Tag Archives: Open Government Partnership

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.

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.

Open Government Partnership in Tanzania – what went wrong?

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.