly growing cities. In the context of developing countries, with cadaster shortcomings, weak administrative information and IT systems and poor enforcement tools, most local administra- tions experience substantial shortfall in property tax revenues. We partnered with the Senegalese tax administration (Direction G ́en ́erale des Impoˆts et des Domaines) to develop a new property tax man- agement system in Dakar, including an intensive fiscal census, a new data collection and management application, and the incorporation of modernized cadastral information. It’s implementation through a randomized controlled trial will shed light on three questions: i) the extent and mechanisms by which this administrative investment increases fiscal capacity; ii) the respective advantages of a rule compared to discretion in the assessment of tax liability by tax officials; iii) the effects of increased local taxation on local governance dynamics and on the activities of neighborhood chiefs.

Project funded by: Economic Development and Institutions (EDI). 


  • Big Bills on Uganda’s Sidewalks? Value-added and Trade Taxes under Limited State and Taxpayer Capacity with Miguel Almunia, Jonas Hjort, and Lin Tian

Low-income countries (LIC) raise most of their tax revenue using two tax instruments: the value-added tax (VAT) and trade taxes (tariffs). Of these, only tariffs are predicted to distort production, but a given taxpayer’s reported liability can be compared against a third party’s report—which is thought to facilitate enforcement—under both the VAT and tariffs. For this reason, economists generally encourage VATs but discourage tariffs. However, “third party reporting” facilitates enforcement only if the revenue authority has sufficient capacity to compare reports; firms expect the revenue authority to have such capacity; and firms have sufficient capacity to report correctly. We evaluate the actual performance of a VAT and tariffs in a LIC context, using five years of comprehensive transaction-level tax data provided by the Uganda Revenue Authority (URA). As in many LICs, VAT-registered firms in Uganda are required to report all their transactions with other firms—both domestic and foreign—in their monthly VAT returns, and to report foreign transactions at customs. We crosscheck the amounts reported by sellers and buyers, and find widespread discrepancies. Domestically, sellers on average report much lower values and many fewer transactions than buyers (for whom transactions generate a tax credit rather than a liability). Although buyers reporting less than sellers is also common—partly because taxpayers make mistakes, and partly because they strategically underreport both sales and purchases to “look small” —VAT misreporting leads to an annual loss of revenue of about USD 128million (4% of Uganda’s annual tax revenue). In comparison, misreporting of imports appears limited, costing the URA at most about USD 23million per year in tariff revenue. We conclude that low state and taxpayer capacity may dramatically change the calculus when different forms of taxes are compared.


  • Taxation in Africa from colonial times to present with Denis Cogneau, Yannick Dupraz and Sandrine Mesplé-Somps


UNU-WIDER Working Paper 2017/10

Motivated by the fact that the taxation of natural resources is both crucial and particularly challenging for developing countries, this paper draws on a unique dataset to produce empirical evidence on two issues pertaining to the fiscal impact of oil. On a sample of 31 countries during the 2000s oil price boom, we first assess which country and sector characteristics are correlated with the effective tax on oil, i.e. the share of oil income collected by the government. Secondly, we test whether oil revenue evicts traditional tax revenues. We propose a new methodology to address this question and we conclude to the absence of such an eviction effect: we observe no effect of oil revenue on non-oil taxes through taxation channels, and linkages with the non-oil economy seem to yield additional non-oil tax revenues. These econometric analyses are complemented by six comparative case studies of countries observed before and after oil production begins. Historical, institutional and oil sector-specific information allows to account for differences observed in the evolution of the effective tax on oil and of non-oil taxes.