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OGP Tanzania: how’s that working out? Central Bank edition, with an update…

To hide reports from the public is a form of corruption. The right to information is a basic right under our constitution. We don’t want the shock of being told that the our Foreign Reserves have dried up.

Zitto Kabwe, MP for Kigoma North, lays into the Central Bank on his blog today – and his accusations are pretty serious.

His core allegation is that Tanzania’s international reserves – foreign currency held by the state -  are drying up, with the equivalent of just one month’s imports remaining. To be accurate he says it is a rumour he has heard. Generally, reserves equivalent to the value of three months imports are recommended (or so the IMF tells me), though Tanzania’s reserves have been hovering around five months equivalent in recent years.

His second allegation is that the Central Bank of Tanzania is deliberately concealing economic statistics – the most recent Monthly Economic Review is from December 2011 and that most recent inflation figure available from them is for November 2011. This seems pretty late. Is that their usual schedule? I hope not.

[The reports from recent months] are concealed deliberately – the Central Bank has them. This is negligence. The country pays bank staff fat salaries to do this work. Companies have been awarded tenders to print these reports. If the reports are not published, it is a theft to which we cannot close our eyes.

He closes with an ultimatum to Central Bank Governor Benno Ndullu: reports for all months up to April 2012 should be up on the site by May 14.

If his central allegation is correct, we are going through dramatic times. The most recent “months of imports” figure for the level of reserves is 5.3, for December 2010, a number that had been steady for the five years prior to that. One year on, and Tanzania’s trade balance had worsened by almost 100 percent to a deficit of TZS 8.5 trillion. In March of this year the government requested Balance of Payments support from the IMF, under a Standby Credit Facility. None of these are good signs.

The headline figures for reserves, trade balance and balance of payments conceal much. Oil imports for the emergency power plan, attempts by the Central Bank to stabilise the currency, rotting cashew nuts in the south and the invasions of commercial farms in the north: all of these affect those three numbers. But without those numbers, we can’t fully make the connections.

Zitto Kabwe makes the obvious connection to Tanzania’s Open Government Partnership commitments:

While the President is assuring the international community on on government transparency (#OGP), an institution like the Central Bank is concealing information that is crucial to the people and to those following public affairs. The President says Blue, while the Governor oversees Green.

Most recent reports are available here.

Update:

Remarkably, since Zitto Kabwe’s post this morning and me writing the above this afternoon, the Monthly Economic Reviews for January and February 2012 are up on the BoT site. Mind you, the January report is a 34 MB monster. I’m still downloading it. If it changes anything above, I’ll amend….

Tanzania’s OGP Action Plan: what’s in the works?

Tanzania’s Open Government Partnership Action Plan is finally ready. You can download your own copy from the OGP website. Happily, you can also compare it to the draft plan which was prepared last year. Go here, and you’ll find it under the ‘introduction’ tab.

The draft had a few highlights. Access to information legislation was an obvious one, as was a pretty tight commitment on public officials’ asset disclosure.

Both the draft and final plan are succint – the commitments cover just two pages more or less. So let’s compare the stand out ones.

On access to information, the draft made this commitment

Study global best practice of freedom of information laws that enable citizens to readily access public information held by government, in the interest of preparing a potential freedom of information Bill by July 2012.

Daraja at the time described it as “so non-committal that it hardly deserves to be called a “commitment”.” It’s hard to argue with that.

So what does the final Action Plan say?

Study global best practice of freedom of information laws in order to generate inputs for preparation of a potential freedom of information Bill

I’ll let you be the judge as to whether that is a strengthened or a weakened commitment.

On the disclosure of public officials’ assets, the draft was robust:

Prepare legislative amendments and regulations to strengthen asset disclosures of public officials and make them accessible online by December 2012.

And the final Action Plan says?

Prepare legislative amendments and regulations to strengthen asset disclosures of public officials.

Not so much.

The draft was also surprisingly strong on land, committing to make available online details of all formally allocated plots, complete with ownership details and GIS coordinates. Perhaps not surprisingly, it has been pulled. I’d like to think it has been spiked for being over ambitious and costly.

