Watch the Media Bill in my right hand while I sneak the Stats law in with my left

Saturday April 4 2015



Elsie Eyakuze. PHOTO | FILE

Elsie Eyakuze. PHOTO | FILE 

By Elsie Eyakuze

Just when we left-leaning squawkers were mightily distracted by the threat of the Media Services and Freedom of Information bills, a Statistics Bill snuck through the side door and got passed.

With barely any time to define exactly what it is about this new Act that is objectionable, we are now faced with an impending Cyber Crimes Bill.

Meanwhile, the Media Services and Access to Information Bills have been returned to the proper order of things where they will be tabled, debated and probably passed by a CCM majority that knows which side it’s bread is buttered on. To which I say: Well played, misters and madams, well played.

It is one of the most infuriating, grudgingly admirable tactics to spawn out of The Establishment: Surprise legislation.

Issues lurk under the surface, dimly glimpsed but never quite fully grasped until out of the blue the CCM majority in parliament has rubberstamped something controversial into law. Surprise! Legislation!

And thus are interest groups constantly caught on the back foot, scrabbling to keep the shrillness out of our collective voice as we fight battles on an steeply uneven field.

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This eleventh-hour approach to governance isn’t to our benefit, but we seem to have made a culture of it. This week, though, all that hurry-up-and-wait yielded a pleasant outcome.

After having spent months biting my tongue to give the government the benefit of the doubt about the ridiculous April 30 referendum date, it is a distinct pleasure to savour its announcement that said referendum has been postponed.

It would have taken a miracle of the parting-of-the-Red-Sea variety to hit our April deadline what with this newfangled and already-broken BVR system. But, my government, you know, is not one to back down in the face of a patently bad idea, no sir.

Much more fun to let things spool out slowly, predictably and dreadfully, and no doubt expensively for the taxpayer.

On that note, would it be possible to get some kind of a refund to the taxpayer every time the government makes a very expensive bad decision? Like building schools but not training enough teachers, or setting impossible dates for major democratic endeavours while under-serving the voters? A fine, if you will, to encourage sobriety, effectiveness and efficiency.

Mishandled situation

Back to the flurry of laws that are shaping the landscape of communication, information, media etc. It is still unclear why the situation is being mishandled, there’s no need to make out like civil society or activists are the problem.

We need legislation and regulation that addresses our contemporary context and the challenges it brings with it, that’s not being disputed at all. If we follow our own rules of procedure, of disclosure and participation, there is every possibility of crafting decent progressive laws.

Cyber crime? Sure, and it exists here just like anywhere else. Finding a way to minimise the harm is a good thing. So let’s be vigilant, to ensure that the government remains focused. Let it be thwarted should it attempt to call things criminal that are simply irritations to it.

There are real dangers out there, none of which hide in plain sight on social media platforms where vigorous and often impolite debate thrives.

Allowing the state the potential to monopolise the production, approval and dissemination of statistical information via the National Bureau of Statistics? Horrifying.

Yes, it is true that Tanzanians are surprisingly uncooperative when it comes to coughing up census and other personal information, but there’s no reason to sulk about it. Statistics are a game best played with others, for better or worse.

To reiterate: there’s nothing inherently wrong with trying to legislate all these concerns. It’s just the how and the why of it that is in play.

Tanzania has grown complex, contradictory and mostly progressive simply by virtue of time. Some things are inevitable. The real challenge here is to get said Establishment to catch up with its citizenry.

Our public institutions need our help with the behavioural adjustment necessary to handling the present. The Establishment, for example, is constantly assaulted by the urge to squeeze the throat of our freedoms of speech, assembly, information.

How can we be of assistance to them? Through our mutual struggle for legislation that doesn’t allow their Orwellian tendencies to overcome them, especially in an election year. Seems like the decent thing to do.

Elsie Eyakuze is an independent consultant and blogger for The Mikocheni Report, http://mikochenireport.blogspot.com.

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