By Elias Mhegera – EIGHT civil society organizations including the Commission for Human Rights in Tanzania have aired a growing concern over secrecy in the Government and its institutions which could hamper freedom of expression and the dispensation of justice.
The statement came in the wake of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), phase two, which was deliberating on the freedom of expression (FOE) and information (FOI), in Tanzania.
The organizations which attended the session are the National Organization for Legal Assistance (NOLA) Women in Law and Development in Africa (WiLDAF-Tanzania), the Commission of Human Rights and Good Governance (CHRAGG), and the Women’s Legal Aid Centre (WLAC).
Other organizations were the Media Council of Tanzania (MCT), the Media Institute of Sothern Africa (MISA-Tan), and the Southern Africa Human Rights NGO-Network (SAHRiNGON) – Tanzania Chapter.
The discussion was supervised by Victor Bwire who is working for the international organizations Article 19, Kenyan chapter. The organization was named after the same article in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), of 1948.
Meeting at the Harbour View Hotel, under the sponsorship of SIDA, on Monday this week, the training was aimed at exchanging experiences and sharing knowledge with CSOs representatives on the UN Periodic Review processes and the state of Media Freedom, the FOE and FOI in Tanzania.
The advocacy training was intended to contribute inputs into the Tanzania Periodic Review to be held in Geneva in October 2011. Both MISA-Tanzania and Article 19 will submit inputs on the state of Media Freedom and Freedom of Expression to the UN Periodic Review Mechanism this March.
Discussing pertinent issues that need transparency the CSOs deliberated that of recent the Police Force has been used to curtail the FOE by suppressing demonstrations which is a democratic right as enshrined in the Tanzanian constitution.
The cases that drew serious attention are the payment of the Dowans power generating company which many Tanzanians are against, the demonstrations by the opposition Chama cha Demokrasia na Maendeleo (CHADEMA), and the bomb blasts in Mbagala in April 2009, and Gongo la Mboto just recently.
Representatives from the CSOs who some had once worked as journalists said the credibility of news is seriously reduced when there is a lot of speculations by journalists themselves due to secrecy by some organizations and government institutions.
For instance the Tanzania People’s Defence Forces (TPDF) was taken into task after it withheld information as to why there were bomb blats in Mbagala in April 2009, on the guise of security reasons just for the blats to re-occur recently, there are indications that the cause of the blats will remain incognito again.
Under such circumstances journalists will tend to speculate and even to exaggerate the matter a situation that might reduce the credibility of the information from such media outlets.
On the question of payment for Dowans company the CSOs were doubtful if the judiciary will stand for public interests due to the fact that some political bigwigs had already indicated that there is no way the Government can escape payment to the company which they termed as dubious.
The CSOs suggests that before the Governemnt was to issue any statement there was a need to collect recommendations from various circles synthesize them and then issue a statement for the public good.
They said that the legal regime in Tanzania needs a lot of transformations in order to make it match with the current international standards. Preferring anonymity due to the sensitivity of the debate they blamed the Governemnt for its failure to repeal some draconian laws that were mentioned by the Judge Francis Nyalali in 1991.
The late Nyalali who then the Chief Justice headed a commission that saw Tanzania in a transition to political pluralism.
From the CHRAGG was Yohana Mcharo who said that his commission has been using information from the media in many of its investigative cases. “In a good number where there cases of mysterious killings the media have always been of great assistance to us,” said Mcharo.
He condemned concentration of information and arrogance on part of some Government officials which has caused the media to lack vital information that is needed by organs like his Commission.
But in quite a contrary stance a senior journalist Mbaraka Islam said that in some cases it is journalists themselves who tend to shun away from some news items on the pretext that they might annoy their employers which is not necessarily the case.
He mentioned further under certain circumstances journalists operate under fear, stereotypes, and deliberate negligence. He reminded of the killings in Zanzibar in 2001 where he had to gone to verify just to find only 26 people were killed instead of 300 as some media outlets had put it.
From NOLA was James Marenga who said that the CSOs must form strong ties with the media in order to make impact in their dealings. “Just as HakiElimu is doing in the education sector all NGOs must strive to make an impact whenever they launch some projects,” he said.
The CSOs also promised that they will join forces in order to ensure that all outdated laws are repealed.