The plan retains one anomaly – it still gives as a future commitment  the production of an “annual citizens’ budget document”. This is good news of course, and something that had been completed for this financial year last December. You can get your copy here.

Commitments in the social sectors are strong – indeed, these are what President Kikwete highlighted in his speech to the OGP Annual Meeting yesterday. Watch his speech here, from the 39 minute mark.

There’s plenty of useful stuff – publication of all sorts of data in machine readable format (and just on paper too, thankfully), but why limit it to health, water and education sectors? If tax exemptions in those sectors can be published quarterly, and tax exemptions to public officials are already published, then why not release all tax exemptions?

And will the various commitments to budget and expenditure disclosure, intra-government transfers and local level receipts and expenditure data combine to make a new way of doing business? I don’t know – but hopefully somebody reading this has the public finance management chops necessary to tell us.

And once again the lack of any commitments on extractive industries is a pity. All it needed was a paragraph recognising existing commitments under the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. But it’s not there. With a gas, and possibly oil, bonanza around the corner, this is a big gap.

But open government is not  built on plans alone. Initiatives that address essential sectors, are driven by people pushing their government and pushing themselves may open doors too. What might that look like round where you are?

8:30: Arrival, Coffee and Croissants

The use of social media to enlarge the democratic space in sub-Saharan Africa will not thrive without intervention by donors*

Discuss. The croissants will be served nine hours from now.

*From a Danida report that’s just out, Using ICT to Promote Governance and can be downloaded from Dunia ni Duara (to whom thanks for the pointer). To be discussed at a conference in Copenhagen today.

Going once….. going twice….

I have 200 of your school desks in the store. If it wasn’t for the election laws, I’d have brought them today. But if you vote for our candidate, I’ll call one head teacher after another and get them to you.

Part of a stump speech in the Kirumba Ward by-election campaign in Mwanza Municipality, reported in this week’s Raia Mwema ( my translation, not yet online*).

Competitive politics distorts policy making and public services. Discuss.

*Now online.

“Good Governance Pays” – Part le Pili

Crony 2012, posters by Will St. Leger, photographed by Darragh Doyle, 25 March 2012, Temple Bar, Dublin.

Those were the words of then Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern (pictured above….) in January 2008, addressed to Irish people living in Dar es Salaam. We applauded, enjoyed the booze and canapés and went home. Five months later, so did Bertie, resigning as his own party remained unable to protect him from the mounting evidence of his corruption and that of the wider political system.

I blogged his Dar speech at the time. It was too good to resist. Our venal leader at the plinth, praising his host President Kikwete for acting “decisively, openly and publicly” on the USD 130 million Bank of Tanzania fraud, was quite a sight.

And his venality was something we had all known about. Some months prior to his speech in Dar es Salaam, Bertie had completed his testimony to the Mahon Tribunal – an official inquiry into corruption in land planning and political financing from the late ’80s to late ’90s. His increasingly garbled accounts of his personal finances, the huge amounts of cash sitting in his office and being a Minister for Finance without a personal bank account left us in no doubt.

The Mahon Tribunal released its final 3,270 page report this week. It is amusing in the way in which it feels it has to lay out the first principals of accountability, transparency and combating corruption – in much the same way as your average ‘good governance’ consultant here might do preparing a report for either donors or the Tanzanian government.

But it doesn’t pull its punches in its pathology of Irish politics and public administration. “Corruption in Irish political life”, it tells us was “both endemic and systemic”. From Ministers down to local councillors, a “culture of impunity and invincibility” allowed this to happen.

Yet coming on top of the plea bargain between Britain’s Serious Fraud Office and British Aerospace over corrupt payments to secure business in Tanzania, donor country credibility on these issues has taken another hit. The average Good Governance Programme Officer’s job just got a little harder.

Bertie was a hugely popular politician working a system of patronage, strong arm political fundraising and, yes, cronyism. We all knew about it and we allowed it to continue.

But the upshot of that is a banjaxed (read: broken) economy and a disaffected populace. That is maybe the lesson that Tanzania can draw from the sorry affair. But the consequences of such disaffection here are more direct, for as we have seen, “there’s always a reason to riot in TZ”.

