22 Apr 2010

Local Authority "Indiscretions" in #Tanzania

The Citizen has an article today reporting on the audit report on Local Government Authorities (pdf) for the year ending June 2009. It includes some pretty strong and challenging conclusions, including the following:
“It has come to our attention that many councils are preparing project implementation reports which are not based on the actual status of the concerned projects"
According to the article, Dr Slaa of CHADEMA, in his role as Local Authorities Accounts Committee (LAAC)  chair, reported to parliament that in certain cases projects were not implemented at all. In other words, prejects are being reported and funds reported as spent, when nothing has actually happened on the ground. Where has the money gone?

A first glance at the full audit report suggests that there's a lot to comment on, which we will try to do in the coming weeks. For the moment, though, let me limit myself to a general comment.

The overall conclusion from the report appears to be that despite a lot of effort having been spent over many years trying to improve local government financial management and accounting procedures, the challenges are still huge. I would suggest that these can't be overcome through more top-down "capacity building" and reforming policies and systems - even such a well resourced and high capacity institutional as the National Audit Office cannot check every aspect of every council's finances. Instead, it would be better to focus on trying to improve scrutiny by local actors at the local level.

Transparency is crucial to accountability. National government can help this, by insisting that local authorities make information on plans, budgets and reports as easily accessible as possible, and on a timely basis. It is revealing that the only reference to "access to information" in the whole report refers specifically to making it easier for donors and government agencies to access information, saying nothing about public access.

On a related point, I spoke to a local businessman in Njombe earlier this week, who had recently attended a workshop held by the Tanzania Revenue Authority, at which local businessmen were being advised to pay tax. The businessman told me that the general attitude of the workshop's participants was to wonder why they should pay tax when they've no idea how the money will be spent. They have a point. Paying tax is, of course, important, but unless transparency improves, uncertainty about government spending and reluctance to pay is only going to get stronger.