New Documents Reveal More About World Bank and Tanzanian Statistics Act

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By Toby McIntosh - June 14, 2021

The World Bank was slow to respond when Tanzania proposed, in 2018, to set criminal penalties for critics of official statistics, according to documents provided to Eye on Global Transparency.

But after failing to prevent passage of the amendments to the Statistics Act, the World Bank and others rallied to pressure the government to largely reverse the changes nine months later.

These insights are pieced together from internal World Bank e-mails and other Bank documents provided to Eye on Global Transparency. Although the Bank first refused to release almost any documents, an external appeals panel recently ordered the disclosure of 106 documents.

Bank observers sometimes wonder if making requests is worthwhile.

The documents about Tanzania provide new details about the Bank’s handling of a situation in which a government moved to restrict freedom of speech. The paper trail is incomplete, about one-fifth of the relevant documents. A more complete examination would include interviews with the officials involved.

This request for documents took almost two years, during which the Bank resisted transparency. EYE appealed to the Access to Information Appeals Board. The Board’s decision shook loose 106 documents. Perhaps as importantly, the Board refuted the Bank’s narrow interpretation of a key part of its Access to Information Policy.


Information about the long process, Bank policy and the significant Board decision is detailed in a separate EYE article.

Eleventh Hour Opposition
Most of the disclosed documents are e-mails, many dealing only with housekeeping matters, such as scheduling meetings. Still, they reveal the timing of Bank actions, and sometimes a bit more. In addition, several new documents detailing the Bank’s substantive positions were provided.

The earliest document released contains e-mails from Bank staffer Yutaka Yoshino. (Document 103) If there are earlier Bank materials about the bill, they were not provided to EYE, which sought documents from April 1, 2018, until July 8, 2019.

Yoshino’s e-mail says that the Bank’s country director in Tanzania, Bella Bird, sent a letter to the government objected to the bill on a Sept. 4, 2018, just one day before Parliament passed the amendments on Sept. 5, 2018.

Yoshino wrote:

Colleagues, please find attached the letter which went out today. Thanks a lot for your valuable inputs in the past one week on this issue. Bella wants to convene a meeting shortly to follow up on this letter with Poverty and MTI GP managers/teams plus other relevant staff members and possibly Albert. So this is to give you heads up. Yutaka

Yoshino would play a major role on the issue. He was Program Leader for EFI (the Equitable Growth, Finance, and Institutions) Practice Group & Lead Economist, Burundi, Malawi, Somalia, and Tanzania from May 2016 until August 2019. The referenced letter of Sept. 4, 2018, does not appear to be included among the documents released.

Other e-mails show that the Bank had not yet prepared a legal analysis of the amendments by the time Parliament acted.

“It was done so quickly,” wrote Yoshino afterwards.

His Friday, Sept. 7, 2018, e-mail (Document 103) says:

Bill, colleagues, we learnt yesterday that the Parliament passed the amendments already on Wednesday. It was done so quickly. It is truly unfortunate that they did not give us and other stakeholders for any serious dialogue on this important issue. Yutaka

(EYE note: the wording is quoted accurately. Author probably meant “… time for any serious dialogue…”)

“Thanks for sharing the news,” replied another Bank staff member, “This is indeed very unfortunate. Let’s discuss asap.” The staffer was Pierella Paci, Practice Manager Poverty and Equity Global Practice.

After approval of the bill, the Tanzanian government invited the Bank to help draft regulations to address its concerns.

The existence of a Sept 12, 2018, government letter to this effect is mentioned in a March 2019 Bank report (Document 71, attachment 1). The March report noted, “The Bank declined the invitation because the problems of the Amendments are too fundamental to be fixed simply through regulations.”

Neither the letter itself, nor the Bank’s reply, appear to be among the disclosed documents.

Document Gaps
When first processing EYE’s request, Bank officials found only 30 relevant documents. After EYE’s first appeal, an intensified search ordered by the internal Access to Information Committee resulted in the location of 505 more documents, 535 in all.

