Dodoma. No one will be held criminally liable for collecting or disseminating statistical information in the country, according to new law amendments approved by Parliament yesterday.
The Statistics Act 2018 had a provision which said it was a crime to collect and publish statistics which contradicted those of the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).
But the government yesterday brought amendments to the controversial law which other than removing the criminal aspect also gave some leeway to challenge government statistics but somewhat maintained the NBS authority to give final approval for use of any statistics.
The changes were contained in the Written Laws (Miscellaneous Amendments) No.3 Bill of 2019. It was tabled following months of uproar from key stakeholders.
The Statistics Act was amended last year (2018) through the Written Laws (Miscellaneous Amendments) (No.3) Act, 2018, whereby invalidation, distortion or discrediting of official data such as those produced by the NBS was criminalised and offenders were punishable by a $6,000 fine or a three-year prison sentence.
The amendments – which also prohibited individuals and institutions who conduct surveys, opinion polls and other forms of research from disseminating their findings for public consumption without prior approval of the NBS – were received with criticism from stakeholders who said the amendment were meant to severely limit the freedom of institutions and individuals involved in collecting, analyzing and disseminating statistical information for survey and non-survey activities.
The World Bank announced late last year that is was holding up to $50 million (about Sh117 billion) for Tanzania, saying it was deeply concerned about restrictions that the government had placed on freedom of speech concerning statistics. The $50 million grant was meant to support government statistical activities in Tanzania.
Attorney General Adelardus Kilangi told the House that the amendments would clear challenges experienced. Instead of criminalising the release of statistics, the amendments issue new procedures that will be followed by those who wish to publish statistical information, including how to challenge the NBS’s decision on their data.
“Where upon consultation, it is established that the findings intended to be published are incorrect, the Bureau shall advise the person concerned to revise such findings accordingly before publication; and in case of disagreement on revision, the Bureau shall refer the matter to the Technical Committee for determination,” it read.
It states that where the Technical Committee determines that the findings were correct, it shall direct the findings to be published.
The deputy chairperson for the Legal Committee, Ms Najma Giga, said the changes followed consultations, including with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
“I hope the urgency is a result of the WB and IMF. There is a slight improvement. The issue here is the freedom for an individual to release statistics without being forced to seek approval from NBS which is good,” said Ally Saleh (Malindi-CUF).
Mr Zitto Kabwe (Kigoma Urban-ACT-Wazalendo) castigated the government for rebuffing opposition MPs’ views when the law was amended last year.
“This Parliament refused the provision of Section 24 (a) (b) of the Statistics Act last year but now, after the World Bank came up with their own proposals and withheld over $1.15 billion, they had been understood and the law is back here,” he said.