YES, IT’S OPEN DATA DAY AGAIN!

YES, IT’S OPEN DATA DAY AGAIN!

I have had a couple of friends ask me “what is this Open Data day about sef?”. Well, to answer them and anybody else out there who may be asking the same question:

Open Data Day is an annual celebration of open data all over the world. It is a day set aside for open data enthusiasts and indeed everyone to bring light to the importance of open data. It is a day to show the benefits of open data and encourage the adoption and implementation of open data policies in the public and private sector as well as in civil society.

What is Open Data?

According to the Open Data handbook; Open data is data that can be freely used, re-used and redistributed by anyone – subject only, at most, to the requirement to attribute and sharealike. In summary, Open Data is data that anyone can access, use and share

How can Open Data aid development?

Whether we realise it now or in the future, Open Data really is the cornerstone of good governance and development. If citizens are able to access, understand and use information pertaining to public life, they are encouraged to become much more active citizens, keeping the government accountable and fulfilling their own part of the social contract. Government in turn, knowing that they can and are being held to account by the citizens they serve will have no choice than to act in the best interest of the citizens at all time- also fulfilling their own part of the social contract.

In short, Open Data is a demonstration of an Open government.

You can join in the open data discussion for this year by joining our Data Thorn on Skype by registering at Open Data Day 

See you there!

POLICY PROCESSES AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT IN AFRICA

POLICY PROCESSES AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT IN AFRICA

A policy is a guideline that governments employ to address specific public or national issues. Several issues concerning economic growth and development are addressed through governmental employment of policies. Issues such as inequality, inflation, budget-deficit, monetary and fiscal instabilities, economic diversification, unemployment, poverty, human capital deficit, boosting manufacturing, rural development, attracting foreign direct investment and many more. This makes policymaking processes as well as implementation exceedingly imperative. Political leaders have over time, used policies to transform their countries and address societal challenges and complaints. Policies are always a response or reaction to several developments and mostly followed by institutional mechanisms for implementation.

For example, Oportunidades [(English: Opportunities) (now rebranded as Prospera)], a welfare program, was created by the Mexican government in 2002, to eradicate poverty through providing cash payments to families in exchange for regular school attendance, health clinic visits and nutritional support. Through this policy, Mexico has been successful in reducing poverty and improving health and educational levels around the country. The program encompasses Conditional Cash Transfer to families to ensure that children attend school and family members receive preventative healthcare. It also includes rigorous selection of recipients based on a considerable number of geographic and socioeconomic factors. It has been considered as one of the most phenomenal programs on eradicating poverty (through it, millions of lives have been transformed) and this has become a model for similar programs instituted in other countries.

The emerged or newly industrialised East Asian economies were able to transform their countries and develop through aggressive, far reaching policies that were geared towards: boosting domestic production (export led growth); attracting investors (through providing an enabling environment: infrastructure, educated and skilled workforce, laws to protect foreign businesses, reduction of corporate taxes to reduce the cost of production and political stability); privatisation to increase private ownership and efficiency; reforming public institutions; managing trade unions to curtail their extreme practices, increase productivity and efficiency; manufacturing and industrialisation; and family planning. These were clear-cut socio-economic policies and through effective leadership, these policies were implemented to the last. These governments also used incentives and subsidies to encourage domestic production. In addition, most of them effectuated public housing schemes and provided subsidies in education and health sectors to counter poverty and inequality. They also effectuated wealth distribution policies after they had created wealth.

East Asian leaders changed the stories of their countries through deep-seated sincerity and commitment to the implementation of these policies, to lift millions out of poverty. They adhered to the full stages of policymaking – institutionalised policymaking – created conducive environment for the policies to thrive – improved governance – provided adequate funding and staff for the implementation of these polices – used experts in policymaking process – supervised implementation – and monitored and evaluated these policies. For instance, in Singapore, the public housing scheme was an initiative to bring together the races: Chinese, Indians and Malays, so as to counter fractionalisation crisis and this worked so well.

