Tanzania bows to pressure to amend law on statistics

Saturday July 6 2019

Tanzania parliament

Tanzania’s parliament in session. The Tanzanian parliament in 2018 amended the Statistics Act of 2015 to make it a crime to publish statistics without the approval of the National Bureau of Statistics. PHOTO | EDWIN MJWAHUZI | NMG 

FRED OLUOCH
By FRED OLUOCH
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Tanzania parliament has amended the punitive Statistics Act that criminalised the publishing of non-official data.

The new amendments give people rights to collect and disseminate statistical information without criminal liability.

It also sets up new procedures for those seeking to obtain and publish national data.

The law is a victory for civil society, which carry out opinion polls and statistics on every facet of the Tanzanian society.

As part of restricting the operations of civil society and the media, The Tanzanian parliament in 2018 amended the Statistics Act of 2015 to make it a crime to publish statistics without the approval of the National Bureau of Statistics.

Contradicting government

It was also a crime to disseminating statistics that “invalidate, distort or discredit” government bodies’ statistics.

This law landed opposition politician Zitto Kabwe in trouble in 2017 when he commented on Tanzania’s economic growth. He was never charged and eventually released.

The law has also seen the banning or fining of some TV stations, arrests and prosecuting journalists, bloggers and opposition politicians.

Local and international human rights groups consistently complained that the law curtailed freedom of expression and the right to privacy.

Observers say that President John Magufuli’s administration appears to have succumbed to overwhelming criticism led by local non-governmental organisation Twaweza.

In 2018, the World Bank said the law was out of line with international standards and shared its concerns with the government.

The amended law was to complement the Media Services Act, 2016, which restricts press freedom, freedom of expression and which saw some civil society take the government to the East African Court of Justice.

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