TAI Weekly

TAI Weekly | May 29, 2018
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In case you missed it…

Central banks are oft under the radar champions of good governance, emphasizing the importance of transparency and accountability for sound fiscal management. Yet the  People’s Bank of China is attracting attention by pledging to improve its own information disclosure.  Meanwhile, central banks of neighboring countries may be worried by the potential indebtedness arising from the Belt and Road Initiative. Richard Fontaine and Daniel Kliman argue the mega-infrastructure investment comes at a cost to good governance. Francis Fukyuma is among those who see a bigger strategic threat from China’s dominance of global infrastructure development.

Refocusing within China’s borders, TAI and CEGA’s first Evidence Watch webinar series detailed the tactics of censorship and its ability to constrain action on information (see details in the TAI spotlight below). This is within a context of tighter controls over foreign NGOs, an anti-spy campaign against the influence of foreigners and NGO workers,  and a clear price for saying “me too.” 

On a more positive note, philanthropic funding for the human rights movement has been growing significantly, and private companies are stepping up too to protect civic space. More than 400 companies in Slovakia have pledged to support whistleblowers who lose their jobs from reporting corruption through the Backing the Bold Ones initiative. The OGP expounds why protecting civic space should be a private sector priority. That extends to protecting citizens’ digital rights – intriguing to see socially responsible investment funds divesting from Facebook, troubled by the company’s treatment of privacy and governance issues.

Elsewhere, Reporters Without Borders has urged the Spanish government to stop blocking reforms seeking to end the national broadcasting company’s pro-government bias. In the US, it is now easier to track laws seeking to restrict the right to protest through the ICNL US Protest Law Tracker.

Podcast of the week – our recent Long Read is now a quick listen: New Power: Author Henry Timms Explains What It Is, How to Get It and Why It’s Changing our Hyper-connected World.

The Vatican has denounced offshore tax havens and other financial loopholes for “harming the world’s poor” and calls for a more ethical and equitable global financial system. Quite timely, as new offshore scandals emerge, this time from West Africa. Collaboration between the ICIJ, CENOZO and 13 journalists has resulted in #WestAfricaLeaks – a collection of untold stories of wealth extraction by powerful individuals and corporations in the region. Get behind the scenes and meet the brave journos behind the exposé and hear from Will Fitzgibbon on why they decided to dig into the region’s offshore links.

Transparency International argues that #WestAfricaLeaks further demonstrate the need for full transparency of beneficial ownership. Advice for DFID’s Penny Mordaunt, who recently gave a big speech about the agency’s intention to curb illicit financial flows (although the UK is also making headlines recently for “turning a blind eye” on Russia’s dirty money). What to do practically? Authorities may want to look at Maya Forstater’s crowdsourced expert advice. Add to the list the recommendations from African civil society organizations, which are calling on leaders to take meaningful anti-corruption measures ahead of the July AU Heads of States Summit.

Perhaps, DFID should also investigate the role of major accountancy firms globally? It certainly seems to be an issue close to home. In a previous TAI Weekly issue, we featured how the world’s four biggest auditors use creative tax schemes prompting suggestions to separate consulting from auditing businesses. Now, Open Contracting Partnership and Spend Network find that the big four accountancy firms have been awarded £1billlion in UK government contracts in the last three years.  “As the contracting data shows, [they] have their tentacles firmly locked across the face of government. Not only did their auditors miss Carillion’s death spiral, but they may profit from its wind up,” warns Gavin Hayman of OCP.

Photo by Taylor Ann Wright on Unsplash

How much influence do stakeholders have over a foundation’s investment policies? Marian Conway asks in connection to the Paradise Papers exposé of the University of Montana Foundation’s $3 million investments in offshore tax havens. For those in the law enforcement trenches, time to brush up on your cryptocurrencies as they offer new avenues for money launderers. Digging deep into regular currency transactions, the UK is seeking to probe mining and trading company Glencore over bribery allegations with DRC leader Joseph Kabila and Israeli billionaire Dan Gertler. According to Peter Jones, this could be “a real breakthrough in the fight to keep London-listed corporations accountable for the business they do overseas.”

The British government is also cracking down on tax avoidance by contractors, while the OECD has released decisions on 11 preferential regimes of BEPS Inclusive Framework members. In the United States, Michael Cohen’s scandal only shows how the country is a tax secrecy paradise.

Why are data breaches becoming more prevalent? Andrew Rossow explains that the more we automate, digitize and make software more convenient, the more rights we give up.  So how to protect ourselves from breaches? Rossow offers three solutions: regulation, AI, and blockchain. Meanwhile, four digital experts unpack the truth about data and digital privacy.

