TAI Weekly | September 6, 2017
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In case you missed it…

Escalating nuclear tensions, visible extremism, revoked elections… The world did not stand still while the TAI Weekly took its break and nor did the transparency and accountability field. This bumper edition captures some of the highlights – beware it is longer than usual so might be reading for the commute home or a sit down coffee break.  We are excited that we will be back on the regular schedule start of next week.

Photo: Unsplash

We start small. In rural Tamil Nadu, India, the World Bank conducted a study on inequalities in civic engagement explaining how village assemblies offer citizens opportunity to challenge elected officials and demand transparency. The research points to the importance of local accountability in challenging gender norms, also evidenced in a new case of youth monitors from the Arraba Girls School, Palestine revealing how gender exclusion impacts services in construction of  a swimming pool.

Moving up to the provincial level, the Kaduna, Anambra, and Kano state governments have joined the Open Government Partnership to spearhead transparency reforms in Nigeria. Launch of a new portal to publish information from more than 750 government agencies may help those track progress, although the Public and Private Development Centre reminds us that bribes, inflated prices, and abandoned projects remain the norm in Nigeria. This view tallies with public perceptions – the first large scale household corruption survey by Nigeria’s National Bureau of Statistics is not pretty reading – estimated bribes paid to public officials amount to $4.6 billion in purchasing power parity terms.

How do we distinguish progress from propaganda? Researchers from ASL19, a Canadian technology group, have created a fact-checking tool to monitor political claims in Iran. ASL19 Monitors rank political statements on a “truth” meter, along with an article explaining how assessments were made. Such efforts become easier when backed by legal rights to information. TI Sri Lanka reflects on the impact of Sri Lanka’s Right to Information Act one year after passage.

What is the role of larger more diffuse social movements? One case in Tunisia suggests that decentralized, participatory – and politically independent – mobilizations can be successful in achieving specific and achievable demands of government. Non-traditional actors can help build such engagement. Hip Co Accountability Network, a group of Liberian artists, are leading the charge by developing messages of positive social change and integrity through their music. Both examples rely on youth engagement and may reflect a generational shift with implications for government and business. For example, businesses will likely face pressures to take a more public stance on more politically sensitive issues. In a survey covered by the Washington Post, “56 percent of millennials said CEOs and other business leaders need to engage on hotly debated current issues more today than in the past, compared with just 36 percent of Gen Xers and 35 percent of baby boomers.”

Get jittery when your phone dies? Imagine living 3 months enforced offline – Sophie Ngassa reflects on the consequences of the Cameroon government’s internet shutdown amid claims the web might be used to foment unrest.  Conversely what of web firms imposing censorship? Should we be happy that the likes of GoDaddy, Twitter, Google, Spotify, Paypal, Apple, and Cloudflare have booted hate groups off their services. Can they adopt more comprehensive human rights policies? Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom offers thinking into industry motivations to clean up content.

How do we restore faith in journalism and the right to information? Ethan Zuckerman of the Center for Civic Media describes the decline in media status as a function of a broader decline in trust of civic institutions. That suggest a larger fix is needed, but in the meantime, journalists continue to prove value through their work, such as Eldiario.es’s investigative project The Enslaved Land. Journalists across countries collaborated to reveal the exploitative practices behind sugar, cacao, banana, coffee, and African palm oil production.

Talking of land and accountability, what can we learn from Mongolian camel herders? This community faces increasing threats from climate change as well as the mining industry, which threatens their livelihoods and health. Utilizing the IFC ombudsmen function, they pushed back – and won an agreement with one of the world’s largest copper mines. How might data support such citizen-led actions? Officials brainstorm with TAI on elements of the ideal data ecosystem for land governance.

Nongovernmental organizations working with Canada’s Extractive Sector Transparency Measures Act celebrated the public disclosure of hundreds of reports revealing payments to governments by extractive companies. The new data Canada has released could potentially empower African actors – Canadian registered mining, oil, and gas companies operate in many of Africa’s poorest countries. Meanwhile in Guinea, an inter-agency Mining Revenue Taskforce has been launched. Such cooperation to ensure revenue collection has potential for replication among countries as well as ministries, so it is encouraging to see Zambia and South Africa commit to collaborate in tax administration, treasury management, revenue collection, and trade and revenue leakage prevention. Budget Advocacy Network’s investigation in Sierra Leone suggests much can be at stake – an estimated US $83.7 million in lost corporate tax revenue 2011. Yet can we trust such numbers? Writing for the Center for Global Development, Maya Forstater recaps that faulty assumptions may be at work and goes on to unpack trade misinvoicing numbers in detail. Tax Justice Network’s forthcoming project to critique existing methodologies for estimating illicit financial flows may be one channel to forge some consensus.

