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Silencing alternative voices with statistics law

Tanzanian parliament have passed a new statistics law that will have severe negative impact if the law will be signed by the president.
Asna Mshana
15.4.2015

The new law will mean that all individuals and institutions including private sector have to get approval from the Director General of the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) before they can publish statistical data that have not been produced by the state authority NBS.

The law includes lists of offenses, measures and punishments including imprisonment and heavy penalty for those who will not comply.  For example penalty for publishing information or statistics that seem “untrue and misleading” in the eyes of NBS is not less than 10 million Tanzanian Shillings (about 5000 Euros), which is a significant sum in Tanzania, and 2 years imprisonment. On the other hand the act doesn’t provide means on how to recognize false studies and information.

The bill was passed by the parliament under Certificate of Urgency in March 2015 despite efforts and critics by opposition members of parliament and CSOs, media freedom activists, and good governance and human rights organizations.

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Critics say that the bill is a threat to individuals, media, CSOs, research and higher leaning institutions, because it is limiting the publication of data to only those from the government bureau of statistics. It will pull back some institutions and individuals from publishing contentious stories or information about for example government corruption because of heavy penalty involved.

It is a move to crackdown freedom of expression.

''This is a desperate and calculated move by a draconian government keen on stamping out dissent and alternative views. They are doing it with an ulterior motive as the country heads to a general elections. We will not stop making noise until the bad law is removed if the president signs it. It defeats logic that while we are struggling to remove numerous bad laws from our statutes, this government is adding more”, says Helen Kijo-Bisimba, the Executive Director of the Legal and Human Rights Center.

The law will also affect the way the research and academic institution do their work.

“These institutions will lack the space and freedom to exercise their duties, some of them critical to national development”, comments Alex Ruchyahinduru, the Communication and Advocacy Manager of Policy Forum.

Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition appealed to the president Kikwete not to sign the act because it will be a serious setback to government own push for Open Government Initiative championed by the president. In the Citizen the coordinator of Human Rights Defenders Coalition Onesmo Olengurumwa stated that this is governments’ planned decision to force one truth of things on people.

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In my opinion the new measures appears to be motivated by the critical reporting done by press and social media of the government after the IPTL/Escrow scandal, especially by reporting that some of the top government officials including officials from state house were involved in the scandal.

And it is an attempt to silence government critics in the coming general election in October 2015 and Referendum for the proposed new Constitution which was postponed to unknown date. The new act, if it will be signed, will create another loophole for corruption as officials from NBS will most likely demand compensation for their services to help the reports to be approved for publishing. 

One question remains: How independent is NBS? Does it have capacity to publish reliable and up to date information and data?
Along the statistics bill another act handling cyber-crime was passed, and is also waiting for the president’s signature. This act allows government to control social media.

Read more from The East African's article "Tanzania passes new draconian data law".