Links to the documents provided to EYE by order of the Board are contained in an annex to the Board’s decision. Spreadsheet with disclosed documents. (The short descriptions are largely unhelpful.)

At times, the disclosed documents indicate the existence of documents the Board agreed could be kept secret.

That the Bank prepared a legal analysis of the amendments is apparent from the documents. E-mails from Bank officials in Tanzania state that they had not received input from the Bank’s lawyers in advance of the bill’s approval. Twelve days after passage, on Sept, 17, 2018, Yoshino would inform colleagues (Document 103):

Colleagues, please find attached the initial feedback from the Legal Department. Yutaka

However, the Legal Department’s feedback was not provided to EYE. The Board found that the breadth of Bank’s policy language protected it as an attorney-client communication. (For more on policy see a separate EYE article.)

First Public Bank Statement on Oct. 1
In the run-up to passage and for several weeks after passage, the Bank said nothing in public about the amendments.

On Oct. 1, 2018, that changed.

Publicity had sparked international notoriety for the amendments. International human rights groups and others ridiculed the idea of jailing critics of official statistics as interference with freedom of speech.

The potential penalties were severe. The law criminalized the dissemination of “any statistical information which is intended to invalidate, distort or discredit official statistics.” Offenses were punishable by a $6,000 fine or a three-year prison sentence. (Text of the bill in June, see Part VII, page 8. Then President John Magufuli signed the bill Sept. 24.)

The Bank decided to issue a short statement indicating its displeasure with the bill, and, unusually, it threatened a potential financial consequence. The Bank suggested it would hold back about $50 million (Sh112 billion) in support for the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).

The statement was provided to EYE by a Bank spokesman in Washington on Oct. 1, 2018. (See EYE article.)

The rare public rebuke labeled the amendments “out of line with international standards.”

Adding a warning, the Bank said, “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.”

The Bank’s critical statement made headlines in Tanzania.

Country Director Informed Finance Minister
Bella Bird, the Bank’s Country Director, sent an e-mail about the statement on Oct. 2, 2018, to Philip Mpango, then Minister of Finance and Planning in the Tanzanian Cabinet, now Vice President, forwarded him a copy of the statement.

She said the statement came “in response to questions from two media outlets” (including from EYE), about the Bank’s views on the amended statistics law. “We have had many many questions and requests for interviews but we will not be saying anything further at this time,” Bird wrote. (Document 6)

In addition to indicating that public criticisms would not continue, Bird’s note contains a seemingly reassuring line. The threat in the public statement to cut Bank support for Tanzanian statistical programs seems to be softened with her comment: “The program continues as normal.”

Bank Sent Addition Detail on Its Concerns
Bird’s Oct. 2, 2018, letter, not previously released, repeats some of the language of the press release and goes into somewhat more detail about the Bank’s concerns. (Document 13, second attachment)

After acknowledging Mpango’s assurance in a “recent letter” that the changes were procedural and not intended to prohibit public debate, Bird states:

However, we remain deeply concerned that the Amendments would have serious impacts on the generation of new statistics and the use of existing statistics, which constitute a critical foundation for the development of the country. We acknowledge your invitation to assist the Government on updating the 2017 regulations to implement the amended Act. However, we are of the view that updating the regulations is not sufficient to address the fundamental problems we see in the new provisions introduced in the Amendments, which go against international standards and good practices in strengthening national statistical systems.

We do not have clarity based on the provisions of the Amendments on how the World Bank – as a data-driven global institution – can use and generate statistics in Tanzania and this may have a direct impact on our work – our lending as well as advisory services and analytics. As you are aware, the World Bank’s lending is driven by analytics based on statistics, some of which are official, and others which are generated by the World Bank or reliable partners.

The amendments could affect our ability to include Tanzania in global reports which we produce to present a large number of up-to-date cross-country statistics which are essential knowledge bases for development policies and investments both at the country and global levels. The amendments could also have a serious detrimental impact on the programs of other development partners and international institutions operating in Tanzania, including the International Monetary Fund.

