Friday, November 24, 2017

How Much Transparency in Fighting Corruption?

How Much Transparency is Needed in Fighting Corruption?

Dastan Kweka 

Twaweza released another installment of `Sauti za Wananchi` findings this week - this time focusing on corruption. What stands out is that citizens “report experiencing less corruption in their regular interactions with government (and other) institutions”, compared to 2014. This is happening after multiple incidents of newspapers suspension, and recent withdrawal from Open Government Partnership (OGP) - all seen as continuation of efforts to restrict civic space. Notably, withdrawal from OGP caused uproar, and many wondered how a government committed to fighting corruption would decide to distance itself from an initiative meant to achieve the same objective. This piece explores the thinking that seem to guide the fifth phase government's conception of accountability, and which may be informing its approach in the fight against corruption. 

In the brief that summarizes the findings, Twaweza notes that the fifth phase government has “brought a new approach” to fighting corruption, and mentions the establishment of anti-corruption court, and swift action in response to allegations of corruption as examples. Moreover, the brief notes that the (new) approach has attracted both “praise and criticism”. On criticism, the brief states;

“However, critics point to the lack of respect for (due) process and the rights of the accused, and to the apparent amnesty being given to former presidents for any involvement they may have had in past scandals. Further, the government is also doing other things that are likely to weaken anti-corruption efforts in the long term such as reducing space for media and public debate and removing Tanzania from the Open Government Partnership.”
The excerpt above suggests that transparency, and guaranteeing space for public debate, are key in fighting corruption. This is a conventional view. Evidence shows that transparency per se isn't sufficient. The fourth phase government, under President Kikwete, took significant steps to enhance transparency, as symbolized by the adoption of Open Government Partnership (OGP) as well as Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). Other transparency (and accountability!) initiatives included African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM), Construction Sector Transparency Initiative (CoST) and even Publish What You Pay (PWYP). Government support for these initiatives was predicated on the belief that transparency was key in enhancing accountability. 

However, in spite of such multiple initiatives, accountability remained low. In terms of corruption, for instance, Transparency International`s corruption perception index rating for Tanzania remained almost stagnant - hovering around 30 to 35 (100 is not corrupt), between 2012 and 2015. In this period, Tanzania failed to improve its scores on the index “by a statistically significant amount.” Perhaps the irony of the limits of transparency in delivering accountability was well captured in Policy Forums Governance Review report (2012), which was titled `Transparency with Impunity`?

Corruption is an accountability issue. Scholars of accountability have differentiated between two dominant forms - horizontal, and vertical accountability. Horizontal accountability refers to the “capacity of state institutions to check abuses by other public agencies and branches of the government, or the requirement for agencies to report sideways.” Parliament and Judiciary are key institutions in this category, and are envisaged to work in a manner that checks the executive. However, vertical accountability is “the means through which citizens, mass media and civil society seeks to enforce standards of good performance on officials.” Actors under this form of accountability rely on public disclosures to be able to influence change. This explains the essence of Twaweza`s concern over space for media and country`s withdrawal from Open Government Partnership.
The current regime's approach to accountability, including the fight against corruption, seems to focus on enhancing horizontal accountability, while curtailing its vertical variant. This is, in part, due to the current regimes need to build its own power base, and a (historical) weak link between transparency and accountability. Vertical accountability depends  on the capacity of civil society to network, organize and influence public opinion. This is difficult in the context characterized by low public awareness, even of major corruption cases, as Twaweza has shown in its brief. Moreover, while the parliament, under the fourth phase government, led the demand for accountability (bunge lenye meno), the current fight is being led by the executive. The (executive) push for horizontal form of accountability is in line with the regime`s illiberal tendencies, which are made possible by the current constitution.

Effective and sustainable anti-corruption initiatives require a convergence of horizontal and vertical accountability efforts. But, as Tanzania`s experience has shown, when the horizontal `arm` is weak, the vertical can do little to bring about change. Therefore, if one had to make some concessions, it would be worth compromising on the latter, especially when things seem to work.


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