TAI Weekly

TAI Weekly | September 3

By TAI (Role at TAI)


  • Once more unto the breach…
  • The hunter becomes the hunted
  • False positive?
  • Expired but still sellable?
  • When costs lie
  • TAI Spotlight: The future of public contracting in Nigeria
Image by Mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

Image by Mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

In case you missed it

We’re back and the world has not stood still in August, so this is a bumper Weekly to kick us off for September. Let’s get right into it!

Once more unto the breach

Another month gone by and another set of data privacy breaches. To pick one example, Australian telecoms giant Telstra warned that public trust in the security of their data will be eroded if government agencies continue to be allowed access to it without appropriate authorization (Australian police admit they unlawfully accessed citizens’ metadata more than 3,000 times). Kenyans have also accused their government of forcing them to make a choice between legal erasure and being commodified as data.

Should we be surprised? Not according to Susan Aaronson, who draws on a range of metrics to show most developing and middle-income countries are not ready or able to provide an environment where their citizens’ personal data is protected and where public data is open and readily accessible. Aaronson argues that donor nations have a responsibility to work with partner countries on data governance.

Of course, it is not just government agencies complicit in data abuses. Bloomberg revealed that Facebook paid contractors to transcribe users’ audio. A new report by Public Citizen highlights the extent to which big tech has resisted efforts to increase accountability. 350.org’s Hanna Thomas urge us to be more digital critical. Richard Pope advocates for designing digital services that are accountable, understood, and trusted. Scott Graham thinks we can find solace in using data to serve those in need and not just the digitally connected. Meanwhile, check out this data protection handbook that gives an overview of EU data protection instruments and the GDPR.

The hunter becomes the hunted

Finland targets taxpayers with hidden American accounts, using similar tools to those America employed to reveal untaxed money stashed in other countries. Michael Pettis explains why it would be a good idea to tax foreign capital and if he doesn’t convince you, then Nick Shaxson offers more reasons.

Are “sin taxes” regressive? Join researchers at the Center for Global Development as they examine the equity effect of sin taxes

The global tax system was not magically fixed over August, but the Atlantic Council provided a simple breakdown of Frances new digital tax regime which may need some rewriting after the US won compromise changes through discussions at the G7. Stephen Abbott Pugh advised policymakers to prioritize increased tax transparency. They may also want to read how fiscal transparency and accountability can support good financial stewardship in big and small cities, and a reimagining of new finance ethics.

False positive?

Wanting to share some ostensibly positive news, our first stop is Egypt where the government partially eased bureaucratic processes for establishing an NGO and eliminated jail penalties for violations of funding rules. But activists say the nominal amendments do not change anything about the oppressive nature of the law. In other contexts the situation can be even more dire – the Philippines has been identified as the deadliest country for environmental activists with more than 150 land defenders and environmental activists killed last year. Media suppression is exacerbating the trend as Pakistan’s journalists are struggling with a new era of censorship and Tanzanian investigative reporter Erick Kabendera was taken into custody. Such events prompted The Economist to criticize the global gag on speech in democracies and dictatorships alike.

No surprise then that researchers, activists, and advocates at an event held on the fringes of the UN’s High-Level Political Forum for Sustainable Development in July highlighted the ongoing closure of civic space as a prominent obstacles to identifying, discussing and eradicating the systemic roots of inequality. They agreed that focusing on progressive tax reform, tackling corporate tax avoidance, and illicit financial flows are concrete remedies for inequality. 

Talking of inequality, last week the United States celebrated Women’s Equality Day and the 99th anniversary of the passage of the 19th amendment guaranteeing women’s right to vote. Perhaps uncoincidentally, there have been a number of threads relating to equality in open government and decision making. Arancha González questions “why men win 99% of state procurement contracts?.” New research on boosting women’s political representation suggests there is no escaping the hard slog of investing in women’s NGOs, reframing debates and building coalitions for change. If we can boost women representation, what does that mean for development? Listen to Dr Shan-Jan Sarah Liu on why and how women supporting women offer more opportunity for cross-sector collaboration. Also read these stories of grant makers who are effectively building, sharing, or wielding power to achieve equity goals. Alfonsina Peñaloza, of TAI member Hewlett Foundation, offers 3 steps to leverage open government for gender equality.

Expired but still sellable?