African governments have been experiencing enormous challenges in crafting clear-cut policies and implementing them. First, most of the first generation of African leaders were not entirely prepared for leadership, so could not make sound policies to address fractionalisation crisis and economic underdevelopment. They lacked the exposure to understand the importance of coherent and efficient public policies under the counsel of neo-classical counter revolution and how these influence development. What public policy for economic development or social challenge did the likes of Idi Amin, Mobutu Sese Seko and Kamuzu Banda make? None!

Secondly, the military that defenestrated these leaders from power just focused on consolidating power, imprisoning emerging political opponents and embezzling funds. The soldiers joined their predecessors in practices that are against comprehensible policy processes. Practices such as nepotism, favoritism and corruption, while frustrating important themes of development such as industrialisation, external trade expansion, foreign investment attraction etc. The oil boom era saw the concentration of these leaders on primary exports, while some of them got comfy with receiving foreign aid and never utilising it efficiently especially with respect to using it for capital expenditure. Only few made policies on building infrastructure, expanding agriculture and eradicating poverty. So this resulted from bad leadership to bad governance and then to policy crisis.

Albeit, there have been some improvements since the 90s. African governments are still having deep challenges in making comprehensible policies to address several pressing socioeconomic concerns. Most policies were not well formulated or implemented because of weak public institutions, policy reversals, incoherent policies, lack of appurtenant human and material resources and political will deficit from political leaders. Corruption, lack of expertise in policymaking, inadequate funding, poor governance, roadside declarations, political instabilities, poor monitoring and evaluation templates and poor prioritisation of issues are further challenges facing policymaking and implementation in Africa.

Moving forward, African governments should institutionalise policymaking, improve governance, reform public institutions and extend consultation to all the involved stakeholders in policymaking. There should be policies to address several developmental challenges that would be implemented through proper policy implementation mechanisms and with adequate political will. There should also be comprehensive policies on massive attraction of foreign investors and providing an enabling environment for them, as well as on spurring domestic manufacturing and diversifying exports. Policies such as the Mexican Oportunidades should be replicated to address poverty by African governments. In addition, there should be coherent policies on wealth distribution, rural development, assets redistribution (land reforms), provision of public goods and services, infrastructural expansion and rural healthcare programs. Further policies on family planning to address population explosion, as well as on peace-building to prevent the re-occurrence of conflicts that have devastated the continent are exceptionally important. These policies should be implemented with surplus rigour and efficiency.

 

Chambers Umezulike is a Program Officer at Connected Development and a Development Expert. He spends most of his time writing and choreographing researches on good and economic governance. He tweets via @Prof_Umezulike.

Tax Treaty. Training by ActionAid. My Experience.

Tax Treaty. Training by ActionAid. My Experience.

All these and more have been encapsulated in the reason behind the Tax Treaty Training hosted by ActionAid to bring to the fore, concise details of the Nigeria taxing system and the processes of Tax Treaties between Countries, most especially, Nigeria.

Hosted at one of the Luxurious halls of Sandralia Hotel, Jabi, from 20th to 21st February. The First Day of the training was dedicated to elucidate and make more comprehensible – Tax and Tax Treaties.

Coming in at Lunch, I was greeted by Kolo Kenneth who immediately handed a mini postcard sized paper to me, voila – a meal ticket. Headed straight to the lunch room. The rest is history!

Funny, I was seated next to one of ActionAid’s speakers for the event – Lovisa Moller and we spoke for the entire period of the lunch.

Lovisa Moller gave her insightful piece “Tax Treaties – a critical perspective”. Sliding through, she left no stone unturned as she explained the core of Tax and Treaties.

“Tax Treaty is an agreement between two countries to divide up and limit taxing rights. Tax Treaties decide how much, and even if, the Contracting States can tax multinational companies.Tax Treaties are also known as Double Tax Agreements (DTAs), Double Tax Treaties (DTTs) and Double Taxation Conventions (DTCs)”.

Still on Tax Treaties, she explained ‘How rights are divided up’. According to the slide report, it is:

  • Source vs Resident Taxation.
  • Rules are Neutral in theory, assymetrical in practice.
  • OECD and UK model Treaties propose different versions. Moreso, ActionAid analysis of 519 tax treaties concluded that: Tax Treaties impose an unfair burden on lower-income countries compared to wealthier countries.A question was raised by Lovisa as to ‘why countries sign treaties’, the floor was aroused to action and heads began to sway in contention for answers.

