The Independent Report on Tanzania’s OGP performance is out. So what does it say?

Cartoon courtesy of HakiElimu

Cartoon courtesy of HakiElimu

Has Tanzania fulfilled its commitments in the first phase of the Open Government Partnership? My view, at the time of the OGP Summit in London last year, was that very little had been delivered. I found that only two out of 25 commitments had been fulfilled, though some progress had been made towards fulfilling others.

Now, earlier this week, the official report of the OGP’s Independent Reporting Mechanism (IRM) on Tanzania has been published. It’s a long and thorough report – 77 pages – so I’ll summarise some highlights:

  • Three out of 25 commitments have been completed, substantial progress has been made against four commitments, and limited progress in eight. That leaves five commitments where there was no progress at all, and five where it was unclear.
  • Of the three fulfilled commitments, one merely involved appointing a focus person, another did not involve any new work that was not already being done (citizens’ budget), and the third (the Nifanyeje website) was in place but not operational.
  • The report notes a lack of ambition in many of the commitments, in particular noting that the commitments to “study best practice” on freedom of information laws and to “prepare legislative amendments” to strengthen asset disclosures had been stronger and more specific in an early draft of the Action Plan, but were stripped of this ambition in the final submitted plan.
  • “… but this website was not available for most of the research period.” This phrase, or variations on the same, occurs many times in the report. In other words, many of the government websites that were developed as part of delivering on OGP commitments and/or intended as a space for publishing reports or data, were not working. This rings very true with my experience when assessing progress last year – I sometimes think some Tanzanian government website domains should be switched from .go.tz to .stop.tz.
  • The report notes weaknesses in the consultation process: that “civil society organisations noted that some of their key inputs were either not taken on board or were largely diluted in the final 25 commitments contained in the action plan,” for example. I also recall that some representatives of civil society were denied entry to the stakeholder consultation meeting, on the grounds that it was by-invitation-only.

For me, one particular commitment exemplifies the Tanzania’s experience in the first round of the OGP. It’s the very first one:

“Provide overall dashboard of progress on implementation of Tanzania Open Government commitments and ensure that reports are provided on quarterly basis.”

The report adjudged that this was of “moderate” ambition, that it was “one of the few new initiatives” on the Action Plan, and that it was “substantially” complete. In other words, not too bad. There is indeed a website online that has been development for precisely this purpose, which justifies the “substantial” label.

And yet, if you dig a little into that website, you will quickly discover that there’s almost nothing there. There is an introduction to the OGP, some photos and a video and some announcements. There are four publications listed, including the Citizens’ Budget for 2012/13, only two of which were accessible. There is nothing that could possibl  be described as an “overall dashboard of progress” on OGP commitments, or quarterly reports.

The site does not even have a copy of the Action Plan, or the government’s own self-assessment report (though both are now available through the global OGP site – here and here). Previously the Action Plan could be found on the Ministry of Water website, but I note that this is no longer available.

Does that mean the government has not posted its own Open Government Action Plan online? It doesn’t look good.

And yet, I’m going to end on a positive note. In fact there are two positives to be drawn from this report.

First, though progress has been limited and slow, Tanzania can learn from its experience in the first round of the OGP. The report highlights several areas where lessons can be learned and improvements made in the next round: a smaller number of more specific commitments, more ambition in some areas, and clearer and more substantive opportunities for citizens and civil society to engage. There are even signs that some improvements are being made here: President Kikwete’s commitment in October 2013 to deliver a Freedom of Information Act is both ambitious and specific.

Second, the IRM is a key part of the OGP process, and this report is a strong challenge to those who argue that the OGP has no teeth. It regularly shows clear disagreement with the government’s own assessment of progress, and backs that up with a thorough analysis of the evidence. In other words, it represents a clear slap on the wrist of the Tanzanian government: must do better. And it means the process to develop the next round of commitments can build on an honest assessment of what happened the first time around.

For all its weaknesses, I still believe that the OGP represents the best opportunity to bring the benefits of open government to Tanzania. With the process already underway to prepare the second Action Plan, this report is a timely reminder that the OGP can be something much better than we have seen so far.

And as a first step to a better second round, how about the government begins by publishing this report on its own OGP site.

 

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The report of the Independent Reporting Mechanism (IRM) was prepared by Ngunga Tepani, an independent researcher, with support from an International Experts’ Panel.

Disclosure: I work as a consultant for Twaweza, which is represented on the OGP Tanzania Committee, and whose Head, Rakesh Rajani, is the current co-chair of the OGP internationally.