Thursday, September 21, 2017

Let's not drop the open government momentum

By TheCitizen

Reports that Tanzania has pulled out of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) could not have come at a worst time. The news is surprising as it is unfortunate, coming when world leaders are meeting in New York for a roundtable on various global development challenges.

While the government is yet to make public its reason to abandon a plan that it has vigorously pursued since 2011, we want to believe that when that happens, no room will be left to roué our missed chances as a nation. Whatever the reason, we hope that when it is finally made public, it will be truly for national interests as the PS for Foreign Affairs, Dr Aziz Mlima, has put it.

But for us, the decision to join OGP in the first place was a valid one, and this can be said of the positive results that can be seen today and which are a direct outcome of the OGP initiative. Even with the decision to pull out, we still want to ask that the government continue on the path of the reforms that were the corner stone of the initiative.

It will be defeatist on our part to say that all the six years that Tanzania championed OGP went to waste. And equally critical is the fact that public reforms under OGP remain crucial in the endeavour of the government to raise transparency and engage with the public more often in a manner that foster mutual understanding for smooth governance and faster delivery of public services.

Retired President Jakaya Kikwete, who put Tanzania on the global map while crusading for OGP, believed the government stood to deliver better services if it enhanced and fully embraced openness and raised the level of public and civil society engagement.

National commitments

Under three action plans, Tanzania made seven national commitments, including the enactment of the Access to Information Act, Open Budgets, Open Data, Land Transparency and openness in the extractive sector. There was an additional pledge on the Medical and Health Service Transparency and the Public Performance Management Systems. The rollout has so far achieved mixed results on all fronts.

According to Global Integrity (GI), the introduction of OGP in Tanzania created a space in which the government and at least some civil society groups negotiated the changes they wanted around some narrow reform areas.

President John Magufuli came into office with a lot of promise and his crusade against corruption and the resolve to reform the public sector stood to benefit a lot from the OGP plan of action. Continued efforts on these reforms can be the only way for the government to assure the public and show the world that pulling out of OGP was not a calculated move to stifle freedom of expression and association in the country.

Stakeholders must therefore work with the government to ensure Tanzania’s journey down the path of transparency, accountability and participation is not over. Immediate operationalisation of the Access to Information Act 2016 should set the ball rolling. Reversing growing worries about shrinking space for expression and association since last year must also not be allowed to take root for it will undermine all the good intentions of the government.