Here are some of the answers that were given:

  • New markers attracts Foreign Direct Investment (FDI).
  • Reduces taxes and ignites smoother investment .
  • It boots exports.

Moreover, in answering the question, she explained thus, “Tax Treaties attract more foreign investment – it can be assumed that Treaties will cause foreign investment to increase. The empirical evidence on the investment of Treaties is mixed. The potential revenue loss, especially to developing countries – including through ‘Treaty shopping’ – has caused increasing concern”.

ActionAid’s International Policy and Campaign Advisor; Lovisa Moller gave some brief lessons in the history of Tax Treaties before moving ahead.

ActionAid, through Lovisa Moller gave a strong reason why we should care about Nigeria Taxing rights. It was directly disclosed to participants of the training that:

15 out of every 100 children die at the age of 5. Meanwhile, Nigeria is reputed as Africa’s largest economy, the continent’s largest oil producer and largest owner of natural gas proven reserves. These sharp contrasts between socio-economic state and resource abundance makes for compelling need to evaluate reasons for insufficient flows of funds to the government by businesses who should contribute their fair share to the development of the country.

Noteworthy it is – Nigeria Treaty Ratification process, below is the process;

  • Initial Preparation
  • Negotiations
  • Approval (The Federal Executive Council approves the negotiated text)
  • Signature (The Minister of Finance or his/her representatives)
  • Ratification (The National Assembly must choose to enact into law)
  •  Entry into Force
  •  Renegotiation or termination

 

It was noted that there are impacts and implications in the processes that surrounds Tax Treaties, some of which the underlisted explains:

  1. It creates allowance for tax evasion and (or) treaty shopping.
  2.  Difficult to distinguish between genuine investors and “shell” companies.
  3. Nigeria being a net importer will remain so for the nearest future, the DTT by limiting the taxing right of Nigeria on dividend interest and royalty potentially reduces the tax base of the country which will.impact negatively on the revenue generation for the country. ActionAid however gave some promising recommendations on the above. It’s a praiseworthy effort from their part, of not only critically looking to the taxiing system but also giving lasting recommendations.

Read below, some of these recommendations…

1. Consider reviewing the current tax Treaty network to determine if the country actually is benefitting from its current and potential future tax treaties
2. Place a special review focus on the Treaties with Kuwait, Mauritius, Belgium, China, Spain, and the United Kingdom, as these have been found to restrict Nigeria’s rights more  than the norm.
3. Subject treaty negotiations, ratification, and impact assessment to far greater public scrutiny.I ended day one on a highly fulfilled note but understanding that Day two was pregnant with so much more, my impatience was steady.

Cluster Group of CSOs. talking Nigeria Tax Challenges

Day 2 started with a lot of innovative ideas around Tax, the moderator, Tunde Aremu was all around the hall fielding questions from participants and in return was checking on our level of memory retention – asking about lessons learnt on Day 1.

Tunde Aremu of ActionAID

He made startling, momentarily shocking revelations on how multinational companies have evaded taxes. Of all, he said “Firms like Deloitte have constantly aided and abetted countries on ways to avoid Tax payments”.

So much more was made known within the hours of the training. It was also explained – the various types of Tax rights; Profit tax, Withholding Tax, Capital gains tax.

We were asked to form clusters of CSOs, Journos to discuss challenges that beset Nigeria’s formulation of a concrete tax Treaty.

We were able to identify the listed as the challenges:

  • Secrecy in processes involved in drafting treaties
  • Low level of awareness on implementation of the Tax Treaties.
  • Perceived Capacity Gap 
  • Excessive Conception of Taxing rights.

We also discussed HOW TO TACKLE THESE CHALLENGES below are points from our discussion: That:-

  1.  There should be policy that is open and transparent and more private sector involvement / participation.
  2. Policies that allow participation of expertise around the specific Tax Treaty being negotiated.
  3.  Strict implementation of the Tax Policy rights
  4. The MDAs should be up to their responsibilities in making public – any Treaty entered into.

