Few would argue against the need for policymakers to listen to people’s views when it comes to the good management of natural resources. Indeed, if there is one thing that has been stressed from the countless global experiences of mismanagement, it is the need to involve citizens in decision-making processes.
Consequently, the publishing of data is a key agenda for multilateral agencies as well as NGOs. Access to information, including contracts and sharing agreements, is considered best practice. The direct distribution of some of the cash revenues from natural resources to citizens is also often recommended as a means to fight poverty more effectively and increase accountability of decision-makers and politicians. These are good principles based on participatory processes that form the backbone of democracy.
It is close to 18 months since massive reserves of natural gas were found in the south of Tanzania. Two industry giants (British Gas  and Statoil ) have already arrived in the country. The authorities, with the support of development partners, are busy trying to get all the right measures in place so Tanzania doesn’t suffer the well-known ‘natural resource curse’.
But does anyone know what Tanzanians really want and expect in terms of management of natural resources?
To help better understand citizens’ expectations, hopes and concerns with regard to the recent gas discoveries, the World Bank conducted a phone survey in close collaboration with the civil society organization Twaweza . The survey was administered with approximately 1,600 Tanzanian households from October to December 2013.
Some of the findings from the survey are rather predictable, while others were quite surprising. They are summarized as follows:
- Citizens are somewhat informed but still crave for more information: Around three quarters of the respondents have heard about the discoveries of natural gas, and yet every two out of three would wish to be provided with more information.
- The majority (60 percent) expect this information to be provided by the Government, followed by the media (26 percent).
- While 28 percent are aware that benefits from the large off-shore gas reserves will take time to materialize, 36 percent believe that gas companies are already earning money from these resources.
- Most Tanzanians are optimistic about the prospects from natural gas with four out of five believing that the natural gas is good for them, their children and the country.
- At the same time, 26 percent expect that government officials will benefit the most from this resource, and an additional 11 percent believe that the benefits will go predominantly to rich people.
- The biggest risk Tanzanians see is the capture of rents by foreign companies, followed by crime/violence, and corruption of government officials.
- 61 percent of Tanzanians favor gas sales to foreign countries as long as the revenues are used for the country’s development. Twenty eight percent think that natural gas should be used for electricity generation solely for use within Tanzania.
- Most Tanzanians endorse the involvement of foreign companies, though they prefer local companies as shareholders.
- The Government should have a strong role in managing the revenues from natural gas: 59 percent prefer the revenues to be entirely (43 percent) or predominantly (17 percent) managed by the Government, rather than for citizens to receive direct financial transfers. Only 38 percent think that a substantial proportion of the revenues should be given directly to citizens.
- Education and health should be the priority sectors to use the fiscal revenues derived from gas, followed by infrastructure.
Source: World Bank team based on Sauti za Wananchi rounds 9 and 11.
In short, most citizens are hopeful; are aware of risks, but are also suspicious of foreign companies. While citizens trust their Government to manage the natural resources and to keep them informed, many also believe that the authorities and politicians will profit most from gas through corruption. Can government officials disseminate information effectively and manage resources in the best interest of citizens when they themselves have a strong interest in capturing those revenues?
These responses raise a pertinent corollary question: are citizens sufficiently informed to provide useful guidance and safeguards against possible malpractices?
Indeed, the management of natural resources is a rather complex business, and one can argue that it is best left in the hands of experts. This nevertheless does not discount the value of citizen’s feedback. For this feedback to add value so that policymakers don’t simply discard it, it is important that citizens voice their views from an informed standpoint. Therefore, information-sharing in order to educate the public remains the safest bet to help avert the ‘curse’, and thus enjoy full natural resource blessings.
* The findings presented here are based on data collected by Sauti za Wananchi, Africa’s first nationally representative mobile phone survey fielded by Twaweza. The findings, interpretations, and conclusions are entirely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of Twaweza.