Tanzania passes draconian Bill that could hit publishers hard

Tanzania's Parliament begins a session in Dodoma. Once President Jakaya Kiwete assents to the Statistics Bill, it will become law. PHOTO | FILE 

Tanzania could become one of the harshest territories for publishing firms, researchers and academicians to work, after Parliament passed a new law yesterday limiting the publication of data to only that from the government’s own Bureau of Statistics.

Parliament passed by acclamation the Statistics Bill 2013 that contained a stiff penalty for anyone who published data or statistics outside those published by the Tanzania National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).

The bill was approved despite a spirited effort by some opposition members of Parliament led by John Mnyika of the Chadema party to have MPs vote it down.

Ironically, the bill that was yesterday moved by the Finance Minister, Ms Saada Mkuya Salum, had been withdrawn in February after a cross section of MPs and other parties outside the National Assembly raised concern over the same provision that grants the NBS exclusive rights to data/statistics publication.

Attorney-General George Masaju led the government defence as the front bench put up a spirited show to defeat the objections coming largely from the opposition, who accused MPs from the ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party of passing the offensive bill without weighing its seriousness.

Yesterday’s move was immediately criticised by media freedom activists and good governance and human rights organisations who view the Statistics bill as a serious setback to the government’s own push for ‘Open Government Initiative' championed by President Jakaya Kikwete.

They asked the president not to sign the bill into law if he was serious and committed to the ‘Open Government Initiative’ for which he has won international acclaim.

Access to information

Executive Secretary for Media Council of Tanzania (MCT) Mr Kajubi Mukajanga recalled that stakeholders had highly criticised the bill, particularly on the part which denies publication of unauthorised statistics, at the time it was being withdrawn in February.

“It is amazing that they would retain such a provision now,” he said, adding that he would speak out more after getting a copy of the bill.

Onesmo Olengurumwa, the co-coordinator for Tanzania Human Rights Defender-Coalition, said the passage of the bill will have significant effects on private institutions in academia and other individuals because making NBS the only institution to approve statistics would curtail research and freedom to challenge the same NBS information.

“It is retrogeressive in the current world for the government to pass such a law and what we see is a move to just force on the people what the government wants them to believe,” he said.

Dr Hellen-Kijo Bisimba, the executive director of the Legal and Human Rights Centre, said she was shocked by the Parliamentarians lack of wisdom and grace. “This is a desperate and calculated move by a draconian government keen on stamping out dissent and alternative views. They are doing it with ulterior motives as the country heads into a general election,” said Ms Bisimba.

“We will not stop making noise until the bad law is removed if the president assents to it. It defeats logic that while we are struggling to remove numerous bad laws from our statutes, this government is adding more bad news.”

Alex Ruchyahinduru, a communication and advocacy manager at Policy Forum, also expressed the same sentiments, adding the law will affect the way research and academic institutions implement their work. “These institutions will lack the space and freedom to exercise their duties, some of which is critical to our national development,” he said.

In Dodoma where Parliament sits, some MPs saw yesterday’s move as signalling the intention to approve two other controversial bills on Media Services and Access to Information scheduled for tabling under a certificate of urgency.

The government has held onto the two bills in what other players say is an orchestrated scheme to use their majority in Parliament to hurriedly approve the bills with equally contentious provisions that will stifle press freedom and curtain the exercise of rights to information.

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