How can CSOs, POLITICIANS, GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS, MEDIA, LABOUR contribute to making these responses happen?

  1. They need to crucially understand the existing Treaties
  2. They should create awareness through the Media
  3. Mapping our relevant stakeholders for Advocacy and Engagement processes.

 

Enjoy your week.

I leave you to ponder on these revelations, I was wowed upon seeing these, I hope you will, too.

Social Cost of Revenue Lost to Tax Loopholes

– As much as tax is every citizen’s responsibility and  as well as companies doing business in the country, only few Citizens pay tax. The poorest who live in the rural areas are known to suffer this burden more, through multiple taxation. (HOW OFTEN DO YOU GET TAXED/ PAY YOUR TAX?)

– Corporations use their connection with political elites and Loopholes in Nigeria’s tax system to access tax holidays for their greedy benefits. (ARE YOU ONE OF THEM?)

– Due to tax loopholes, corporations and political elites engage in illicit financial flows to tax havens where financial secrecy is in place or low tax levies enable them profit from the act.

PAY YOUR TAX!

 

Olusegun Olagunju is the Media Strategist at Connected Development, He’s a Sociologist. He hopes to see a world where equal rights of all genders will be respected and a safe environment will be achieved. He tweets via @mobolsgun

Addressing Citizenry Extensive Concerns on the 2017 Budget Proposal

Addressing Citizenry Extensive Concerns on the 2017 Budget Proposal

On 23 February 2017, the Director-General (DG) of the Budget Office of the Federation choreographed a media briefing on several issues surrounding the 2017 Budget Proposal. The DG also used the briefing to make certain clarifications on public outcries over several budget items on the proposal. Most of these outcries were on many frivolous items (especially on electricity and utility bills of MDAs; several humongous expenses on the state house budget on utensils and feeding, electricity bills, travel expenses etc.); repetitions of budget items; budget cycle crisis; the budget preparation expenses; lack of details on some of the items; budget padding etc.

In attendance at the briefing were the media and Civil Society Organizations (CSO). In responding to some of these concerns, the DG took his time to counter some of the claims:

1). He stated that there was no sort of budget padding on the 2017 budget proposal.

2). That there were no frivolous items. That most of the extensive increments such as state house proposed expenditure on utensils and utility bills; electricity bills, security and cleaning services payments in MDAs etc. were either as a result of arrears of such bills/expenses or because funds were not later provided for them on the 2016 budget (meaning they were not implemented.)

3). He stated that there were no repetitions on the proposal, unless the repetitions being referred to were budget items on the 2016 one that re-reflected on the 2017 proposal, which was as a result of the fact that funds were not provided for such items on the former.

4). He reassured the audience of his liaison with the National Assembly to ensure that budget cycle would be from January – December of every year, which was clearly stated on the constitution, as against the culture of having a previous budget being implemented in another fiscal year.

5). He also explained that the details-deficit on some of the budget items were as a result of the perspective to keep the budget simple, for public consumption. That however that his agency would ensure further details on budget items when preparing subsequent budgets.

Representing Connected Development (CODE) at the event, I further engaged the DG and raised concerns over the NGN305/$ calculation on the budget proposal (while $1 is valued at NGN 520 at the contemporaneous market); if there are extensive plans for enhanced transparency and accountability in the 2017 budget implementation; our expectancy to lay hands on the 3rd and 4th quarters’ reports of 2016 budget implementation; his plans to ensure that revenue realization deficit would not frustrate the 2017 budget implementation drawing on the country’s experience with the 2016 one; and getting access to an extensive version of the budget that had further details on some of the line items. For the latter, I mentioned the ‘Talking Sanitation’, as well as ‘Afforestation’ and ‘Tree Planting’ budget items on the proposal, under the Ministry of Environment, which all lacked details such as where and how. Lack of such specific details has frustrated the works of CSOs that are into governmental capital expenditure tracking.

