TAI Weekly

TAI Weekly | June 12, 2018
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In case you missed it…


  • Public trust and DRM in Africa
  • The laggards and winners in a data economy
  • Closing civic space and building CSO resiliency
  • Transparent smart cities and model open governments
  • Corruption stories
  • Learning and organizational effectiveness
  • Why give? Tax breaks and national interest

Public trust and DRM in Africa

Once known as the “jewel in the state crown”, South Africa’s tax agency spiraled into corruption under deposed president Jacob Zuma. The hard lesson? When country leaders refuse to pay their taxes, so do the ordinary taxpayers. What to do about it? Rwanda’s story could be instructive. Princeton researchers document how the Kagame government convinced a distrustful public to pay fair taxes by overhauling its tax systems and investing in public education campaign. The result? A 13-fold increase in registered taxpayers leading to a more than 10-fold increase in revenues. By 2017, 62% of its annual budget is sourced from domestic tax revenues. Neighboring countries may be taking note – a working paper explores the reasons behind the calls to reinstate an unpopular tax in Uganda. Looking more broadly, an ICTD paper explores how regulatory burdens on tax administration influence companies’ compliance cost.

The laggards and winners in a data economy

It seems President Cyril Ramaphosa has more on his plate than cleaning up the tax agency. Wesley Diphoko of the Independent Digital Lab claims the country is losing out on the thriving billion-dollar data economy. Same goes for India – where a Ministry study estimates an open data system can contribute $22 billion to GDP by 2020. Multiply that by seven (more than $1.7 trillion) and you get what data contributes to G7 countries every year. The biggest earner? The US (although it might not be the case soon). China is catching up and is set on becoming the world’s largest data owner by 2020. That may worry data governance champions.

Closing civic space and building CSO resiliency

How will China use technology and data for authoritarian control? Growing concerns over an “Orwellian social credit system” creating an “IT-backed authoritarianism”. Charles Rollet shares how the system can be used to crack down on “illegal social organizations” and prevent freedoms of blacklisted individuals (see the case of anti-corruption journalist Liu Hu). Things aren’t easier across the border in Vietnam, whose government is using Facebook to crackdown on democracy. More than a hundred Cambodian CSOs endorsed a statement condemning government attacks on freedom of expressions. They help make the case for the EU tech czar, who laments that “social media could deactivate democracy”.

Scilla Aleci suggests we can take some encouragement from Malaysia at least where Majib Razak’s defeat has led to an immediate transformation in media freedom.

In the absence of regime change, how does the sector push back? One tactic is to use the same weapon wielded against them. The brains behind AFRICTIVIST, a pan-African network of online pro-democracy activists and bloggers, believe in the internet’s power to improve governance in Africa. The community’s line of action – monitor rights violations and mobilize political actions against violators.

Are these indications of new civic activism? According to Civicus, we are seeing new forms of organizing and mobilizing (think March for our Lives and #MeToo) with untold and unexpected effects. The advice to rights defenders in Asia? Remain globally connected and locally rooted. This resonates with responses by African CSOs as documented by Lise Rakner. Read her full article for a deep dive on democratic backsliding in Africa.

What does the donor community think about closing civic space (mindful that “civic space can’t be ‘saved’ outside”, according to Civicus)? A report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies suggests that sometimes, donor approaches make CSOs vulnerable to attacks and restrictions. Read the full report to learn effective ways of enhancing the sustainability and resilience of CSOs. (Stay tuned for more TAI documentation of responses to closing civic space in coming weeks.)

Transparent smart cities and model open governments

Returning to data concerns – how to handle ethical data management and hold companies and governments accountable? Open contracting, argues Katya Abazajian. “Cities should commit to proactive disclosure of smart city agreements and data management practices to avoid eroding public trust or the public’s right to information.” Some of the issues that need to be taken into account? Algorithm transparency, open data and privacy.

Rufus Pollock, in his new book on digital revolution (now with available download) says it’s not about privacy, surveillance, AI or blockchain—it’s about ownership. Because, in a digital age, who owns information controls the future.

