A recurring theme in these columns is that Tanzania is often only a few steps behind the other parts of the world that lead in technological developments.
Governmental politics is no different. Tanzania’s government sports a number of web sites where you can discover what is being done on your behalf by politicians and civil servants.
E-government, as it is becoming known, is an important development. In the past most governmental documents were publicly available in theory, but the reality was that to read them you had to travel to a specific place, and wait to be shown them. The World Wide Web has made it practical and cheap to publish these documents more widely. So much so that it is inexcusable not to do so.
Such development has a number of benefits. Citizens can now more easily see how their taxes are being spent. They can understand how decisions are reached by legislators. This knowledge empowers the populace to play a greater role in encouraging their representatives to act in their interests. In addition, where laws are published widely corruption is limited. Where government is more transparent, unscrupulous officials have less to hide behind. As access to information grows, the less opportunity there is for those in power to take advantage of ignorant citizens.
In May this year, President Mkapa launched the new Parliament web site at www.parliament.go.tz. The site is part of an ongoing effort to make Parliament more accountable to the people, and to encourage greater participation. Speaker of the House Pius Msekwa said,
We need to provide people with access to this information to achieve our goal which is transparency.
The site serves dual purposes, explaining the structures of government in Tanzania and how the parliament works, as well as acting as a public notice board of what is going on in parliament day to day. The site is a useful resource for those who want to learn about Tanzanian politics in general as well as those who may have an interest in specific legislation.
Visitors to the site can also find out about their local member of parliament in the Members’ Profile section, including the all important email address. The front page of the site features a randomly chosen MP from the directory.
The site gives ordinary Tanzanians (or at least those with access to the web) the opportunity to read legislation as it passes through the parliamentary machine. The front page of the site displays bills that are entering their second reading this month and bills that have passed in the previous month. Acts of Parliament dating back to 1962 are also available giving a historic record of Tanzanian legislation. The Hansards section records what Members said in Parliamentary debates. You will need to download Adobe Acrobat Reader to read much of the sites content if you do not already have it.
Although a significant achievement there is still room for improvement on the Parliament site. Unfortunately it is currently only available in English, meaning for a great many Tanzanians the site is still not transparent. Some sections do not provide information that is very useful. The Diary of Events page, for example, is not very informative â€“ it would be useful for lobbyists to know which committees are meeting and when so they can take action in time.
With the correct investment of money, time and effort the Parliamentary web site will become an important part of Tanzanian democracy.
Tanzanian National Web Site
Set up on 2001, the Tanzanian national web site at www.tanzania.go.tz is a growing resource. The site states that
the main objective of the National Website is to promote the country’s potentials with a view of enhancing investment promotion, trade, tourism, cultural exchanges etc taking advantage of state of the art in information and communication technology (ICTs).
This site is a large resource containing information on every aspect of Tanzania’s economy, from Agriculture to Science & Technology. As might be expected from the site’s mission statement, the information is aimed at foreign investors. However, the site contains a lot of information useful for Tanzanians wishing to find out more about their country and how it is run. The front page links to the most popular pages on the site – currently Tax Exemptions and contact details for banks in Tanzania.
Unfortunately the National Web Site seems to have been designed by committee, with different sections of the site using different designs and navigation systems. This makes it very hard to find specific information, which is a pity on a site that clearly contains so much. This is always a danger on government web sites. If the aim is truly to make governing the country more transparent then information must not be buried! A search function and clear structure for the site would go some way to fixing this problem. In the site’s favour, it is duplicated in Kiswahili, meaning it is likely to be useful to a greater portion of Tanzania’s population. If they can find what they are looking for.
I would be interested to hear from anyone who has used either of these sites. Did they help you achieve something? Do you believe that the web really creates a more transparent society in Tanzania? Write to email@example.com and let me know what you think.
Originally published in Arusha Times 323