Dar es Salaam. Civil societies in Tanzania are eagerly waiting for the East African nation to rejoin the Open Government Partnership (OGP) initiative as calls to improve openness, accountability, and citizen participation in government intensify.
During a workshop on Thursday, members of the country’s civil society groups deliberated on Tanzania’s journey on the OGP, a global initiative that aims at promoting transparency, empowering citizens, and fighting corruption.
Under the auspices of Twaweza, a local non-governmental organisation working to promote citizen agency, participants discussed the benefits Tanzania would earn by rejoining the initiative and ways through which future membership to the OGP would be protected and guaranteed.
Aidan Eyakuze, OGP Civil Society Co-Chair and Twaweza’s Executive Director said Tanzania registered impressive reforms when it was a member of the initiative, calling them a testament to its importance.
These included a decision by the Ministry of Finance to work with Policy Forum, a local NGO, to produce a famous citizens’ budget – ‘Bajeti Toleo la Wananchi’ – which made complex budget concepts easier for citizens to understand, which continues to be produced.
Mr Eyakuze said that given the recent commitment by President Samia Suluhu Hassan to rejoining the OGP, civil society groups in Tanzania should “stand ready” to ensure that, as a nation, Tanzania effectively benefits from the initiative.
Speaking during the second Summit for Democracy on March 29, 2023, President Samia assured world leaders that her administration plans to rejoin the initiative at the earliest opportunity.
“I’d like to assure this gathering that the United Republic of Tanzania will continue supporting democracy, human rights and good governance at home and abroad,” the Head of State told the virtual conference. “And we are looking to the issue of returning to the Open Government Partnership at the earliest opportunity.”
Addressing participants of Thursday’s workshop virtually, OGP Chief Executive Officer Sanjay Pradhan said Tanzania’s participation in OGP can yield invaluable benefits for its citizens, the government, and civil societies.
Mr Pradhan said the decision would provide Tanzania with the necessary tools and resources to shape a more open and inclusive Tanzanian society.
“We eagerly await Tanzania’s return to our partnership so that we may continue to learn from one another, foster greater cooperation and ultimately serve our fellow citizens more effectively,” Pradhan, a renowned speaker on open governance and anticorruption issues, said in his address.
Tanzania was among the first African countries to join the OGP in September 2011 under the Jakaya Kikwete Administration. As a member, the government made several commitments to be more open to its citizens to improve public service delivery and intensify efforts to fight corruption.
But in 2017, then-President John Magufuli withdrew Tanzania from the initiative, a decision that the OGP co-chairs considered “disappointing.” The decision affected the Kigoma Ujiji Municipal Council, which was then among the three local African governments that were OGP Local members.
A member of the initiative since 2016, Kigoma Ujiji registered essential milestones in transparency and citizen participation, according to its former Mayor, Hussein Juma Ruhuva.
Speaking during the workshop on Thursday, Mr Ruhuva, Mayor from 2015 to 2020, said the milestones were registered in sectors such as education, health, water, land, and budget.
Some notable examples include the Education Sector Transparency through Data Publication project in which the Kigoma Ujiji regularly publishes data online and on public notice boards on school funding and expenditures, student and student and staff numbers, school labour needs, and school building infrastructure.
To help identify and target underperforming institutions, test results and school rankings are also made public.
The government gave limited reasons when withdrawing from OGP in 2017, prompting stakeholders to demand the institutionalisation of the initiative once Tanzania rejoins to prevent such arbitrariness from recurring.
“Institutionalisation is very important,” Mr Eyakuze said during his keynote address. “For example, we may have a law protecting the initiative. Institutionalisation is key to making these efforts sustainable. It is important to have mechanisms in place so that these plans do not rely on leaders’ goodwill.”
Zitto Kabwe, leader of the opposition ACT-Wazalendo party and an important voice in the movement to demand a more transparent and accountable government, thinks that to ensure the protection of the initiative in future, increasing layers of decision-making is essential.
He said during the workshop that now that the government has expressed its intention to rejoin the OGP, the respective minister should take the matter to the parliament, where lawmakers will resolve whether to rejoin or not.
“This will increase layers of decision and makes it difficult for a president, for example, to withdraw from the initiative at will,” Mr Kabwe, who has once served as the chairperson of the powerful parliamentary Public Accounts Committee, said.
Thursday’s event is part of hundreds of other events happening across the globe between May 8 and May 12, 2013, where open government champions meet to celebrate achievements and share knowledge and experiences on how relations between citizens and government could be strengthened.
As OGP Civil Society Co-Chair, Mr Eyakuze used the occasion to share highlights from the new OGP Global Strategy 2023-2028, launched on May 8, 2023.
Prioritising civic space, the new strategy says there can be no open government without a free civil society and that OGP is an “equal partnership between government and civil society.”
For this reason, the new strategy includes civil society in both the mission and vision of the OGP, an effort the strategy seeks to achieve by encouraging civic space action, cultivating champions, and enforcing and periodically reviewing OGP policies on civic space.