Egypt: The Price of Inaction on Tax Reform

To read the full report, please press the Download PDF on the right.

Egyptian lawyers shout slogans during a protest against the newly adopted value-added tax (VAT), in front of the Court of Cassation in Cairo, Egypt, 1 October 2016. © EPA/MOHAMED KAMAL

Introduction

Like public finances elsewhere, the public finances of the Egyptian state suffer from a semi-permanent deficit. Although a limited deficit in state budgets is acceptable for most prevailing economic theories, the persistent and worsening deficit in public budgets leads to severe phases during which the economy suffers. During periods of economic prosperity, soft loans are easily accessible, which encourages states to rely on borrowing as a secondary source of financing for extended periods until it becomes a permanent source of financing. The financial market eventually puts an end to every period of easy borrowing, forcing the government to face the reality it has tried to avoid. Under such circumstances, governments have three tools at their disposal: borrowing at the highest interest rate, austerity and disabling services and social protection programs, and raising taxes and customs duties.

Borrowing at the highest interest rate is every government's first choice because it does not require a reformulation of the social, economic, and political contract between the state and its citizens. But the price of such a policy is a worsened deficit. Borrowing, before or after a crisis, is not a solution but merely a postponement of the crisis, in the hope that the market recovers. When it is no longer possible to borrow amid the worsening economic conditions of a crisis, the government resorts to other tools with varying degrees of risk. Austerity is a recipe for widespread social outcry and has catastrophic effects on the poor and middle classes as well as the overall economy due to decreased purchasing power. To overcome the crisis with the least social tension, the state can also resort to taxation to generate possible revenues whether from the economy as a whole or the sectors and classes with concentrated surpluses of value. The more severe the crisis, the more the government is forced to use additional tools and impose strict measures. Debts are nothing but deferred taxes, and taxes remain key in every economic crisis.

When a global economic crisis looms, questions abound. Could the crisis be approached with fewer social and economic burdens and with more room for maneuver? In this context, this paper will discuss the tax policies adopted in the past few years in Egypt and how they could have been more effective. The primary role of taxes is to meet the government's financial needs to implement its role under the social contract, whether formal or informal. Therefore, taxes are a convenient introduction to understanding the political economy of any state. Tax policies are an essential tool for achieving macroeconomic goals, and they directly reflect the political and socioeconomic considerations driving a country’s economy. This paper will address the main role of taxes in financing the requirements of the social contract from the perspective of the adequacy and effectiveness of tax collection.

 

The views represented in this paper are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Arab Reform Initiative, its staff, or its board.