Dar es Salaam. A coalition of fifteen civil society organisations (CSOs) has written to the Parliamentary Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs informing it of their “serious reservations” on particular sections of the proposed amendments to the Commission for Science and Technology Act.
The CSOs fear that if the amendments will be adopted as they are, the proposed law will have “adverse effects” on the production of knowledge, capacity to innovate and ultimately Tanzania’s potential to prosper in the twenty-first century.
The organisations have raised concerns over the language used in the proposed amendments which they consider to be “debilitatingly intrusive and punitive rather than enabling.”
“By placing tight boundaries with strong enforcement around research we risk imprisoning our own intellectual curiosity and capacity within the cage of political interests,” the organisations said in their joint submission.
“The long-term effects of stunted knowledge creation and use for the country are incalculable,” they added.
The organisations also fear that strictures that will be imposed by the proposed amendments on knowledge production risk scaring away foreign investors who rely on independent research as an important source of insight on which to base decisions.
“When [COSTECH] was established, it was imbued with the spirit of spurring innovation, nurturing knowledge and coordinating efforts for greater effect,” the organisations write. “These amendments transform it into a regulatory gatekeeper.”
In their joint submission to the committee, the CSOs also drew attention to the bureaucracy that shackles the acquisition of research clearance permits from COSTECH.
While the procedures described may, on paper, be in line with global practice, the organisations said that there is “a hidden bureaucracy” built into the process which causes significant negative consequences.
Thanks to permissions for research being delayed, donor funds have to be returned to host countries, Tanzania being excluded from multi-country research projects and projects suspended.
“The type of research that needs to be registered and regulated in this way must be clearly defined,” the organisations write.
“In its current form, there is a possibility for the journalistic investigation into issues, civil society reporting and private sector market monitoring to fall under the purview of COSTECH,” they warn.
The organisations urged the committee to heed its proposals for amendments to the bill to avoid what happened during the enactment of the Statistics Act from happening again.
In September 2018, the Statistics Act was amended in a manner that stakeholders said interfered with the collection and dissemination of independent non-official statistics, making Tanzania’s relationship with key international and multilateral partners untenable.
“Nine months later, in June 2019, these new restrictions were entirely removed,” the CSOs write in their submission. “We should avoid making the same mistakes twice and instead learn from this experience.”
The analysis of the amendments to the Commission for Science and Technology Act was submitted to the Parliamentary Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs by the Centre for Strategic Litigation; Civic and Legal Aid Organisation (CILAO); Concern for Development Initiatives in Africa; HakiElimu; JamiiForums; Legal and Human Rights Centre; Media Convergency and Media Council of Tanzania.
Others are National Consortium on Civic Education in Tanzania; Policy Forum; Research on Poverty Alleviation (REPOA); Sakale Development Foundation; Tanzania Coalition on Debt and Development; Tanzania Editor’s Forum; and Twaweza.
You can read the organisations’ analysis in full and in detail here.