Given the need for clarity, we intend to reach out to the Attorney-General of the Tanzanian Government for a legal opinion on specific provisions of the Amendments. We would appreciate your urgent attention to this matter and request a meeting with you and the Attorney-General to further discuss the Amendments and their implications.

The Bank originally refused to release Bird’s letter, calling it “deliberative” and therefore exempt from disclosure, but the appeals board disagreed, ruling that her letter was “decisional” and had to be disclosed.

International Coordination Effort Started
Amid the negative reaction to the amendments, the Bank grew active in organizing opposition.

The e-mails released document the Bank’s coordination of a “Small Group Meeting of Development Partners on Statistics,” with representatives from the International Monetary Fund, Canada, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and others.

In an Oct. 4, 2018, e-mail, Yoshino states, “We would like to organize a small group meeting of development partners (at the level of HOCs) active in the area of statistical capacity building in Tanzania to exchange views on the recent development around the Statistics Act.” (Document 11)

Meetings With Officials Held
There are no documents in the released trove about a Bird meeting Oct. 9, 2018, with then President Magufuli. The Bank at the time declined to comment on whether the statistics law was discussed. (See EYE article.)

Other high-level meetings with Tanzanian officials were held about the statistics law, the e-mails show.

One confirms plans for Bird and other Bank officials, including the Chief Counsel for Africa and the Poverty and Equity Global Practice, to meet on Oct. 15, 2018, with the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Palamagamba John Aidan Mwaluko Kabudi, and NBS officials. Another e-mail states, “Attorney-General will join the meeting.” (Document 10)

The development partners continued to meet among themselves.

An Oct. 29, 2018, e-mail from a British official, states: “At the World Bank’s meeting on statistics on October 12th, we agreed to meet again to take stock on progress. Please can you join us this Friday 2 November 12.30-1.30 DFID offices, Umoja House 5th floor. The World Bank has offered to update us and we look forward to hearing from the IMF, UN and other DPs on the analysis and action they have taken and to discuss next steps. Please confirm attendance.” (Document 14)

During his visit to the country in November, Hafez Ghanem, the Bank’s Regional Vice President for Africa, may have discussed the amendments with President Magufuli.

Ghanem, in a press conference Nov. 18, 2018, did not elaborate on the criminalization amendments except to say the Bank needs “reliable and credible” statistics. Ghanem said the government is “open to discussions on implementation and modalities of dealing with this” and that “our technical team and statisticians are working with the government on the details.”

President Magufuli scored something of a public relations coup after the meeting, ignoring the statistics law and instead celebrated in a press release, somewhat inaccurately, that things were back on track for a $300 million education loan from the Bank. (See EYE article.)

If there are Bank summaries about the meetings with the top Tanzanian officials, they are not among the documents released by the Bank.

Tanzania Seeks Comments, Critics Reply
Tanzanian officials continued to promise that new regulations would ameliorate the concerns of the Bank and others. This message did not go over very well with the Bank and its allies.

Nevertheless, the government announced regulatory plans and engaged in a months-long dialogue about them.

This process began in December, 2018, when Tanzania invited the stakeholders to provide written comments by Jan. 9, 2019, on proposed regulations, according to a Dec. 20, 2018, e-mail from Albina Chuwa, then Director General of the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).

The e-mail references attachments: “Second attachment is the amended of the 2017 Regulation and the third doc. is the amended clauses.” The Bank also received, on Jan.15, 2019, a proposed “work plan for amendment of statistics regulations 2019.” (Document 24)

The proposed regulations drew negative reviews from Tanzanian civil society organizations, including HakiElimu and Twaweza. Their comments are among the documents provided by the Bank. (Document 3)

Twaweza said “the most serious change” was a new section, 24B(2)4, to require that anyone who intends to communicate any statistical information must now obtain approval from the Statistician General before doing so. Also of concern was a new section, 24B(l)3, to prohibit disseminating “any statistical information which is intended to invalidate, distort or discredit official statistics.”

HakiElimu said, “The new 24B(l)3 prohibits anyone from disseminating “any statistical information which is intended to invalidate, distort or discredit official statistics.”