In addressing my concerns, the DG made commitments that were all in line with Nigeria’s commitments on the Open Government Partnership. He stated that the 3rd quarter 2016 budget implementation report would soon be in public domain while the 4th quarter’s would soon be out too. He further stated that there would be increased transparency, accountability and citizen engagement in the 2017 budget implementation. On this, he cited plans to have a digital platform for 24/7 citizen engagement on the budget. He also mentioned that there would be a breakdown on project basis subsequently when funds are released to MDAs. In addition, he promised a quarterly media briefing on the 2017 budget implementation. These were all good news and great outcomes for nonprofits that are into Open Governance advocacy. He mentioned categorically that the revenue realization plan on the proposal is quite realizable and that the FOREX regime crisis would not affect the budget implementation.

This media engagement is a step in the right direction as bringing all stakeholders involved and addressing public concerns on the budget proposal have boosted citizen participation in governance and also provided a platform for clarifications on several portions of the budget, as well as for stakeholders to make suggestions. It is hoped that the Director keeps to all the new commitments he made at the briefing and ensuring extensive open financial governance in the budget implementation. From our part, we are sending an FOI request for an extensive version of the budget, which he promised CODE would be provided with. And before I forget, he commented that he likes our name, ‘Follow The Money.’

 

Chambers Umezulike is a Program Officer at Connected Development and a Development Expert. He spends most of his time writing and choreographing researches on good and economic governance. He tweets via @Prof_Umezulike.

CSOs Engagement with the Minister of Mines and Steel, our take home.

CSOs Engagement with the Minister of Mines and Steel, our take home.

Participants at the CSOs engagement with the Minster of Mines and Steel Development

Concerned bodies that seek to bring a total change to the face of the Mining Industry and Civil Society Organisations brought the Ministries of Mines and Steel Development and Environment together on the 13th day of February, 2017 at Rockview Hotel, Wuse I I, Abuja to factor out ways to efficaciously partner and bring about the desired sectoral reform that has hitherto rented the economic fabric that the Nation is adorned with – from the Mining sector.
The Honourable Minister of Mines and Steel Development was ably represented by his Chief of Staff – Mr Egghead Odewale. The Minister, in his usual liveliness and strong enthusiasm welcomed all Heads of CSOs present to the event, in the same vein he said “It is always a delight for me to interface with a constituency which I hold dearly haven been a member for a considerable part of my life. There is always a nostalgic feeling associated with these intermittent interactions with most diverse people-oriented sector within the nation state…”

He started his speech with a brief overview of the Ministry’s efforts in boosting the sector towards the agenda of diversifying revenue accruals to the Federal Government.

Dr. Fayemi highlighted some few challenges barricading the growth of the sector among which Insufficient Funding, Lack of Geological Data, Weak Institutional Capacity, Limited Supporting Infrastructure, Limited Cooperative Federalism, Low Productivity, Illegal Mining and Community Challenges, Weak Ease of doing business and Perception issues, Protracted Litigations on Legacy Assets were mentioned.
In furtherance, he gave a review of the past year – 2016 and was quick to point out that the past year 2016 was one of the toughest since the world emerged from the great recession about 7 years ago. He praised all stakeholders because “Much of what has been achieved has been a result of the collective efforts of all stakeholders, based on shared vision of the sector, which we have articulated in a roadmap, Our Ministry considers all stakeholders as partners with a common goal, which is why we spend time engaging with various publics, providing feedback, sharing our vision, and eliciting more concerted participation”

On funds not being sufficient for the sector to thrive, the former Ekiti State Governors had this to say;

“We sought for N30bn intervention fund from the Federal Government, partly to help provide cheap loans and grants to industry participants as well as for directly investing in foundation infrastructure… we got approval got activation and securing access to the revolving Mining Sector component of the Natural Resources Development Fund”.

He made it known at the event that the Ministry is working with Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority, The Nigerian Stock Exchange and others to assemble a $600m investment fund for the sector.

A large dose of relief as the Minister revealed that the Ministry has secured support from the World Bank for the funding of the Mineral Sector Support Fund for Economic Diversification (MSSED or MinDiver) program which is to provide technical assistance for the restructuring and operationalisation of Solid Minerals Development fund.

