By Toby McIntosh
The World Bank is “deeply concerned” about severe restrictions placed on freedom of speech concerning statistics in Tanzania, according to a World Bank statement provided to eyeonglobaltransparency.net.
With a $50 million project hanging in the balance, the Bank has “shared” its concerns with the Tanzanian government and is “in discussions” with officials about a new law, the Bank statement of Oct. 1 says.
The law passed Sept. 10 criminalizes the dissemination of “any statistical information which is intended to invalidate, distort or discredit official statistics.” Offenses are punishable by a $6,000 fine or a three-year prison sentence. (Text of the bill in June, see Part VII, page 8. President John Magufuli signed the bill Sept. 24.)
World Bank Criticizes Law
The Bank says the law is “out of line with international standards such as the UN Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics and the African Charter on Statistics.”
“We have shared our concerns with the Tanzanian authorities that the amendments, if implemented, could have serious impacts on the generation and use of official and non-official statistics, which are a vital foundation for the country’s development,” according to the Bank statement.
It is not unusual for the Bank to quietly raise objections to national legislation, but rare for it to issue statements hinting possible repercussions. The Bank cautioned:
Given the recent Amendments to the 2015 Statistics Act, the Bank is in discussions with the Government on whether further support to building sustainable statistical systems is appropriate at this time.
$50 Million Grant in Pipeline
Possibly at stake is a more than $50 million grant now in the pipeline to support government statistical activities in Tanzania.
A barebones entry exists on the Bank website about the potential program. Those familiar with Bank support of “statistical capacity building,” said the proposal would be for multiple years and would constitute a significant portion of the NBS budget.
The Bank has an interest in getting good country economic data and supports statistical agencies in many countries. Tanzania shares statistics micro-data with the World Bank, although it is not made public.
The Bank website also references two other potential statistical projects for Tanzania, for $10 million and $8 million, but seemingly both for the same main purpose, a “household survey” to gather data. Both originated in 2017 and neither has been acted on.
In 2015, when the Tanzanian restrictions were first proposed, the Bank also voiced concerns about the bill. In May of 2015, the Bank briefly postponed discussion of a $71 million Open Government and Public Financial Management (OGPFM) package “at the request of our Board of Directors in order to allow further dialogue on the Tanzania Statistics Bill.” The Bank’s package was approved in late June and no action was taken on the legislation.
As ultimately passed three years later, the bill is without controversial provisions that would have penalized publication of statistics that are “false” or “may result to the distortion of facts.”
However, the bill was approved over continuing objections of nongovernmental and media organizations. It joins a gallery of other restrictive Tanzanian measures on freedom of expression. (See overview article by Deutsche Welle.)
A leading opposition politician, Zitto Kabwe, was arrested in 2017 for questioning government economic data as being too rosy. Although he was not convicted, some observers said the new law would be applied in the future to such criticisms.
Tanzanian NGO Scores Bill
“Any commentary querying or challenging official data would arguably be illegal under the amended Act, regardless of whether such commentary was correct or not,” commented Aidan Eyakuze, executive director of Twaweza. (See article.) Also read a Sept. 27 Twaweza analysis of the bill.
Arguing that “independent statistics can save lives,” Eyakuze wrote:
Indeed, this clause effectively outlaws fact-checking, unless any fact-checking confirms that the facts being checked are correct. Further, publication of any statistical information that contradicts, or merely cast doubt on, official statistics, could be prohibited under this amendment.
Twaweza’s analysis expresses concern, too, about “fuzzy boundaries of NBS’s mandate to set standards for the collection of statistical information in general (beyond official statistics). “Article 17(3)(c) requires NBS to “set standards for the collection, analysis and publication of statistics to ensure uniformity in quality, adequacy of coverage and reliability of statistical information.”
The World Bank Statements Provided to EYE Oct. 1, 2018, by a World Bank Spokesperson
WB view regarding the amendments:
The World Bank is deeply concerned about the recent amendments to Tanzania’s 2015 Statistics Act, which are out of line with international standards such as the UN Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics and the African Charter on Statistics. We have shared our concerns with the Tanzanian authorities that the amendments, if implemented, could have serious impacts on the generation and use of official and non-official statistics, which are a vital foundation for the country’s development. It is critical for Tanzania, like any country, to utilize statistics laws to ensure that official statistics are of high quality and are trusted, and also protect openness and transparency in their use, to further public dialogue for the benefit of the citizens.
On the New Proposed Operation:
The Bank has over the years supported Tanzania to develop a national statistical system that effectively and efficiently delivers reliable and timely statistics. Given the recent Amendments to the 2015 Statistics Act, the Bank is in discussions with the Government on whether further support to building sustainable statistical systems is appropriate at this time.