Bank Prepares Response
The Bank submitted written comments, apparently aided by another legal analysis (undisclosed).

“Hi Yutaka,” wrote Canadian official Brian Allemekinders on Dec. 21, 2018, to Bank official Yoshino, “I understand that you were going to get a legal opinion from your HQ on the proposed stats regulations. Do you have an update on this?” (Document 15)

The Bank on Jan. 7, 2019, asked for a delay of the Tanzanian deadline for comments, just two day away (Document 16). An extension until Jan. 11, 2019, was granted and the deadline was later extended to Jan. 21, 2019. (Document 31)

Officials at other international organizations clearly turned to the Bank for leadership. Alvaro Rodriguez, at the time the UN Resident Coordinator in Tanzania, wrote to ask for “an update on where we stand on the statistics law amendments.” The Bank shared its draft. (Document 17)

Bank Voices ‘Deep Concerns’
The Bank seems to have submitted its commentson Jan. 9 or Jan. 10. (Documents 19 and 68)

In a Jan. 9, 2019, transmittal letter to Chuwa (Document 74), Bird reiterated the Bank’s “deep concerns” with the amendments. She called them “out of line with best practice.” They had “the potential to undermine the quality of official statistics and to stifle research and public debate,” and “would have a detrimental impact on our work and on the work of other partners both local and international.”

“The Draft Amended Regulations do not alleviate those concerns,” Bird wrote. She elaborated on “two areas of concerns” — (i) introduction of controls over statistical information beyond official statistics; and (ii) introduction of ex ante controls on processing (in-depth analysis) of official statistics.”

“Our areas of concern, both in the Amended Statistics Act and the Draft Amended Regulations, are further exacerbated by the criminalization – introduced in the Amended Statistics Act and envisaged in the Draft Amendments – of certain activities that are deemed to go against the provisions of the Amended Statistics Act,” Bird wrote. The full Bank comments go greater detail. (Documents 71 and 75)

Denmark sent in comments on Jan. 9, 2019, stating, “… we are particularly concerned with the proposed controls over statistical information beyond official statistics, the criminalisation of certain actions in publishing official statistics and statistical information and finally, the proposed ex ante control on processing of official statistics.” (Document 79, second attachment).

Other partners appeared to also have been a bit late in making their comments. A Bank official on Jan. 22, 2019, asked a UK official if they have sent in comments, to which the reply was: “It’s at Jose’ s level. Hopefully, will be sent today. Member states wanted to be associated so we had to consult them.” (Document 25)

The head of the European Union Delegation to Tanzania sent a one-page letter on Jan. 23, 2019, saying the amended regulations ”do not remove” its earlier objections, expressing concern that they “will reduce the independence and freedom of the Tanzanian Research Community.” The EU elaborated on its concerns and pointed to several problem areas in the regulations. (Document 28, second item; also Document 79, first attachment)

The IMF said the amendments “are contrary to good international practice.” It continued, “The same assessment applies to the Draft Regulations shared for comments and we do not see how regulations can deal with the flaws of the amended Statistics Act.” (Document 79, third attachment).

Canada wrote, “It is our overall perspective that the draft regulations reinforce the concerns we voiced earlier (reference our letter dated November 5, 2018) on the amended Statistics Act by causing a serious and detrimental impact on the ability of all relevant stakeholders to effectively develop, interpret and analyze official and non-official statistics.” (Document 79, 4th and 5th items).

The Swiss ambassador also submitted comments, on Jan. 21, 2019 (Document 30), writing that “the draft regulations do not preserve the freedom of expression as guaranteed under the Constitution of Tanzania and deviate from international good practice such as the UN Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics and the African charter on Statistics.” (Document 79, Item 6)

Similarly critical comments were also sent by the UK, the UN representative and the United States Agency for International Development (Document 79, items 7, 8 and 9)

In summary, the development partners, who together controlled the purse strings for billions in aid, were unified in opposition to the amendments.