Dr. Fayemi said the Ministry is working out modalities to engage world-class exploration companies to collaborate with her data generating agencies towards providing bankable data to attract big players in the Mining sector. This is in a bid to bridge the gap of unavailability of Geological Data.

The Sector has been assailed with gross illegal mining and also plagued by conspicuous and outrageous community challenges but the Minister informed us that “We are working with the state governments and relevant Ministries to formalise and manage our artisanal miners, while also working with defense and security agencies to cure the actions of illegal mining in the country”

In the light of all these, there is an outlook for the year 2017 and years ahead as expectations and projections were highlighted. The Ministry is to focus on priority areas of competitive advantage to drive growth, some of which are:

  • Priority Minerals as iron ore, coal, bitumen, limestone, lead/zinc, gold and barite have been identified as key for Nigeria’s domestic industrialization and infrastructural requirements.
  • Served Market – Nigeria will initially focus on the domestic market, trading ore and processed materials to domestic buyers at a quality level comparable to imported materials to win market share from imports. As global commodity market recover, Nigeria will then seek to serve both domestic and export market. Nigeria will also seek to exploit its mineral assets in such a way as to preserve and extend the life of its holdings for future generations and manage earnings carefully.

Minister of Mines and Steel Development was represented by his Chief of Staff – Oluseun “Egghead” Odewale

According to the Minister of Mines and Steel Development, to achieve these set goals, Specific Objectives were outlined which include the under-listed:

  • The set-up of the Mining Implementation and Strategy Team (MIST) to drive the execution of the roadmap
  •  Restructuring and reorganization of the MSMD for more efficient operations, and enforcement of established laws and regulations governing the mining sector.
  •  Commencement of process of working with National and State legislatures and governments to address gaps, and resolve conflicts in mineral resource legislation.
  • Development of a strategy to use priority minerals domestically and substitute exports.

The Heads of CSOs present were more than ready to give their all towards achieving a meaningful success in the Sector.

The Minister, however, gave a list of suggestions required of the CSOs in bringing growth and development into the industry. He suggests that;

  • CSOs could help improve the knowledge assets and awareness of stakeholders including the Civic public about the Mining sector.
  •  CSOs should help Monitor the decisions, promises, programmes and plans of the Ministry against available resources to ascertain value of resource application
  • CSOs should critique the plans and programmes of government to ensure best value for Nigeria and Nigerians in the short to long run.
  • CSOs should help Monitor Mining operations to ensure that investors or operators maintain Fidelity to their community development agreement. Especially, monitor corporate social responsibility impacts of mining operators.
  •  CSOs should help support the promotion and realisation of the NEITI principles and programmesAmong others.
  •  CSOs should help should assist in the coordination, organisation and management of ASM cooperatives.
  • CSOs can also help to empower community representatives to assess and flag mining operations, which may undermine the health and safety of their communities.

The Honourable Minister fielded questions from participants of this Engagement and gave insightful responses where required, some of the few questions raised was from the CEO of Connected Development, Mr Hamzat Lawal, he asked the Honourable Minister if it was possible to get the names of the companies that have been licensed to Mine.

He asked further that Datas of ecological funds that have been given to states should be made public so information would be available to work with.

The Co-Founder of Follow The Money rounded off by asking the Honorable Minster his Ministry’s plan for Safer Mining Process putting into consideration what happened in Shikira.


The Minister also responded to a question raised by a participant asking what the Ministry is doing in terms of technological monitoring of extraction sites. He said provisions are underway for that as proper investigation will be done in that regard.

In conclusion, he appealed for perseverance as right measures are taken and implementation of the sustainable reforms that would outlive his tenure are entrenched.
He said “I invite you to join us as we continue on this road to rebuilding this sector, unlocking it’s full potential, and making it one of the key sources of our future prosperity”.

Olusegun Olagunju is the Media Strategist at Connected Development, He’s a Sociologist. He hopes to see a world where equal rights of all genders will be respected and a safe environment will be achieved. He tweets via @mobolsgun