CountrySTAT: Web system set to revolutionize economy


As Tanzania government officials were busy making final touches in their ministries' respective budgets for 2010/11 financial year in the country's main sea port and commercial city of Dar es Salaam.


 In Morogoro town, 200 kilometres west of Dar es Salaam, a very important and equally busy three days working session related, somewhat, to the budget was taking place.


 The Morogoro working session made up of 14 experts were drawn from the Secretariat of the CountrySTAT, a web based system designed for Tanzania by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in August, 200


 The organization of the working session was made possible by the countrySTAT Secretariat comprising staff from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) and the Ministry of Agriculture, Food Security and Cooperatives in collaboration with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).


  Although the Morogoro session was made up of a very small team compared to the over 232 Members of Parliament and ministers, who were then preparing to attend a parliamentary budget session in Dodoma town, central Tanzania, in two weeks time.


 It was indisputable that the success or otherwise of the august Parliamentary session, heavily depended on the success of the Morogoro session.


 The importance of the Morogoro session lay in the fact that the 14 experts were working on data that would be required, for planning and decision making process of any kind, by senior officials in the over five key ministries in the country.


 The ministries includes that of Livestock Development and Fisheries, the Ministry of Water and Irrigation, Ministry of Industries, Trade and Marketing, Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism and the Ministry of Agriculture, Food Security and Cooperatives.


 Whatever budgetary allocation approved by the Parliament for each of the five key ministries, the execution of their projects depended on the quality, hence reliability of the data doggedly worked on and finally uploaded in the CountrySTAT website by the 14 experts.


 The working session was officially opened in Morogoro on May 9th this year by the Principal Statistician from the NBS who also happens to be the CountrySTAT National Coordinator, Mrs Joyce Urasa.


 In the words of Mrs Urasa, the main objective of the Morogoro working session was threefold:


 Firstly, to update data already published in the CountrySTAT website.


 Secondly, to collect new data from Agriculture sector ministries, departments and agencies (laconically referred to as MDAs) for publishing purposes and lastly, to further explain and orient members on the importance of abiding to FAOs Data Structure, Concepts and Definitions while compiling data for publication.


 The working session officially started, after welcoming remarks by Mrs Urasa, with two presentations.


 The first presentation dwelt on the CountrySTAT database for end users that include, among others, decision makers and analysts.


 And the second presentation dealt with the main motive behind the organization of the working session, namely how to create px files.


 PX is a term used in reference to the packaged data as they appear on the website, and in this particular case, the CountrySTAT website.


 Mrs Urasa says the importance of the latter lay in the fact that there were four new participants who had joined the group of experts for the first time, hence requiring guidance on how to create px files.


 Two of the four new entrants were from the Ministry of Agriculture, Food Security and Cooperatives, one from the Tanzania Revenue Authority, TRA, and the fourth one was from the Ministry of Water and Irrigation.


 The two presentations also contained a recap, for old members, before starting the main activities of the session.  


 After the end of the two presentations, experts started work on the data they had brought in from different ministries and departments.


 The main activity, she said, was to re-arrange data and transform them into px files and thereafter, include the necessary metadata.


 On the last day of the working session on June 11, all px files were collected by facilitators and put into CountrySTAT database.


 At this stage, an overhead projector was used for presentations during which discussions for each table set in.


 The National Coordinator says comments made in the course of presentations, were quite useful in that they helped modifying tables in order to make them more attractive.


 All in all, a total of 24 tables were worked on out of which four were new.


 Before the curtain on the working session was officially brought down, there was a long discussion on who should be addressed as a contact person for the metadata section of the table.


 The foregoing discussion was important because such a person could be directly contacted by, among others, data users in case of any problem or if one required clarification on the uploaded data.


 During the discussions, two schools of thoughts emerged.


 The first one felt the need to address the head of the department/institution from where the table originates.


 However, the second school of thought felt differently, that an e-mail address of a person who lastly updated the table should be written.


 However, the experts finally compromised for the second school of thought but on condition that efforts should be made to seek clarification, on the issue from the FAO.


 Another issue that required the intervention of the FAO, in terms of clarification, related to exports and imports for various commodities.


 For instance, the format of the CountrySTAT database in the National and Sub-national core requires many tables related exports and imports for various commodities.


 In the case of Tanzania, the only source for these data is the Tanzania Revenue Authority.


 However, there is problem here. The commodities coding system used by the TRA is not compatible with that of the FAO,


 For example, while the TRA uses a single code for exported sheep and goats, the FAO coding system requires separation of these two types of livestock.


 It was thus recommended that efforts be made to seek advice from the FAO on how this issue could be handled and thereby cause it to be published in as many tables as possible for commodity imports and exports.


 While still on the need to seek the FAO's intervention on various issues, one may rightly ask:


 Why should the experts bother themselves with the United Nations' organization on issues related to Tanzania's commodities?


 The point is the FAO did not only initiate joint collection of, processing and storage of data for the over five key ministries, but also helped in designing, in 2008, what could in a lay man's language be described as the main host for keeping such data, the website that goes by the name of CountrySTAT.


 What is more, these web-based system is not only confined to Tanzania, but also in 17 other Sub-Saharan countries that include its neighbours in East Africa, Kenya and Uganda.


 Perhaps one point worth noting here is the inherent nature of the two arguments that revolved around the penning of addresses below the tables.


 The two arguments carried along the important questions of transparency and accountability.


 Indeed, the fact that the experts showed their involvement both in detail and commitment, just goes to demonstrate how serious they are in ensuring that nothing is left to chance.


 Such an attitude on the part of the experts is surely another fillip to Tanzania's latest kid on the block, the country's agricultural policy-Kilimo Kwanza (agricultural first).


Closing the workshop, Mrs Urasa called on the experts to keep on compiling data that are available in various publications within their respective MDAs and send them to ContrySTAT  Secretariat.