Posted: Friday September 30, 2011 11:49 PM BT

The overriding objective of local government reforms in Tanzania has been to improve the quality of and access to public services provided by local governments. Increasingly, this has translated into local government authorities (LGAs) being tasked with providing and overseeing the delivery of essential services in key sectors, notably education, health, water and roads, as well as being entrusted with large sums of money to fulfill these commitments.

The need for LGAs to share timely and accurate information with the general public has intensified since the implementation of reforms began. Indeed, transparency is a recognized constitutional and statutory rights under Article 132(5) sub section (f) of the Tanzania constitution (which declares transparency as a basic tenet of ethics for public leadership ), and Section 49 of the 1982 local government finances act which places the burden of sharing information on local finances firmly on local government authorities.

REPOA conducted public opinion surveys in 2003, 2006 and 2009, covering 1,260 individuals in six local authorities – two urban (Ilala and Mwanza) and four rural( Bagamoyo, Iringa, Kilosa, Moshi) to assess the reception and status of demand on key aspects reforms from governance to finances and financial management. This article is based on a policy briefing prepared by Jamal Msami, a researcher at REPOA, analyzing findings to determine citizens’ perceptions on the transparency of financial information provided by LGAs.

Good governance relies on three interdependent characteristics – transparency, accountability and integrity. These three traits underline the importance and need for timely and accurate information, which, recursively, requires a willingness to share information, i.e. openness or transparency. The essence of reinstating local governments, the reform agenda, and indeed the policy of decentralisation by devolution (D by D) and the subsequent Opportunities and Obstacles to Development (O&OD) planning approach, is to move governments closer to the people. This implies an increased involvement of the masses in local planning, budgeting and oversight. This requires a sharing of information between citizens and their local authorities.

Citizens’ involvement in participatory planning in the six councils remains limited; only 20, 35, and 30 percent of respondents in the 2003, 2006 and 2009 surveys, respectively, reported participating in the preparation of their village or wards annual and mid-term plans, posing a threat of a disconnect between what citizens want and/or need and what they get from their local authorities. Unfortunately, this has been a recurring theme in local planning which has gone unchecked even with official recognition of modus operandi stretching as far back as the 2006 Public Expenditure and Financial Accountability Review.

LGA revenue, expenditure and intergovernmental transfers have increased significantly both in nominal and absolute terms over the last five years as reforms in local governance have gained momentum. This has placed added responsibility for improved financial management on LGAs to communicate with their subjects on budgetary matters to ensure that citizens rest with ease as far as how their money is spent. Data from the case councils indicate a steady increase in the proportion of citizens receiving information on LGA budgets over public radio and television broadcasts, in newspaper columns and on notice boards at administrative centres, but over three-quarters of citizens in the six case councils still reported no access to information on local budgets.

The proportion of respondents who reported receiving information on taxes and fees collected locally steadily increased from 6 percent in 2003 to 18 percent in 2009. This still means that 82 percent of citizens are still not receiving information on the taxes and fees they pay. Survey findings indicate that the proportion of citizens receiving information on key sectoral allocations at the local level steadily increased; 15 percent of all respondents reported receiving such information in 2009 compared to 4 percent in 2003 and 8 percent in 2006.

Periodic audits of local government finances and projects are essential to build taxpayers’ trust and confidence in governance for taxpayers to clearly see how and where taxes they paid yield dividend within their localities. Poor management , accountability and unsatisfactory documentation of work have consistently dogged the functioning of local authorities in Tanzania with the Controller and Auditor General and the parliamentary Local Authorities’ Account Committee (LAAC) both being unimpressed by the degree of laxity and general waste of resources in various local authorities. To put things in context, the CAG’s local governments audit report for the financial year 2008/09 observed that there were noticeable delays in the completion of project works in 33 local authorities with a total budget of TShs 2,760,364,847. It is the responsibility of local authorities to publish results of their audited accounts despite the best effort s of the National Audit Office to do so.

Although a one hundred percent improvement every three years in the proportions of respondents receiving information on LGAs’ audited accounts was recorded (from 3 percent in 2003 to 6 percent in 2003 and then 12 percent in 2009), an overwhelming majority (88%) did not receive this information in 2009.

The thirst for more dialogue and information between local authorities and their constituents still hasn’t been quenched. The vast majority of citizens still clamour for more information to be divulged by local authorities. Survey findings further indicate a growing awareness among Tanzanians of local governments’ responsibility to provide fiscal information and their right to access this information. However, to date much of the awareness has not translated into effective public demand for information from a mere register of desire within a framework of explicit public accountability. With citizens becoming more aware of the responsibilities of administrative structures, the days of behind-the-door planning, budgeting and execution of projects are gone.

In spite of recorded marginal improvements in financial transparency, an information vacuum still exists between local authorities and their subjects that require to be filled. Opinion surveys have revealed modest increases in the extent to which LGAs share information but they have also highlighted the huge proportions not informed of various aspects of local government activities and finances. This poses a problem when matters related to accountability, ownership, management and governance enter the equation. The premise behind unveiling key financial information should be to promote an informed consultative relationship between citizens and their local governments.

The local in local governments has to stand out and distinguish them from the central authority which is most of the times seen as distant, unaware of local concerns and rigid for flexible and timely responses to local needs. It can be argued that extensive and timely dissemination of information (i.e more openness) on the part of local authorities may even turn out to be more beneficial to them especially in times of crises as it will show a proactive approach in identifying (whether self or with the aid of their subjects) problems as well as seeking local consensual solutions to them.
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