30 Oct 2013

Bold commitments, disappointing delivery: Five challenges for Tanzania and the OGP

By Mtega.com

Tanzania has made strong statements about the Open Government Partnership (OGP). It has also promised to deliver. When President Kikwete spoke at the OGP Summit in Brazil in April 2012, he said:
“I promise that we will do our best to live up to the expectations of this partnership to promote transparency and accountability of our government to the people of Tanzania. I wish to reaffirm that our political will to achieve the OGP goals will not falter because open government is at the heart of the contract between state and citizens” 
But is Tanzania is living up to these bold words? The sceptics out there are not so sure. 
Just six months remain on the first two-year Action Plan. And while some progress has been made, overall it has been disappointing. The government has published its own self-assessment report on the OGP website. By my calculations, of the 25 commitments in Tanzania’s Action Plan, only two have been fully met – to publish a citizens’ budget and to establish an OGP focal person within government. Given that the first of these was already happening before the OGP, and was largely delivered by Policy Forum, this is not great.
But that harsh judgement may not be wholly fair. Though other commitments may have been met only in part, there is significant progress to report. Take a look at the Nifanyeje? website, the new NECTA exam results open data site and the National Audit Office website, or take have a sneak peak at the Ministry of Water’s forthcoming Waterpoint Mapping site. They’re all part of Tanzania’s OGP Action Plan commitments. None of them are perfect, they may not be beautiful and some of them are not finished, but at least they’re something.
The sense I have is that there’s a struggle going on within government. Some ministers and officials support the open government idea, others couldn’t care less. In parts of government where there is more support, where individual politicians or civil servants have been willing to push, there has been quicker progress.
Nevertheless, overall, progress has been slow and disappointing. A lot of work needs to be done if Tanzania is going to prove the OGP sceptics wrong. In particular, as world leaders (and I) gather in London this week for the next OGP Summit, where President Kikwete is expected to speak, here are five questions that Tanzania needs to answer.
1. What will the government do differently next time? Most of Tanzania’s commitments in the first OGP Action Plan have not been met. So how will the government make sure it delivers on the next set of commitments? And will someone be held accountable for it?
2. Will the next plan include some more ambitious commitments in key OGP areas? Tanzania’s first Action Plan covered a lot of different issues, but lacked ambition in key areas. The commitments on Freedom of Information Law and public officials’ asset disclosures were very minimal, for example. How about including commitments to open contracting, freedom of information, asset disclosures and freedom of the press?
3. Will the Tanzanian government be more open about open government? Tanzania’s engagement with the OGP has been far from perfect. Aside from the key gaps in the Action Plan and slow pace of delivery, the process has not lived up to the expected standards of transparency and participation, as the government’s own progress report admits. The Action Plan is not even available on the OGP website (though it can be found on the Ministry of Water’s site), and very little information on progress has been made public.
4. Will the government embrace fully open data standards? Even where Tanzania has fulfilled some parts of the first Action Plan, there are signs that the commitment to “open” is only partial. The Waterpoint mapping website, for example, is designed to make only some of the data public, and the National Audit Office site publishes reports in pdf format rather than machine-readable formats.
5. How does the government reconcile the suspension of Mwananchi, Mtanzania and MwanaHalisi newspapers and the Prime Minister’s exhortation in Parliament for the police to “beat” protesters with Tanzania’s commitment to open government? Open government means much more than delivering on a list of technical actions. It involves a change of mindset and a different approach to how government works.
The benefits of open government are worth struggling for. And the Open Government Partnership, for all its imperfections, may be one of the best mechanisms to help us achieve greater transparency and accountability. I will be listening carefully to see what President Kikwete and his fellow leaders say this week in relation to these 5 questions, and I encourage you to do the same. And even more importantly, watch carefully what is done. Because, as all good politicians know, actions speak louder than words.