Helping to build research capacity in Africa has always been a key ICTD objective. We have contributed to this through several channels, including our cooperation with the African Tax Administration Forum (ATAF), in nurturing the African Tax Research Network. A series of research projects with Dr Samuel Jibao has led to the creation of the Centre for Economic Research and Capacity Building in Sierra Leone.
The Centre for Economic Research and Capacity Building (CERCB) was established in Freetown, Sierra Leone in 2012. The basis lay in a series of ICTD research projects, each involving extensive field surveys, and in collaborative work, between Dr. Samuel Jibao – formerly Research Director of the Sierra Leone Revenue Authority – and ICTD Research Director Dr. Wilson Prichard.
The partnership began with an initial and brief research collaboration between Dr. Prichard and Dr. Jibao, that predated the creation of the ICTD. The creation of the ICTD subsequently allowed them to deepen and expand that research collaboration – and helped to provide the foundation for the creation of the CERCB. Their first project funded by the ICTD saw Dr. Prichard and Dr. Jibao conduct a mixed-methods study of the political economy of property tax reform, supported by a group of local researchers recruited by Dr. Jibao. The project was extensively covered in the Sierra Leonean press, and was widely recognized by government.
The success of this first project led to an ICTD commitment to pursue a second, much larger, research project with Dr. Jibao. This commitment provided analytical support, a broader network and a financial commitment that allowed Dr. Jibao to formally found the CERCB. The first project undertaken by the CERCB in partnership with the ICTD, centered on a large-scale survey looking at local government revenue raising. The team that was established to undertake field surveys for the first project established an important technological lead in data collection techniques, while establishing the CERCB as an important local authority on local revenue raising. Using low cost tablet computers and cell phone networks, they established a system for entering field data directly into the tablets and sending it back to ‘headquarters’ in near-real time. This enabled the senior researchers to monitor closely the performance of survey staff, check immediately on data quality, and arrange for problems with reported responses to be clarified without delay.
CERCB and ICTD researchers pose for a photo in the CERCB office.
This initial project was followed by two subsequent research partnerships between the ICTD and CERCB, which helped to provide both analytical and financial support to the CERCB as it took shape. The first project was a mixed-methods investigation of informal tax practices in customs and border crossing points to Liberia and Guinea. The second was another large survey project, looking at the total burden of both formal and informal taxes in the Eastern part of the country that was most affected by the civil war.
Despite the serious setback resulting from the Ebola epidemic, this technological lead, along with a good record of completion of research projects and of publishing the results, enabled the CERCB under Dr. Jibao’s leadership, to continue to grow both its research and capacity building activities, increasingly engaging with partners beyond the ICTD. The CERCB now has 7 full or close to full time staff members employed at its office at 81 Pademba Road, Freetown. Four of them either hold PhDs or are PhD candidates. The organisation can in addition, call on a cadre of trained survey staff for specific projects.
Vanessa van den Boogaard of ICTD and a CERCB staff member, pose for a photo next to the CERCB office.
The CERCB has worked closely with national governments, international organisations, and policy research organisations, on fiscal policy issues and project evaluations. These include, in addition to the ICTD, Christian Aid, African Tax Institute, the World Bank, University of Pretoria, International Growth Centre and Budget Advocacy Network, Sierra Leone. The CERCB has also become a capacity building hub in its own right, as it has grown rapidly, and is now providing space for growth for other researchers. Beyond carrying out research, CERCB has also put in place mechanisms to allow knowledge transfer, especially targeting budding African researchers, who are looking to grow their research skills. The centre has opened its doors to PhD researchers, and four PhD students – including one from Italy - who are now being hosted at the Centre, and are able to benefit from the vast experience of the Centre’s researchers.
ICTD was intimately involved in the creation of CERCB, notably through providing some assurances of funding and opportunities for staff to interact with other researchers specialising on tax and development issues in Africa. Though CERCB and ICTD will continue to work together, CERCB also has a future outside that relationship. The Director, Samuel Jibao, says that his dream is to further expand and to do applied research that makes a major contribution to our practical understanding of public policy issues in conflict and post- conflict settings in Africa.