TAI Weekly

TAI Weekly | March 20, 2018
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In case you missed it…

Could the open government movement shut the door on freedom of information? While the open government and FOI complement each other, Suzanne Piotrowski, Alex Ingrams, and Daniel Berliner argue that in practice, 1) the two movements compete for scarce resources for transparency work and 2) advocates and government officials may shift from FOI to the “hot” open data movement. “By allowing governments to claim credit for more politically convenient reforms such as online data portals, the open government agenda may create a false sense of transparency” and that “open government programs not mandated by law are easier to roll back than legislatively mandated FOI programs.” Noting these risks, perhaps the time is ripe for proactive collaboration?

The push for open government is but part of a broader debate on “open vs closed” dynamics in societies, but The Economist points out that the dividing lines are rarely neat in practice. Inconsistencies abound.  That can extend to those dealing with data management. How to balance the pressure to protect data privacy and security with transparency demands from governments, constituents and their mission? Listen to the take of Lucy Bernholz, Alix Dunn and Amy O’Donnell.

A major new study by GIZ, World Wide Web Foundation, and IDS suggests this tension between data access and privacy will be impossible to resolve and that privacy “may be used as an excuse to withhold public sector data that could be made open for citizens to advocate for better public services, hold governments accountable and tackle corruption in the public sector.” This is one of six trends the authors chart in big data, open data, citizen-generated data and real-time data.

What next for civil society in 2018? CIVICUS flags their top ten emerging trends affecting civil society including problems of globalized neoliberalism and polarizing politics, increasing attacks on journalists covering anti-corruption and public protests, the growing role of the private sector in governance and increasing surveillance and manipulation of opinion. Zeroing in on the situation at the country level, we have monitored the following incidents the past week – the persecution of women human rights defenders and crack down on peaceful assemblies in Sudan, the assassination of LGBT advocate  and human rights defender in Brazil, impending social media shutdown in Sri Lanka, an internet censorship bill in Egypt, government attacks on freedom of speech and the press in Poland, and internet shutdowns in many parts of the world.

Duncan Green asks – can evidence-based activism still deliver change? Duncan was but one at Twaweza’s evidence and learning deep dive that seems to have raised some interesting provocations, not least on the field’s potential insularity. Alisa Zomer noted calls for more effective outreach and constituency building for the use and application of evidence for policy and decision-making.

Testing the remaining potential of citizen mobilization, the Open Government Partnership launched a campaign to foster new levels of citizen participation in government. Plan your event for the upcoming #OpenGovWeek.

The OECD/G20 Inclusive Framework on BEPS has released its new report on the on addressing tax challenges of the digital economy. Will digitalization improve tax collection efficiency and curb tax evasion? No light read, but a webcast is available if you prefer to listen during your morning commute.

Meanwhile, the EU added Bahamas, US Virgin Islands and St Kitts and Nevis to its tax haven list, and Global Witness detailed the role of banks, lawyers and auditors in a multi-billion-dollar corruption scandal involving Riza Aziz and Jho Low. They allegedly financed the Oscar-winning film The Wolf of Wall Street with embezzled funds from Malaysian government-owned company 1MDB.  

In a sign that repercussions can sometimes be felt, law firm Mossack Fonseca, whose 11.5 million leaked files were at the center of the Panama Papers tax scandal, will close all its offices by the end of the month. Could blockchain reduce the potential for future fraud? Carlos Santiso of the IADB is the latest to argue its potential is too great to ignore. Although is the chain as immutable as many assume? – Mike Orcutt explores the implications of a cryptocurrency hack.

Our numbers of the week? – 82 and 90. Ever wondered what more corporate tax transparency look like? Vodafone offers 82 pages of global tax details. Meanwhile, an Oxford University expert claims Australia “would be $90 billion better off if it adopted European-style resource tax policies.” Australia could become the world’s largest exporter of gas by 2020 and yet was set to earn just $600 million in 2018 – the same amount it earns in beer tax every year. Compare that to Qatar’s $26.6 billion in gas revenues.

Staying on the extractives front, Ghana EITI tries to make beneficial ownership readily comprehensible, while in Indonesia, Publish What You Pay commends a new decree requiring corporations to implement beneficial owner disclosures. In Kenya, a new government is posed with the challenge of managing the country’s emerging oil and gas sector and Gilbert Makore argues for a proper governance framework before any petrodollars start flowing. As China looks to continue to scale its resource investment, East African leaders may want to read Patricia I. Vasquez’s unpacking of China’s motivations behind investment in Latin America’s oil/gas sector.

For nonprofit programs to thrive, invest in staff. According to Marianne Philbin, keeping and capacitating good employees is one of the critical challenges in development work, yet funders tend to invest less in the people behind the programs. The author shares nine strategic and inexpensive ways funders can support grantee staff.

Funders might also want to try and read between the lines of what grantees tell them given power disparities. What might a straight-talking grant proposal read like? See if this resonates.

Finally, TAI joined 35 others in starting to explore future scenarios for fiscal transparency and accountability this past week (see below).  As we did deeper in the next six weeks, we might do well to review six things to read on public finance and development courtesy of Overseas Development Institute.

TAI spotlight

How do constituents perceive services and products Omidyar Network is funding? See key findings of a global survey

DFID clarifies its approach on aid spending in countries with high levels of corruption


Of potential interest




Calendar — include new anti-corruption summits