Meetings With Officials Continued
After the negative comments were filed, efforts were made to meet with Tanzanian officials.

One, called a “validation meeting,” was planned for Jan. 31, 2019, according to emails from NBS Director-General Chuwa. (Documents 25, 26, 27 and 28)

That date apparently didn’t work out. Making the arrangements seems to be complicated.

A Bank official told an UK counterpart, “Mark, yes, we are in touch with NBS on daily basis if not hourly basis to get any confirmed date. Nothing so far. They need to agree dates with AG. So I think we can assume that it is not going to happen today or tomorrow. Yutaka.” (Document 38) A meeting planned for Feb. 14, 2019, also didn’t occur. (Document 40)

Eventually, a meeting was held on Feb. 26, 2019. A March 2019 report by the Bank (Document 71, attachment 1), summarized:

At this meeting, the Bank stated that Government’s response clarified the objectives and intentions of the provisions in the Amendments, but falls short of addressing the fundamental concerns of the Bank and other DPs. In fact, the way in which the Amendments are drafted make their stated objectives and intentions harder to be achieved.

A Canadian official complained about having missed the meeting, not getting the invitation until Feb. 28, because it was “snail mailed” by NBS. (Document 46)

In early March, the Bank organized a “mission” of Bank officials to speak with “several key ministers and senior government officials to discuss the progress made so far on the Government’s action on the Statistics Act and their plan going forward.” The visiting Bank officials were Sheila Musiime, Chief Counsel for Africa, and Abdoullahi Beidou, Senior Statistician. (Document 41)

The Bank also organized an “informal small-group meeting with civil society organizations and thinktanks at the World Bank office on Wednesday, March 6 from 9:00 am to 10:00 am to exchange views on the topic including how the amendments has impacted or may impact our work. (Documents 37 and 49)

One attendee, Aidan Eyakuze, Executive Director of Twaweza East Africa, would later write, “Thank you very much Yutaka. That was a useful discussion.” (Document 60)

At the time, a Bank spokesman told EYE, “Our concerns about the amended Statistics Act, which we expressed in our statement of October 2018, still stand.” (See EYE article.)

Bank Prepared Detail Critique
Apparently in preparation for the March meetings, the Bank produced a 15-page critique on the statistics law.

Bird on March 12 wrote enthusiastically, “Colleagues – with huge thanks to Yutaka [Bank staffer Yutaka Yoshino] and to all of you for comments, here is the final version of the paper. The government is chasing us for it. Apparently there is a big meeting tomorrow in government on this. Final comments or Oks from you ASAP please!” (Document 69) On March 12, Bird wrote to a staffer, “Anila – this is the final. Please send to govt.” (Document 71, attachment 1)

The report repeats previous objections and states that the Bank’s both lending and analytical work “has begun to be impacted” by the amendment. It lists “consequences:”
  • Confidence in official statistics is being lost,
  • Overall availability of statistics, particularly non-official statistics, is being reduced.
  • Official statistics has also become less accessible.
The March report says the loss of confidence in official statistics “will make it difficult for the Bank to operate in the country.” It states, “Bank teams are already facing difficulty in implementing economic and poverty monitoring as well as analytical work” and that “preparation and supervision of financing projects/programs are being constrained.”

The report, with its stronger language and assertions of known effects, was not publicly released at the time.

Responding to an EYE inquiry, the Bank on April 17 said its position on the Statistics Act amendment “has not changed.” (See EYE article.)

The Bank’s comment came in the wake of an April 13 announcement by Tanzanian finance ministry officials that the Bank has agreed to a $1.7 billion financing deal to fund various projects during fiscal year 2019-2020. The commitment was reached during talks between top Tanzanian and World Bank officials at the Bank’s Spring meetings in Washington.

The statistics amendments also were apparently discussed in Washington. This is indicated by an April 30 e-mail from an EU official: “Just a quick e-mail to see whether any information can be provided in relation to the press announcement on new WB lending? Also we understand there may be some progress in relation to the statistics act?” (Document 82)

Retraction of Amendments Moved Quickly
In June, abandoning its regulatory approach, the government moved to rewrite the law. The documents indicate that the Bank considered the proposed revisions unsatisfactory and was staying in touch with top officials.