Very few readers in Ireland, so, if interested, a good place to start with coverage of the Mahon Tribunal is here, where you can find a link to the full report (63MB) and this useful introduction.

The posters pictured above are by Dublin “Mindful Vandal”, Will St. Leger, found through Darragh Doyle.

Raia Mwema on OGP: missed opportunity

Raia Mwema: usually one of Tanzania's more progressive and thoughtful newspapers

The long standing demand of good governance activists and those standing up to the secrecy surrounding public leaders’ wealth may be about to be addressed.

Raia Mwema has got its hands on a document proposing changes to the Public Leadership Code of Ethics Act including proposals to make wealth declarations public.

That, in translation, is Tanzania weekly Raia Mwema‘s opening paras on today’s front page splash, pictured above (online version is a week behind). They go on:

This document discusses the implementation of the Tanzania Open Government Partnership, to commence this year, similar to decisions made by the President of the United States, Barack Obama as well as by Brazil.

Raia Mwema is of course discussing Tanzania’s draft Open Government Partnership (OGP) plan. You can see it here,  on the central OGP website, or here on the Tanzanian government site  Any suggestion that they have some exclusive access is empty posturing. It has been out there for two and a half months. Pretence at exclusive access when discussing a download is common in the Tanzanian press.

So after all this time, what new insights has Raia Mwema to give us on the issue of leaders’ wealth declarations?

Our government sources say that some leaders opposed this proposal as they say it will cause trouble between the people and their leaders, while others who support the proposal say that those who got their wealth legitimately have nothing to fear.

With sources like that, Woodward and Bernstein can rest easy.

So what did Raia Mwema miss on the wealth declaration issue? Off the top of my head: any inquiry into the likelihood of it actually being implemented; any consideration of why Civil Society Organisations have been so quiet on these proposals; any thought given to support to these proposals from a couple of prominent politicians; any questioning of the appropriateness of proposed support from the Canadian government to the Ethics Secretariat.

It might have made for a good story – and it may have improved the quality of public dialogue on OGP, politicians and civil servants’ conflicts of interest and how we can move forward.

Discussion of Tanzania’s OGP commitments here have been uniformly pessimistic, but have sought to engage with the issues. By failing to do so, Raia Mwema has been truly cynical. And that makes me more pessimistic about OGP success in Tanzania.

The other Happy Valley

Should the Oxfam run guesthouse in Nairobi allow guests to use the swimming pool? That’s the burning question Duncan Green is asking on his popular Poverty to Power blog and he’s asking readers to vote on it. Duncan tells us that it’s closed to limit Oxfam’s reputational risk. What if it got out in the British press? Bad enough in the Daily Mail, but – the horror – imagine if it cropped up in The Guardian?

His post and question are interesting for how they reveal how disconnected your typical aid worker is.  And some of the comments only serve to drive this home – they really are worth a read.

My first position with an international NGO was in Hong Kong with International Social Service. I was an immigrant and was hired competitively and on ‘local’ terms – just like all my colleagues, at all levels. Like my colleagues at all levels the bulk of a modest salary went on rent. We worked  detention centres for Vietnamese asylum seekers. The environment was usually stressful and sometimes violent. We did our work as best we could, went home at the end of the day and got on with other things. For exercise I played football in Southorn Playground, a municipal football pitch in Wanchai. next door to the 42 storey Southorn Gardens which contained my expensive but tiny shared flat.

See that corner of football pitch? I used to patrol it as a particularly leaden footed right back

Then in 1996 I applied for a job with a European NGO and got posted to Dar es Salaam. Along with a reasonable salary I got housing, transport, food costs covered and driver to take me to the beach for a swim at the end of the day. And I was flabbergasted when I was told I could also have a free maid. My boss was flabbergasted at me being flabbergasted. But  he had been in the game then as long  as I am now.

The aid business is a very strange world. It sees itself as a world apart, which is self fulfilling. Thinking that yours is a world apart leads to both guilty hand wringing, as seen in Oxfam’s empty pool, and also a deeply unattractive  sense of entitlement, as seen in some of the comments on the post.

So, fill the pool, get wet and if people think that’s unacceptable you’ll soon hear about it. Just spare us the hand wringing.