Arriving at Bahi Sokoni Village, the district capital, the local official didn’t want to be at the meeting. He came reluctantly and was visibly uncomfortable. From among the local villagers gathered, a chairman began to read from a report, only to be interrupted – his legitimacy questioned – and what I then witnessed was a 30 minute heated debate, in Swahili.
This local committee of villagers, boldly seeking to monitor and track the local government’s budget spending, is one of hundreds of groups known as PETS (Public Expenditure Tracking) Committees in Tanzania. Joining them I heard the murky details of what happens when those with power wield it in such a way as to threaten and silence all possible detractors; a grim world of this particular village leader bribing and threatening people until they were either afraid to challenge his activities, or were coerced into the activity in a way that they too would be found out.
PETS Committee, Gairo Village
In Bahi Sokoni two committee members had resigned due to threats. The existing chairman of the committee had built a small grocery stall, but was told to take it down by the village land committee as soon as it was finished. And a woman told me how her small-holding had been handed over to another family by the village authorities, who harvested the rice and continue to occupy the land.
Committee members are living in fear, but they haven’t given up, despite being the only ones to challenge the village authority. What struck me was their courage and integrity.
After the morning’s showdown, PETS committee members and Tearfund partner the Christian Council of Tanzania (CCT) put their heads together. What to do? Well, get the committee re-approved by the village so it can function, for one thing; hold the village leader to account for years of misusing funds, another. And an idea to go through the courts, even though this takes a long time, or take this even higher up the chain of command. Just how far..?
A different world just next door
Just ten minutes from Bahi Sokoni, Mpamantwa village presents a stark contrast. We found the 20-strong committee waiting for us with village officials. When I asked them what PETS had achieved, they spoke one after another of how village life had changed.
The monitoring work of the committee has seen three classrooms built, doubling the size of the local school.
New classrooms, Mpamantwa Village
From the district budget they knew that 12 million Tanzanian Shillings (about £4900) was designated to classrooms, but the district education authorities weren’t releasing the money. The committee complained at the district education office, but getting no further there they contacted the local MP. By the end of the same day the remaining funds had been transferred to build the school. Now three new classrooms are being used and just waiting for doors and windows.
I was also shown the village health clinic that now has medicines, thanks to the tenacious work of the PETS committee. The community complained that there was no money in the clinic left for medicines. They asked to see the accounts and found no record of the expenditure for money received from the district.
350,000 Tanzanian Shillings (about £150) had been siphoned off by the doctor in charge. He was removed from his post and paid back the money, which was enough to restock the clinic. Since last year the clinic has published its accounts monthly on a wall for all to see.
Evidence from this, and other PETS Committees shows that people are more likely to get involved and hold their governments to account when they can see that the revenues have a direct connection with their lives and the lives of their children.
As Bigvai Mauya, PETS committee member from another village told me: “Previously we knew nothing about where the money was going. Now we get a report on income and expenditure”.
Rev Lupyana Mgimba, PETS Committee Member, Gairo Village
On top of receiving better health and education services, community members spoke of their increased confidence and better relations with local authorities – as well active involvement in setting priorities for development. They are no longer afraid to ask questions, or fearful of arrest.
Transparency in the wider context
Transparency is not all that’s needed for development in Tanzania. But it has enabled communities to ensure money is spent on the intended projects, whether that’s external aid money or revenue the government has raised itself. It also helps in the recovery of stolen money.
“I decided to join PETS because there is a lot of money that is meant to be directed towards development projects, but it doesn’t reach the intended group,” says Joyce Chigolla, of the PETS committee at Gairo village.
It is vital for citizens to hold governments to account for the all the money they receive; ensuring the money for basic public services – such as clean water, health care and education – is there, and not lost due to corruption. That’s why back home Tearfund’s Unearth the Truth campaign has been pressing governments for European-wide legislation that will make oil, gas and mining companies publish what they pay in contracts to governments.
Drawing from lessons from the PETS committees, it is clear that the information published through this legislation must be understandable and relevant to local people and linked to the projects in their communities.
Success or failure?
It is tempting to see the second village as a success and the first as a failure, but it is better to see it an example of courage and commitment to change. It shows the very need for greater transparency and accountability. The fact that a village leader is trying his hardest to close down the committee clearly shows that he is afraid of what a transparent process will uncover.
However, it is here that it will really test the mettle of the PETS committee members. Organisations outside the community like CCT are needed to give ongoing support to PETS members as there is so much at stake.
There’s so much to gain, as well as lose, when it comes to funds that can be used for their intended purpose.
We need to take the long view of change, and how we eradicate corruption. Simon Meigaro, project officer for CCT, likens it to the Arab Spring:
“It will end,” he said. “Like Syria is taking longer than other Arab states, this will also end. But it may take some time.”
Transparency is doing its job, but don’t expect an easy ride.