ICT -‘Bait and switch’ on Africa by international organisation

senior researcher at ATAF

There has been a very constructive conference ICTA (International Conference on Tax in Africa) held by ATAF ( African Tax Administration Forum). Contrary to many expectations in the world of Tax, Africa is aware and planning for the future and seeking applications for utilising advance tech, such as blockchain, for improving tax administration.

On several occasions senior tax administration officials complained about the bad advice given by foreigners associated with international and multilateral aid organisations. This is serious.

Dr Nara Monkam outlined how many tax administrations received much help from international organisations to introduce ICT into their tax administrations. But their experience was often negative. This was because the aid came with certain strings such as pre-approved consultants. These consultants owned the software and code and made no effort to transfer skills or shall we say deliberately withheld training and skills transfers. Once a system was installed they discover that none of their staff could manage the system and if anything needed to be changed none of their staff could affect this. In each case they would need to refer back to the Western appointed consultants who charged millions for any help. These charges became so onerous that in many cases the new systems had to be abandoned and the Ministry returned to the old system. Further, senior representatives from many small countries report being told not to seek to use the latest technology but use an older technology. Fortunately, the speaker was outraged and fought to use the latest technology and to explore the possible uses of blockchain.

This is serious indeed. It is ‘bait and switch’ (Note 1) by major countries and institutions in the West against Africa. They promise help for free as aid only for the recipient to find they have in fact bought into a system that forces them to make endless payments in foreign exchange to a foreign consultant pre-approved by the donor. Bait and switch is known as a form of fraud! That this is not isolated can be confirmed by the past behaviour of DfID where they sought to fund a project for 1 million second-hand computers for Africa. When an African expert sought to warn that this would give not only no benefit but create a legacy where Africa had no such issue. It would create a liability (legacy) where Africa had none. DfID sought unsuccessfully to viciously punish the whistleblower.

Clearly, the best way forward is for Africa to generate open source infrastructure available to all African countries. One cost shared among many, and also the update and maintenance is done once and shared among many. ATAF is now working on this as a major project. This is far-sighted.

However the ‘bait and switch’ is outrageous. If these were private sector companies we could sue for damages this is so egregious. At least let us openly shame them.

NOTES

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bait-and-switch