It’s been a busy week in Dar es Salaam in the transparency game. Tuesday saw the launch of the Tanzanian government’s Open Government Partnership process. OGP is a multi-lateral US and Brazilian-led initiative. Yesterday and today saw the launch of the Make Budgets Public campaign, a big NGO led initiative to make budgets in particular more open.
The OGP initiative seeks to make government information more available, broaden civic participation, and ensure the highest standards in government administration all driven by the latest tech – social or otherwise. On each count, the OGP Tanzania launch has been a bit of a mess to be frank.
The launch involved government’s presentation of its draft action plan as well as the start of a consultation process. The plan was mostly a rehash of existing ideas. As Ben Taylor described it on the Daraja blog, it “was notable mainly for its lack of ambition”. No commitment to a Freedom of Information Act (though an imperfect bill has been gathering dust for over five years), despite the OGP itself telling us that:
an access to information law that guarantees the public’s right to information and access to government data is essential to the spirit and practice of open government.
Otherwise, the plan was mostly filled out with rusting ‘transparency’ ideas like village noticeboards, ministerial complaints desks and client service charters. The full plan – in Swahili – can be found here and sometimes here.
So what about the consultation process? The consensus is that it has been a mess. Submissions can be made in different ways. There’s SMS (on a number, 0658 999 222, that only sometimes works). There’s a resurrected and re-purposed website – that hasn’t had a re-design of its works to take account of the new purpose – though the OGP logo has been pasted into the banner. These aren’t being wildly publicised, unless I’ve missed something.
And there’s the mysterious opengov.go.tz site, apparently designed to receive submissions, but with a range of links that don’t work and whose headings are unclear. Note to whoever is responsible – take it down. [update 19/4/2012: to be fair, it has now been improved and is to be seen here]
And there’s always the post. Send your entries to PO Box 9120, Dar es Salaam.
And bear in mind that the draft plan is to be submitted for discussion in just over two weeks.
That’s the easy bit out the way. Now it gets difficult.
There’s some goodwill out there. The Daraja blog is keen on encouraging supportive participation. The guys at vijanafm are also bullish, also calling for whole hearted participation and looking to source ideas. The most useful suggestions have been made on Mbwana Ally’s Afrinnovator blog – the informed views of an open data enthusiastist with an understanding of our realities in Tanzania. Must read.
The Twaweza project has been more engaged than most, briefing the President, Cabinet and Permanent Secretaries. You can download the presentation to Cabinet – it’s full of good implementable ideas.
So where has it all gone wrong? We can look at commitment to the process and ask how effective that is. And we can consider how appropriate the process is more broadly.
President Kikwete has made a public commitment to OGP – attending the launch, signing up Tanzania and delegating leadership of the process to the Minister of State for Good Governance, President’s Office (yes, we have a junior minister for “good governance”…) not to mention calling for those briefings with Twaweza.
The measure of this commitment is the mess described above. There’s no reason to doubt the President’s personal commitment. But clearly that isn’t translating into anything substantial. Rakesh Rajani of Twaweza gives a graphic take on the management challenges being faced:
Everything is pretty fast paced compared to normal govt pace, and lots of other things are going on at same time involving the same people. So in the process a combination of old habits, circumstances, lack of clarity about good standards, errors, etc have made consultation process be far from ideal.
So is an indolent civil service the explanation? A more likely explanation is that government (Executive, Civil Service and ruling party) is distracted by an increasingly fissiparous struggle for power within the ruling party and allegations of systematic corruption and cover up that have now reached Ikulu itself, with Parliament calling yesterday for the resignation of the Chief Secretary amongst others in the light of a Select Committee inquiry into payments to politicians.
Under the circumstances – specific issues which have shaped our politics for at least four years now – it is hardly a surprise that the personal commitment has not been matched by a focused allocation of resources and smarts into making government more open. There’s other stuff going on.
So is it just immediate circumstances? What if we had waited a couple of months to let events blow over?
Again, I would suggest not. “Open Government” in the USA or the UK has very different implications to having open government in Tanzania or Jordan. OGP itself accepts the classification of those four countries as full democracies, a hybrid regime (that’s us) and an authoritarian regime. That’s quite a range. Opening government has very different implications in countries where the political settlement has been agreed compared to those where it has not. In the UK, that may be an iphone app that let’s you report potholes. In Tanzania it may be angry youth trashing a bus station. I’d say those in power in Tanzania know that. A cookie cutter framework like OGP just won’t work.
And suspicion of Northern led initiatives shouldn’t be discounted. The Obama honeymoon is long over – and there never was a Cameron honeymoon. Brazil’s Rousseff is there, but she has neither the name recognition nor the worldwide sympathy that Lula had.
So what can open government advocates do in Tanzania under the circumstances?
An effective and impressive action plan can’t be drafted by December 7. So non state advocates involved in OGP could call for a rescheduling – while still meeting next year’s deadline for the final plan.
Non state advocates of OGP need to intensively publicise the initiative – government won’t do so – through media, religious networks, CSO networks, whatever works.
And if that is to work, non state advocates of OGP need to see if there are any potential allies amongst the many individuals and organisations already working on opening government.
Which brings us back to the Make Budgets Public launch this week. Their decision yesterday to have an arms length relationship with the OGP initiative doesnt’ bode well for that last suggestion. If an effective coalition can’t be developed around OGP in Tanzania, it’s going nowhere.