Tanzania’s Draft OGP Plan: what’s new?

As promised at the December 7 Open Government Partnership meeting in Brasilia, Tanzania has made its draft plan available for comment. The actual commitments are to be found in the final three pages. The preceding six pages are a mind numbing litany of just about every ‘good governance’ initiative attempted in the past. Skip them.

The Open Government Partnership was designed to be a race to the top, rather than a stick for member countries to beat each other with. In that spirit, Obama used the opportunity of the OGP launch to announce the USA’s commitment to EITI. Similarly, Brazil cites OGP involvement as being a key driver in pushing through a Freedom of Information Act. Based on very recent history and look at the draft plan, it is difficult to see any headline grabbing OGP inspired initiatives emerging in Tanzania.

So where do we stand? In total 22 OPG commitments are in the draft plan. Some are rehashed existing commitments. Some are aspirational  (wouldn’t it be nice if…?). A couple are notable and potentially serious. Commitments around income declaration for leaders and freedom of information are potentially game changing. While others are notable by their absence.

Existing commitments? There’s at least a couple. The promised Citizen’s Budget – presenting the annual budget in layman’s terms – is promised for July 2012: that would be for the 2012-13 budget. That’s great, though I understand that the Ministry of Finance had already promised to produce one for the 2011/12 budget – and it hasn’t happened yet. So, in effect, we’re already late with a commitment that is still only a proposal, if you know what I mean.

Another commitment is to ” [r]eview existing [local government] Service Boards and Committees and take appropriate measures to strengthen them in order to function properly by July 2013.”, which sounds like ongoing management and support to me. There are a  number of such commitments to help local government do what it is meant to do. It’s not clear how the OPG special sauce will help.

As for the aspirational stuff, wouldn’t it be nice if…. we had a website that explained how public services work? It could even be called Nifanyeje? Kind of like Ireland’s  more prosaically titled Citizens’ Information. A great idea, but what’s the opportunity cost?

As for the serious proposals, there’s a couple of them: a Freedom of Information Bill to be drafted by July 2012; and public officials’ income and asset declarations to be made available online.

The Freedom of Information Bill is the big one. It’s not a new issue in Tanzania – there’s been an unsatisfactory bill floating around since 2006. The ‘commitment’ in the draft OGP plan – to look at good practice globally “in the interest of preparing a potential freedom of information Bill by July 2012″ – isn’t exactly a commitment per se. You think you’re in with a chance, but deep down you know that you’ll be getting a taxi home on your own again.

More concrete is the commitment to prepare legislative and regulatory amendments that would allow public officials income and asset declarations to be published online by December 2012. But this is not the first commitment to review the Public Leadership Code of Ethics Act. Nearly four years ago, in January 2008, President Kikwete made a high profile commitment to review the act in order to allow for the clear separation of politicians’ political and business interests. Concrete proposals were made and I understand, presented to Cabinet in May of last year. Nothing has been heard since.

And what has been left out? The obvious lacuna is any reference to EITI. The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative requires oil/gas and mining companies to disclose payments to governments – and requires governments to disclose receipts. Tanzania signed up to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative in February 2009 and has yet to meet the basic compliance requirements. The latest deadline for compliance (after at least two were missed) is February 2013. Full details here, including the small matter of over $36 million in receipts being unaccounted for.

Best advice to open government advocates in Tanzania? Focus on one big thing and don’t be distracted by the 21 other issues. The Freedom of Information Bill is the obvious one. Insist on living up to commitments, from the small ones (a citizen’s budget) to the big ones (EITI). Don’t be surprised if there’s no great popular uptake on this in the short term. People aren’t rioting for access to information. And be prepared for it all to be sucked up into the upcoming constitutional review.

Details on how to submit commentary on the draft plan can be found here.

Other commentary from Daraja and Vijana FM can be found here and here.

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