The mandate of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) expires today, September 3rd. The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) laments its end, but urges countries to take up its lessons on fighting graft over the past twelve years. Perhaps these should include beefing up coastguard patrols as Maldives’ ex-VP attempted to escape corruption and terrorism charges by pretending to be a stowaway on a tugboat to India. Elsewhere, Zimbabwean Tourism Minister Prisca Mupfumira – became the first senior government official to be detained by her country’s anti-fraud body, and Mozambique charged 20 people, including the son of former President Armando Guebuza, over a fraud and blackmail scam in relation to a $2 billion-dollar loan scandal. Justice at last? The net is at least tightening.

As countries struggle to prevent and reduce corruption, a new publication draws on cross-national data for the period 1996 – 2017, noting control of corruption stagnated in most countries with all too few exceptions. The report calls for evolution of a governance regime involving the press, business, and a strong and activist civil society. Diana Chigas and Cheyanne Scharbatke-Church also shared lessons from the field as they identify top three challenges and good practices in anti-corruption, especially in developing countries.

The Republic of Congo is no stranger to high profile corruption accusations. This time around, Global Witness thinks the fight against corruption could start with the president’s own family as it revealed that the president’s son, Denis Christel Sassou-Nguesso, seemingly stole $50m of state funds while deputy head of the national oil company. Meanwhile, Mukasiri Sibanda argues Zimbabwe may be too “open for business” with mining companies. The government’s mid-term budget review offers no updates on promised fiscal transparency reforms nor details of foregone revenue due to tax holidays. Perhaps Zimbabwean officials should read the International Monetary Fund (IMF)’s new Fiscal Transparency Code which aims to strengthen implementation of global resource governance norms.

Will frustration at corruption lead to further public disengagement? Albert van Zyl and Dustin Kramer at the International Budget Partnership caution against attributing public frustrations too much to corruption. They dig into South African experiences to suggest instinctive responses may hide other underlying causes of problems in the social contract. In that vein, Chandler Foundation’s CEO Tim Hanstad thinks it’s possible as he offer tips on how NGOs can strengthen their engagements with government.

Is more recourse to “direct democracy” an answer? Continuing Brexit chaos points to the risks, but Stephan Kyburz and Stefan Schlegel lay out principles that might guide effective direct democracy, and Chatham House researchers explore the effects of technology on democracy in Europe, and new research suggests people who trust governmental institutions are more likely to vote and sign a petition.

Richard Youngs ponders how a participative turn in Europe might help improve other forms of democratic accountability. Read Young’s advocacy for participative forums with Blair Glencore’s reflections on how to leverage grassroots deliberation and decision making to see if citizen participation can be revived in democracy.

When costs lie

Hewlett Foundation has introduced their new policy on indirect costs for grant applicants, including a no floor or ceiling for a US-based nonprofit’s indirect rate – a step in the right direction towards funders honoring and paying for nonprofits’ true costs of delivering programming or services. Similarly, another TAI member, MacArthur Foundation, has committed to reviewing their indirect cost policy recognizing existing shortcomings. More lessons from Vu Le as he encourages nonprofits and funders to avoid being overhead holes (and urges US foundations to go beyond the 5% annual payout rate required by law.)

While the TAI Weekly tracks developments field-wide, if you are wondering what TAI members and secretariat have been up to ourselves this year, check out our report for first six months of the year. A sense of where we made progress, where not and some lessons along the way.

Wondering whether you should even do a report? John Schwartz offers alternatives and what might make them worth doing. Combine with tips on digital storytelling.



World Bank’s annual Country Policy and Institutional Assessment (CPIA) 

One of the biggest risks to our macro outlook in Africa is rising debt. This year’s CPIA Africa report takes a closer look at this while also assessing the quality of policy and institutional frameworks in Africa’s poorest countries.

Building Participatory and Inclusive Institutions: Bringing Meaningful Participation into Economic Decision-Making

Drawing on work funded by the Open Society Foundations on bringing participation into economic decision making, the paper focus on how SDG 16 can be applied not only to political and social institutions, but to decision making within the economic sphere as well.


The future of public contracting in Nigeria | Luminate

Luminate recently awarded Public Private Development Center (PPDC) a $900,000 three-year grant. Read Luminate’s interview with Nkem Ilo, the CEO of PPDC, on how Nigeria is using open contracting to fight corruption and mismanagement, and the future of PPDC’s work.


The Struggle with Accountability| Conversation covers development aid, fund accountability, and thinking about what sustainable accountability – both accountable governance and equitable economic growth – might look like.


APTI call for Research Proposals on Property Taxation: September 15

Call for Policy Relevant Research Proposals on Local Democracy:  September 20

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