The transfer pricing settlement of Chevron and Australia shows how difficult it is even for OECD countries to track where they might be losing tax revenue.  The oil giant has now agreed to a A$340m tax demand, but based on the finding, the government could rake in an additional $10bn from MNCs in the next decade. Such decisions add valuable data points to the debate on exactly how big is the transfer pricing prize for development. Recognizing the complexity, a joint initiative of the IMF, OECD, UN, and World Bank Group seeks feedback on a draft toolkit to support developing countries in their taxing offshore assets.

Meanwhile revelations pile up of nefarious activity. The Indian government accused hundreds of companies of black money transactions, and the latest UK leaks expose almost $3bn of funds channeled through the Azerbaijani Laundromat, taking advantage of lightweight regulation. These have all too real societal costs, and AWID’s new report injects an interesting feminist dimension, highlighting gender specific impacts of illicit flows.

What of political will to tackle corruption writ large? It has long put donors in uncomfortable positions. The IMF is currently facing resistance from a number of its member countries as they push to bolster corruption surveillance, while the Millennium Challenge Corporation also has a corruption problem according to Sarah Rose.

At TAI, we care how collaboration and learning make a difference, so are intrigued by the USAID analysis based on 2015 case competition submissions. Findings include how local engagement leads to improved development outcomes and how feedback loops increase the likelihood that evidence will inform decision-making. Can effective strategies of citizen engagement and empowerment actually challenge and change economic inequalities? Potentially. John Gaventa and Alison Mathie reflect on a new paper published by the Coady International Institute exploring the relationship between economic and political citizenship.

But is development research always usable? A Washington Post article earlier this month presents 3 barriers for policymakers using development evidence. Data interpretation skills, organizational and structural barriers, and prior beliefs on a policy issue all represented barriers for Indian and Pakistani civil servants to use evidence.

Perhaps we will have more impact if we change the words we use? Jonathan Fox argues we need to be aware of how accountability terms can and have been politically constructed, and encourages a new lexicon.

Language might be part of a barrier for donor effectiveness. Perhaps a new tool might encourage such feedback. GrantAdvisor.org allows for anonymous reviews of foundations. The GHR Foundation is also testing a system that involves posting grant applications for public comment and allowing applicants to use the feedback to fine-tune their proposals before decisions are made. Transparent dialogue may help extend the life of a philanthropic organization: a goal Joel Fleishman defends in his new book Putting Wealth to Work. Looking more broadly, Shamina Singh, President of the Mastercard Center, reflects on several years push on “data philanthropy.” She might sit down with Geoff Mulgan who argues that big data and artificial intelligence offers great potential to innovate philanthropy (exciting and scary).


 Of potential interest…


On the calendar… 

MERL Tech September 7-8 (Washington, DC)

International Civic Forum, September 11-12 (Washington, DC)

Nonprofit Management Institute – Leading Change in Turbulent Times, Sept 12-13, (Stanford, CA)-DFID at 20: what have we learned, and where next? September 11, 2017 (London / Live Webinar 13:30 – 15:00 GMT+1)

Stockholm Civic Society Days, Sept 20-22 (Stockholm)

Data Transparency 2017 Conference, September 26 (Washington DC) – US focus

10th West Coast Conference on FCPA Enforcement and Compliance, Sept 26-27, (San Francisco)-– 7th Financial Transparency Conference, October 24-25 (Helsinki)

GPSA Citizen Action for Open, Accountable and Inclusive Institutions, Global Forum, October 31 – November 1, 2017 (Washington, DC)

6th Asia Pacific Summit on Anti-Corruption Compliance and Risk Management, Oct 31-Nov 1, (Singapore)

Feedback Lab Summit November 2-3 (Washington, DC)

– OGP Summit side-event: Academic Conference on Open Government, November 17-18 (Buenos Aires)

– Open Government Partnership Americas Regional Meeting, November 21-22 (Buenos Aires)

Open Contracting 2017, November 28-29 (Amsterdam)


The TAI Weekly is an informal recap of news, research, and events relevant to our four work streams: data use for accountability, taxation and tax governance, strengthening civic space, and learning from improved grant making.The Weekly is in no way a reflection of TAI member views or thinking. The Weekly now goes to our mailing list and live on the website every Wednesday morning.

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