Uongozi, REPOA agenda: How evaluative is supportive research?

13Jan 2019
By Guardian Reporter
Dar es Salaam
Guardian On Sunday
Uongozi, REPOA agenda: How evaluative is supportive research?

RESEARCHERS at the Uongozi Institute, specializing in wisdom in matters of development, via sharing experience among veterans of high level development administration, and REPOA, a formerly poverty-focused think tank that metamorphosed into general economic research, are up to a new task.

They have rolled off a program to back the government's industrialisation agenda, on the basis of write ups towards the end of last month. Prof. Joseph Semboja, apparently the principal mover of that project, said the two think tanks wish to provide research back up to current policies, on the basis of "evidence-based policy making on economic governance in Tanzania." It will run on a five year period, up to the end of 2023, in the least.

Elaborating, or rather explaining the objective in a minimum of detail, the don said that the project would seek to "identify focus areas to ensure relevance in improving economic governance in the country," all of which left something to be desired.

Neither the first set of assertive remarks on project intentionality nor the second set of formulated indications provides a clear guide as to where the project stands in relation to policies, namely evaluating them, against one or other measurable indicator.

This lacunae arises from the basic intention of backing up policies, in which case the research criteria is embedded in the policy matrix.

Slightly further on, we are told that "the programme aims to support the development and implementation of appropriate government macro-fiscal policies and a conducive business environment that is built on a sound and evidence-based analytical work."

That also appeared to take coal to Newcastle, as research is basically to assert something on the basis of verifiable investigation. such that the basic or initial premise is brought up by 'evidence-based' analysis, embedded with the research procedure.

In what manner therefore is this program pursuing 'evidence based' policy making on economic governance, and not just 'research'?

Some conceptual opening up is noticed further down when the don says the programme "is customized to meet the government's ambitions of meeting sustained economic growth driven by economic transformation (productivity), industrialisation and trade expansion."

What is vital in that regard is the way in which 'economic transformation' is abbreviated as 'productivity,' which is altogether false in terms of definition, as productivity is an improvement on performance on the same framework of operational tasks, in this case economic governance. Transformation is change of the terms, framework in which work is conducted.

What we thus learn on the basis of bracketing transformation as productivity is that there is no intention to examine the premises of economic governance as such, but to follow-up the evidence as to productivity change or augmentation, considered as transformation or as transformative.

It is hence expected by the terms of the research program that the current tenets of economic governance are geared to transformation - taken together with industrialization and trade 'expansion.' The research program is a back-up of policies in the sense that it expects that the evidence will fully bring out effectiveness of policies, productivity results.

Embedded in that amalgam or mix-up of evaluation is the distinction between the short term or budgetary evaluation and the long term, where macroeconomic aspects relate to the long term, while fiscal policies are tailored to the short term.

The longer term aspect of fiscal policies is their annual reiteration as everything in financial policies has to be reworked or reaffirmed periodically, unlike macroeconomic policies which usually have a longer shelf life.

A floating exchange rate monetary regime is macroeconomic policy, while specific levels of reserves by months of imports or targeted to inflation is fiscal policy; they must be distinguished.

Remarks attributed to REPOA executive director Dr Donald Mmari were even more institutional in thrust than the thinly conceptual map of the project given by Prof. Semboja. Dr Mmari said their collaboration "signifies a stronger partnership in leveraging efforts to supporting the government towards a more dynamic approach in its industrialization journey."

As in the first set of remarks, this too illustrates not an independent thrust of evaluation but supportive collaboration that locally is habitually heard about in sectors like entertainment. Institutional collaboration sheds weight in one or another for both institutions.

Technically speaking the collaboration is a bit of an uplift for REPOA which is experiencing a lack of prestige at the apex with the departure of veteran researcher Prof. Samuel Wangwe, without seconding a researcher of his stature to take over.

It was precisely the same situation when he left the position of executive director for the Economic and Social Research Foundation (ESRF) taking his goodwill and thrust of trust to REPOA, at that time focused on poverty alleviation.

The design of the current task is clearly the brainchild of Prof. Semboja, who seeks to help the leadership clarify its goals in an evidence-based manner.

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