More ideas on how to handle challenges around open data include a global Data Commons (functioning both as a data repository and licensing framework), a seal of approval for algorithms, the Data Ethics Canvas, a policy framework for algorithmic accountability and the Open Data Charter’s Measurement Guide.

Seventeen cities in Ukraine have increased their transparency ranking by adopting the Transparent Cities recommendations and improving public participation. At the national level, Cambodia is increasing its data accessibility and transparency with the launch of a data portal which aids the publishing of essential macroeconomic data in human and machine-readable formats. Christine Lagarde lauded Honduras as a model in Central America for open government, digital government and transparency. You might also want to check out how our new favorite New Zealand does it. Will the US finally measure up? After some delays, the Trump administration recently announced plans to develop the fourth OGP National Action Plan.

For some inspiration on how open data can be used towards improved public service delivery, read about the experiences of Singapore and local governments in the UK and US (check out this practical guide while you’re at it). Development Gateway teamed up with Athena Infonomics to share three main takeaways on how to improve interoperability, analysis and use of data. You may even want to take a seven-module course designed for public servants on techniques for working in the open.

Corruption stories

For our week’s roundup of corruption stories: Army helicopter maker Leonardo faces bribery allegations in the UK. Ukraine is taking baby steps to curb corruption. Harry Broadman reports that companies increasingly mask bribes as charitable donations or as CSR initiatives.

OCCRP unearths dirty deals as Tajikistan opens up its untapped gold to foreign exploitation, offering little sign they have read the UN Extractives Tax Guide, although Thomas Lassourd offers three reasons why they should. (Is there value in such guides without investment in their day to day use by revenue authorities?)

Want more stories? Subscribe to Transparency International’s The Week in Corruption series.

Learning and organizational effectiveness

Lamenting the strictures of the donor project cycle? At least you might smile at Bill Crooks cartoon version (base on Nigel Simister’s concept) – thank you Duncan Green.

Collaboration is great, but it’s not fail-safe. According to John Hugget, “when nonprofit collaboration doesn’t talk about power and address the implications of power imbalances openly, each party runs the risk of stumbling into (or contributing to) an ugly, counterproductive situation.” So how do you manage power dynamics? The power imbalance between donors and grantees mean a lot remains unsaid. The Center for Effective Philanthropy compiled anonymous feedback from 100,000 nonprofit leaders over 15 years and condensed into five things that nonprofits want their donors to know.

Andrew Milner walks us through how the philanthropy sector has evolved beyond semantics/wordage. One shift has been to more investment in philanthropy infrastructure. What does that mean? Benjamin Bellegy and Maria Chertok explain in their take on the global ecosystem of philanthropy support.

Why give? Tax breaks and national interest

Philanthropy is fueled in part by tax breaks for donors – hence a lot of angst in the US last year around tax reform. Now in the UK, a think tank is calling on the UK government to remove the tax privileges of foundations not conforming with transparency standards. Should donor transparency be the trade off for tax benefits around the world?

What of government funders? Can national interest have a healthy place in aid decision making? Owen Barder offers insights on when development cooperation is win-win. This might be paired with our recommended

Finally, ESCR-Net members recognize that data and evidence production does not reflect the lived realities of the people they work with and suggests letting communities tell their own stories through community-led monitoring. At TAI, we also believe in the power of stories to convey and drive impact, especially in the transparency and accountability space. Learn more about The Story Behind the Story.

You spoke, we listened, and we are slowly incorporating changes in TAI Weekly to make it a more useful and light read for you. Thank you for those who were generous in their comments and you can still send us some love by sharing and encouraging your colleagues to subscribe. Our week’s story ends here.

Long read of the week: Private Foundations’ Giving for Development in 2013-2015: Ongoing Efforts to Better Reflect Private Philanthropic Giving in OECD-DAC Statistics on Development Finance by the OECD (with an editorial on why transparency of philanthropic funding matters by TAI Executive Director Michael Jarvis

Podcast of the week: Tax Notes Talk by Tax Notes

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