Economic and Social Research Foundation (ESRF)’s fifth medium strategic plan, launched by Finance Deputy Permanent Secretary Dr Servacius Likwelile at in Dar es Salaam on Friday, lays a general structure upon which annual work plans and budgets will be crafted over the next four years.
ESRF envisages becoming a centre of excellence in capacity development for policy analysis and development management. Staff Writer Telesphor Magobe interviewed ESRF Executive Director Dr H Bohela Lunogelo on socio-economic research output and application.
QUESTION: What is ESRF doing?
Answer: ESRF is one of the two African think tanks actively engaged in an international network to monitor the implementation of the Istanbul Plan of Action (IPOA) adopted during the last United Nations Least Developed Countries (UN-LDC IV) in May, last year. It has been engaged by the government during the preparation of Tanzania’s Development Vision 2025 in 1999 and last year in reviewing the strides achieved 10 years after, whose findings were considered during the preparation of this medium-term plan (2012-2015) and a long-term perspective plan (2012-2025).
It has also been involved in policies and strategies for the East Africa Community (EAC) and in monitoring harmonisation of policies for integration processes in the EAC and Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) regional blocs and has participated in World Trade Organisation (WTO) ministerial conferences.
QUESTION: If you look back and assess ESRF, what have you achieved so far since its inception?
ANSWER: One of the success stories since its inception in 1993 is a change of mindset of both public and private sector operators with regard to new challenges posed by a shift from a state controlled economy under socialist policies to a free market economy, where the private sector assumes a leading role in economic development and the government assures a facilitating environment through policies, laws and regulations.
Being an independent policy research institution, ESRF develops capacity in economic and social policy analysis and development management by conducting and disseminating social and economic policy research results, facilitating policy dialogue and conducting training programmes on policy analysis and development management.
ESRF has a tripartite mandate – that is to serve the government, the private sector and the civil society. In the next four years ESRF will direct its efforts towards investigating and seeking solutions that can be helpful to the government and the private sector in unleashing Tanzania’s growth potential as stipulated in the Five-Year Development Plan.
Q: What is your focus in this medium-term plan?
A: Our focus will be in addressing both supply and demand side constraints as linked to infrastructural (transport, energy, storage, water supply, industry and agriculture) and knowledge base of society.
Since ESRF is not a typical advocacy outfit, its mandate does not go beyond producing plausible researched evidence, stipulating policy recommendations and their implications and ensuring that the society is aware of the findings and recommendations.
The decision to apply them is left to intended stakeholders, be it government, private sector or civil society operators. Other focuses will be on a comparative advantage of the country’s geographical positioning, growth architecture for ensuring an inclusive, employment and job creation, commodity value chain and marketing systems analysis, population dynamics and human skills development and management and natural resources economics.
Q: Is the government taking on board your expert recommendations and advice?
A: One of the most frequently asked questions, which is very genuine, is the extent to which ESRF’s output has had an impact on shaping policies that have had also an impact on society.
The answer to that question cannot be as straight as one would expect to the problem of attribution of the processes of change and adoption of economic management principles beyond the report publication and dissemination stages.
For example, the institution cannot recall any policy document or strategy, which ESRF was involved in its preparation that was rejected by the government. One of the most recent satisfying results was a fast tracked signing of a protocol on food security framework for the EAC in 2010, which was based on a study commissioned by the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) in 2009 and funded by Kilimo Trust (Gatsby Funds) based in Kampala, Uganda.
Q: What other areas are you interested in?
A: ESRF will continue researching on issues impacting on the pace of implementation of regional integration and successful penetration of the regional and international markets by local traders and manufacturers.
Domestically, just as it has been in other fast growing economies in Africa, an emerging priority as a think tank will be on how to effectively correct the current phenomenon of a jobless growth based on decisions a decade ago, which picked high growth sectors but with minimal linkages to the local economy and, therefore, sub-optimal creation of job per shilling invested.
This will mean coming quickly enough with strategies for ensuring the discoveries of natural gas (and perhaps oil in the near future) in Mtwara/Lindi regions and the mining of iron ore from Liganga/Mchuchuma complex in Njombe region generate the highest impact in terms of job creation through forward and backward linkages.
The institution will also have to be in the forefront in advising both the private and public sectors on operational setbacks of well designed plans for the implementation special economic zones for the growth of the manufacturing industry and the cluster-based approach in stimulated commercialised agriculture for both small and large-scale farmers.
Q: What is your role in local projects?
A: ESRF will undertake as part of its mandate, with the support from the government, to monitor and evaluate the pace and setbacks in implementing Vision 2025 but also upscale society’s awareness of the existence of the Vision and their duties/responsibilities as citizens.
The same will apply in researching and informing members of the public on the pace, setbacks and opportunities coming from the process of regional integration.
To start with, ESRF has been picked as a lead institution in a collaborative programme funded by ASARECA, with others from Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi, to design a system that will be used to predict food production and their prices, so that our governments can take preventive measures against widespread famine in the region.
Q: Who funds ESRF projects?
A: The budget for the plan is about US$2.8 million per year to be funded from different sources including the government of Tanzania (mostly for institutional running), the United Nations system led by the United Nations Development Programme (mostly for capacity building and knowledge management programmes), International Development Research Centre (IDRC)’s Think Tank Initiative (mostly for research and institutional development), African Capacity Building Foundation (ACBF) for research, capacity building and institutional running and the Foundation for Civil Society (FCS) knowledge management.
Other donors will be approached as part of the institution’s resource mobilisation, which includes competing for commissioned studies by different stakeholders.
We are glad that since the government promised to increase allocation of funds for research, the money has been rationed to also benefit socio-economic research institutions such as ESRF as coordinated by Tanzania Commission for Science and Technology (COSTECH), although more is certainly needed to fill our budgetary gaps.