On June 4, 2019, Chuwa wrote to a Bank official:

Currently I’m in Dodoma [the national capital of Tanzania] working closely with AG’s Office in the amendments of the Statistics Act. I have tried to play my key role and hoping as it was agreed in Washington that June, 2019 these amendments will be tabled in the Parliament. I’m just putting my fingers crossed hoping to hear positive comments from our stakeholders.

Pierella Paci, Practice Manager Poverty and Equity Global Practice at the Bank, replied (Document 92):

Dear Madam Albina, Thanks very much for your kind message and for all the effort you are putting into solving the Statistics Act issue and in strengthen our collaboration. We very much appreciate. Finger crossed indeed.

Things moved quickly.

The bill, Miscellaneous Amendments No. 3 of 2019, was made public on June 19, 2019, and debated under a “certificate of urgency” to speed up its passage.

The speed required fast Bank reaction.

In June 19, 2019, e-mail labeled “urgent,” Yoshino reported that “Parliament just announced the public consultations on the Stats Act amendments to be from Friday, June 21 from 1pm to Saturday, June 22 10am.” (Document 94) He sent around the proposed amendments. (Document 95) Planning to attend, Yoshino asked around for opinions about the proposed changes. (Document 97)

Two pages of “talking points” were prepared for the Bank’s oral presentation. (Document 106)

Mixed Reaction From Bank
In the talking points, the Bank praised some elements of the amendments:

We welcome some improvements in the proposed amendments. For example, the right to challenge official statistics disseminated by the National Bureau of Statistics (hereafter NBS) is recognized in the newly proposed section 24A (MA section 55). The original sub-section 24B(1) in the Act—which prohibits dissemination of any statistical information which is intended to invalidate, distort or discredit official statistics—is proposed to be dropped.

However, the talking points include “several outstanding concerns on the proposed amendments:

(i) first, the proposed amendments will not allow full scientific falsifiability of official statistics; and (ii) second, they still place ex-ante controls on publication of non-official statistics.”

In other words, the Bank said, although the government now recognized the right to challenge official statistics, the proposed process would retard such challenges.

The proposed amendments “would not fully allow such contestability,” the Bank said, because they would require “a prior assessment process by NBS first and then, in some cases, by the technical committee formed by the Minister of Finance, before any statistics are published by entities other than NBS.”

“Ex-ante controls would raise transaction costs for all parties and constrain independent production of statistics, including those we produce from the World Bank,” according to the talking points.

In addition, the Bank objected to requiring prior consultation with NBS for publication of non-official statistics. “This would substantially increase transaction costs both on the side of the authorities and the statistical producers and users, and thus have a counter-productive effect on fostering statistical production in the country.

Influential Last-Minute Meeting?
Several days after the hearing, a June 24, 2019, e-mail from Yoshino indicates that a meeting with the Attorney General was in the works. (Document 98)

The documents if the meeting was held or what was discussed.

On June 27, 2019, Parliament passed revised amendments. (See article in The Citizen.)

In the end, the criminalization provisions were dropped, but the government retained the right to prevent the publication of independent statistics, despite Bank opposition. Interesting, a new provision exempted international organizations.

Despite the Bank’s concerns, the new amendments continued a system for the government to review statistics with which it disagreed.

The bill created a five-person “Statistics Technical Committee,” including two members from outside the country, all appointed by the minister who oversees statistics. If the committee finds fault with the disputed information it is required to mandate that corrections be published. (See EYE article.)

Removal of the criminalization provisions won praise from internal and external groups, with little criticism of the review provisions.

The Bank declined to comment on the new amendments.

The documents released to EYE do not contain any post-passage analysis.

Under the Bank’s policies, the documents that have been kept confidential will be eligible for declassification in 20 years.

Source: New Documents Reveal More About World Bank and Tanzanian Statistics Act · Eye on Global Transparency
 

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