Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Why the open govt idea is not just an option

 

By By Faraja Kristomus

In Tanzania, the Open Government Process (OGP) was introduced to give impetus to reforms on governance, which had begun in the 1990s. However, it does not appear that OGP inputs have yet meaningfully enabled a deepening of the open government agenda in Tanzania because a few, high-level actors dominate most open government initiatives.

It remains to be seen whether the commitment to open government, or to OGP, will continue under President John Magufuli. There is a likelihood that JPM will maintain his government’s commitment to the principles of OGP based on his efforts to fight corruption in the country and creating a spirit of accountability among his appointees.

However, in order to make OGP sustainable, it’s worth reflecting further on the Global Integrity report with reference to Tanzania’s OGP experience thus far, and exploring key challenges. The first issue that created problems during the second NAP was the reform on the access to information.

The Global Integrity report found that there was a problem with government’s commitments to enact a consensual freedom of information law. The consensus was never realised because of the contrasting perspectives of politicians heading the Ministry of Information and the Ministry of Legal Affairs.

“Some ministers accepted the open government agenda and initiated discussions with CSOs about a freedom of information law. But others were reluctant, and thus paralysed the process,” they elaborate.

Matters were complicated further by the introduction of bills that focused on statistics and cybercrime. Those bills were criticised by CSOs to be against transparency of the government.

Those Acts and bills were said to contravene the Section 18 (d) of the Constitution of Tanzania (as amended in 2005), which provides that without contravening other laws in the country, everyone “has a right to be informed at all times of various important events of life and activities of the people and also of issues of importance to the society.”

Although those provisions could be taken as basis for freedom of information, there is no enabling law in Tanzania requiring those who have control over public information, in particular officials and departments, to share the information.

The issue was more complicated when neither the Ministry of Information nor the Ministry of Legal and Constitutional Affairs were formally linked to or involved in the implementation of the first and second NAPs because their activities were not connected to government priorities implemented by OGP.

However, the absence of any formal linkage between, on the one hand, the ministries in which freedom of information was pursued and, on the other, OGP, made achieving progress on either issue area even more difficult.

The Cyber-Crimes and Statistics bills that were passed into law in early 2015 were the subject of vociferous complaints from CSOs and other non-government actors. The CyberCrime law, for example, was variously described as restricting free speech, giving the government undue powers, and overly harsh.

However, the Cyber-Crime act was not addressed in OGP. The ministries in charge of this law, as well as the Statistics act, were not linked to OGP. CSOs – including those sitting on the Steering Committee – were not involved in either bill drafting, and they were not consulted prior to their passage. OGP therefore provided little leverage to CSOs who were not in favour of the laws.

Access to information

This in fact illustrates the reality that the forces within the administration were opposing some open government measures, like access to information.

Conclusively, we can say that Tanzania’s experience with the bills discussed in this part illuminates some important aspects of the country’s open government journey.

If we rethink of our fate as a country through the lens of OGP, we can ask ourselves what is the Tanzania’s journey in OGP? What would have happened in Tanzania had the country not become a member of the OGP, or if the OGP had never come into being?

As described in this series of articles, Global Integrity has found that stakeholders have leveraged OGP inputs to advance their aims, but have had only modest success.

There is a need now to for reformers to learn how to better navigate the OGP process.

Indeed, despite flaws in the OGP process thus far, Tanzania still needs OGP because transparency in government, and maintaining ownership of our natural resources, is more important than ever.

Faraja Kristomus is an assistant lecturer, University of Dar es Salaam, Email: farajalugome@gmail.com

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