Speaking of regulation, the EU GPDR took effect last week as your groaning inbox will attest. Yet many non-profits aren’t ready for its implications, nor many companies. But there is hope for the slackers – Becky Peterson explains what you can do. Other resources that can help you get up to speed: 13 things to know about GPDR, what GPDR means for journalists, tips on how nonprofits could comply by Brookings Institution and Forbes, and a  helpful last-minute checklist. As you prepare for compliance, Tracey Gyateng advises – don’t press the delete button just yet. The data science manager from DataKind UK  explains the significance of collecting demographic information for development work.

Could the GDPR strengthen civic action to demand accountability? Potentially. Freedom of information activists in Germany are using the new law to access data to crack the algorithms used by a personal credit rating agency. Meanwhile, New Zealand announced plans to assess the use of algorithms across government agencies, hoping to ensure transparency and fairness. This builds on our coverage last week of machine reading Kiwi laws – is there something about the remoteness that encourages a more radical experimentation?

Long read of the week: Philanthropy in Brazil

This report is part of a series looking at the current landscape and roles of philanthropy in emerging economies.

More data updates –  treasure hunts for country-level partners to assess barriers to use of fiscal data and the need to build collaborative learning around open government datasets. If you’ve missed out on recent conferences, you can download the presentations from the Personal Democracy Forum or read Tim Davies’ main takeaways from the RightsCon panel on AI, open data, and privacy.

Looking for fresh ideas for collaborative funding and learning? A new way of financing the non-profit sector that brings together donors and impact investors and promises to ensure impact for every dollar has been launched by NPX. How does it work? The non-profit uses capital from investors to fund the project, which is repaid by a donor fund upon delivery of measurable progress. According to the press release, “the donor fund does not ensure that impact happens, but ensures that donations are only deployed if, and when, impact happens”.  If short on targets, impact investors lose their investment and the donor fund are re-deployed to other nonprofits. TAI member Omidyar Network is part of this endeavor.

Venture-philanthropy pioneer Mario Morino created a community of non-profit and funding agency leaders for peer-to-peer learning towards high performance. Collectively called the Leap of Reason Ambassadors Community (which include TAI member Ford Foundation’s Kathy Reich), the community is pushing for the widespread adoption of tools they have developed. The Community may be of interest to Joseph Ogutu, chair of the Safaricom Foundation in Kenya, who lays out the thinking behind creating the Africa Venture Philanthropy Association that already has teams in Nigeria, South Africa, and Kenya.

At TAI, we aim to support collaborative learning among organizations working on transparency and accountability through a global learning collaborative. Its members are listening to Dave Algoso who argues that for a learning culture to take root, “approach it sideways”.

How does the open government movement and doing development differently agenda intersect? Alan Hudson of Global Integrity shares his insights, while Duncan Green builds on claims that governance funders have failed to adequately address “problem driven iterative adaptation” to ask a blunter question – can ‘doing development differently’ only succeed if donors stay away from it altogether?

Thank you for those who responded to the TAI Weekly feedback survey (and the many positive comments). If you haven’t – send any thoughts through May 31 by clicking this link or by sending an email to [email protected]). We will incorporate all your suggestions and hope to introduce the refreshed TAI Weekly in June. 

TAI spotlight

Susan Hennessey shares how Hewlett Foundation is addressing issues of diversity, equity and inclusion

Omidyar Network’s recent publication, The State of Aadhaar Report, provides new evidence to support data-driven discourse around digital identity in India

Grantee Open Institute reflects on the recent “horizontal learning” field convening Hewlett Foundation staff and grantees  in Uganda.


Read our blog:

TAI and CEGA kicked off the “Evidence Watch” webinar series with a discussion on Margaret Roberts’ work on how Chinese government information control shapes political discourse and action. CEGA’s Andrew Westbury speaks with the author to learn more about protecting open and dynamic digital space.


Of potential interest

Inspiring words from Grant Oliphant on why and how nonprofit and funding agency leaders should evolve to bring change in a polarized world

Webinar tackles the implications of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act on tax treatment of charitable giving

Poynter creates a guide for attempts to legislate against online misinformation

As UK prepares to exit the EU, it is seeking a new agreement on data protection that will not disrupt flow of information

Bloomberg Philanthropies pledges $42 million to support cities’ use data and evidence for decision-making

After four months of investigation, New Telegraph reporter Mojeed Alabi unearths a massive corruption scandal involving Nigerian Deputy Speaker Lasun Yusuff