24 Jun 2013
Getting there: A step-by-step guide to asking for a tax or price target
6. Getting in the door to see the contact person(s) you have selected
A first step to getting a meeting, if you don’t already have finance ministry or tax policy contacts, is to send a written request, summarizing the points discussed above. See Appendix 3 for a sample letter.
After sending the letter, follow up with a phone call. Ideally, the response will be, “We welcome your interest and are most eager to meet with you next week.”
But, alas, don’t expect this response.
Just because you ask for a meeting, don’t assume you will get one. Getting meetings with legislators, or at least their aides, usually is not difficult. However, finance ministries and other budget officials are notoriously resistant to consulting or listening to anyone outside of their ministry and trusted circle of knowledgeable experts.
Also remember there is a high likelihood that whoever receives your request for a meeting or actually meets with you will have been lobbied by the tobacco industry, and might very well believe:
- That health organizations know nothing about economic and finance issues;
- That raising tobacco taxes is not an effective way to raise revenue (particularly because of smuggling);
- That price levels are only a small factor in influencing tobacco use.
- Any other number of industry arguments (See Appendix 2: Countering Tobacco Industry Arguments)
If you do get a meeting, you can probably plan on it being with the most junior person available. That’s acceptable, for the first meeting. It gets your foot in the door, and that junior person may be able to answer some of your questions. Also, you now will have a contact within the ministry.
If you are refused a meeting altogether, don’t give up. Keep asking, and also consider indirect routes, such as:
- Asking a friendly legislator to ask for a meeting and to bring you along as an advisor. In many countries, government officials rarely refuse information meetings requested by legislators.
- Contacting the local World Bank office to see if they can facilitate a meeting with government officials. (This would most likely be through FCA contacts at World Bank headquarters, who might be able to facilitate introductions with World Bank officials in your country.)
- Approaching a local university economics department with contacts within the finance ministry (see Keep pushing, and look for allies).
Keep your expectations for a first meeting low, particularly if you have never discussed tobacco taxation with your contact before. Even if they take you seriously, they will need time to think about what you’ve said. Ask them what further information they would like, and whether they would be interested in talking to an outside expert.
Try to get an idea of what next steps they plan to take, even if it’s just to review the information you’ve given them. You should also keep the door open for future contact or meetings, for example, “Thank you for your time. Evidence and policies on this issue are constantly evolving. I’ll be sure to pass on any new information as I become aware of it.”