Saturday, 30 June 2012

The Time to ACT is NOW: Small Interventions with a Big Impact

By Alykhan

I have penned a number of articles for Uhuru Blog over the last month covering a number of issues, all with the overarching theme of how we can improve Tanzania. What surprised me while researching for these articles is how little of what is accepted globally as good practices are actually implemented in Tanzania. Our government continues its outdated policies year after year as if in suspended animation while the rest of the world speeds by, only bowing to pressure from donor countries from time to time to enact policies which mostly turn out to be detrimental.

What is required is for the government to get its act together, reform a number of key policies on its own doing (without any "technical assistance" from donor countries, by which I mean policies that favour the donors) and truly get our country on the path to sustainable development. Development, not only in terms of increase in GDP every year, but rather increase in the quality of life and dignity of all citizens. Don't let anyone lie to you that we need months to study global best practices and adapt different approaches to suit Tanzania. These are all delay tactics as the best approaches to different problems and how to apply them to unique conditions in developing countries are all known, but what is lacking is the political will to implement them. So I say to you, my fellow countrymen, let us not get left behind the time to ACT is NOW!

If you decide to stop reading this blog post now, I would like you to take one thing from this. The Tanzanian government, for years now, has been slacking, taking short term measures to push the country along slowly  while relying too heavily on foreign aid. What it should do is to adopt brave long-term policies that are forward thinking and that will take this country into the 21st century. If we do not keep pace with technological innovation we may end up being left very far behind to struggle for decades to come.

I am going to list FOUR interventions that the government can implement very easily, by enacting laws and changing procedures which may have a huge impact in boosting the country's growth and respectability.

1) Enact a Freedom of Information Law (Right to Access Information)

Citizens have a right to access government and public information. There is no debate about that and there is no debate about what criteria such a law must abide by. By giving citizens the right to demand information from the government, it puts accountability in the hands of the people, thus giving them the incentive to follow national issues and the ability to pursue those issues that are important to them. Currently, citizens only exercise their democratic powers every 5 years during election time however with this law they can monitor the government continuously and expose malpractices when they happen. Now, some people who are already in government will be nervous by such a law and this may be the reason why its taking so long, but in the end governments are responsible to the people and they must act that way.

2) Increase spending on Information and Communication Technology (ICT):

The internet has revolutionized every sphere of our lives from education, communication, entertainment, governance and so on. It has become so central to our lives (those who have access it) that there are calls to classify Access to internet as a basic human right. And it should be a basic right as those without access to it will have a huge disadvantage, an insurmountable barrier compared to those use it growing up. Tanzania has very low internet penetration rate at about 11% compared to Kenya with 25.9%, Uganda -12.5% Rwanda - 13% (2010 figures - World Bank) and an overwhelming majority have never used the internet, let alone seen a computer before. Here is where the government can step in.

1. By making investments in improving the country's fibre optic backbone (which it has started)
2. Itroducing widespread computer literacy programs in public schools and local training centers
3. Modernizing government operations such as paying taxes, keeping of records, filling out forms by taking them online.

By implementing these measures the Tanzanian government can set the country on the path to prosperity and global competitiveness. So far, ICT spending has been pathetic. According to the 2011/12 budget the amount set aside for ICT was 27 billion shs which is roughly 0.002% of the total budget, and with the government's record of underspending in developmental expenditure, this figure is likely much lower. Compare this to the 130 billion that Kenyan government is going to spend in 2012/13 and it is easy to see why we will be left behind in the global technological race. To bridge the technological gap and ensure that the coming generation does not lose out, the government will have to spend upwards of atleast Tshs 100 billion (and all of it!) yearly on ICT infrastructure and training.

3) Reform Business regulations to stimulate Entrepreneurship.

Business is best done by locals. We have been desperately trying to woo foreign investors while ignoring our own latent talent and potential. There are 2 main problems with relying too much on investments from foreign companies. The first is that foreign companies bring technical expertise from their own countries denying local skilled people key managerial positions. Secondly, in order to entice the multinationals to Tanzania, the government gives them huge incentives, mostly in the form of tax exemptions resulting in lower public revenue and eventually capital flight as the foreign companies all have shareholders living abroad.

Therefore it is essential for government to stimulate entrepreneurship among its own citizens by lowering the barriers to starting a business. According to the Doing Business Report, Tanzania was ranked 127th out of 183 nations globally mainly because of complicated, overpriced business regulations particularly in getting Construction permits, registering property and paying taxes. These regulations need to be overhauled completely, making it easier for people to start businesses and paying taxes. One of the ways this can be achieved is by moving to an online system where forms can be submitted to different departments and processed instantly. We also need to integrate different departments so that all forms and licences can be obtained in one place.

4) Bringing innovation to the Agriculture sector

Agriculture remains the backbone of the economy in Tanzania and whether formal or informal, it still provides  a means of living for majority of the country. Even though the government should push for a diversification of economic activity, any sustainable growth solution will involve reforming the Agriculture sector. Some estimates put agricultural exports at 30% of our total exports and employing 80% of the population making it the one of the most important economic activities in the country.

First of all, the government needs to make a push for increased production from agricultural land. Estimates from 2010 put average productivity for cereals at around 1.3 tons per hectare where as with good management 3.5-4 tons per hectare can easily be produced (For comparison Malawi - 2.2t Kenya - 1.6t, Uganda- 1.6t South Africa - 4.2t Rwanda - 1.9t). Not surprisingly we still import food crops to the tune of 10% of our total merchandise import per year  We need to increase agricultural output to sustain our ever growing population, reduce reliance on food imports and increase the export of our crops. However, it should also put into place policies to ensure that this is done in an organic and sustainable manner to prevent destruction to the environment. Farmers need to trained on using modern organic farming techniques such as crop rotation, growing a variety of compatible crops, effective water management, integrated pest management and so on.

Secondly and perhaps the biggest impediment to the agriculture is the lack of infrastructure and credit facilities for rural population. The government needs to make significant investments such as large scale irrigation systems, providing machinery such as tractors, harvesters, cold storage facilities (for fisheries), seed banks for storage of extra seed in case of droughts, and provide a ready access to markets for farmers as an incentive for growing food crops. Another significant intervention (which is currently being undertaken) is to provide access to credit facilities so that farmers have the capital to purchase machinery and fertilizers resulting in increased yields. We need our farmers to change their mindset from one of subsistence farming to farming for profit

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