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TAI Weekly | July 3, 2018
By TAI
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Highlights

  • Panama Papers 2.0
  • Understanding the science of fake news
  • Strengthening media for good governance and social justice
  • Open data and FOIA – competitors or complements?
  • Open contracting in Africa
  • Improving learning and grant making practice in the philanthropy sector

In case you missed it…

Panama Papers 2.0

 Two years since the Panama Papers scandal shocked the world. What happened next?

For starters, those implicated started paying income taxes. Around $700 million in fines and back taxes have been recouped, which is likely to keep growing as governments continue investigations. Early this year, the law firm at the center of the scandal – Mossack Fonseca – closed. Finally, a fresh set of documents, dubbed the Panama Papers 2.0, have been leaked, linking soccer star Lionel Messi yet again to another offshore company, and implicating political elites from Malaysia, Kuwait and Russia.

In other illicit financial flow news, the Canada Revenue Agency calculated the country’s “tax gap” to be at $3 billion annually for the $240 billion in wealth hidden offshore. Suspects in the murder of Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia were linked to money laundering. Iran only has until October to complete its anti-money laundering reforms to remove itself from the Financial Action Task Force blacklist. Pablo Escobar’s son argues that the money laundering cases slapped against him and his mother violate their rights. When will the illicit flows dissipate? The Tax Justice Network’s recent analysis on the state of play of beneficial ownership registration points to (uneven) progress on the legal registry side, but flags country-level risks where there are high numbers of secret companies. For more tax stories, check out this digest by the International Centre for Tax and Development. And here’s a novel idea – satellite imagery to generate tax maps.

 

Understanding the science of fake news

Americans believe that much of what they see and read in the public and social media is false information, according to findings from Gallup and the Knight Foundation. But alarmingly, they are still likely to share it anyway, even with online news source rating tools. What fans false information to spread like wildfire? Indiana University researchers point to biases in our brains, in society, and in the machines for all that junk in our news feeds.

How to fight “fake news”? French President Emmanuel Macron is dead set on passing a law that would empower judges to block false content preceding an election. Critics aren’t too happy though, saying it’s ineffective and at worst, could threaten press freedom. Brazil on the other hand is taking a more modern approach – AI and Rose, an accountability robot. Voice of America teams up with Stony Brook University to release resources on news literacy. See video from Mobilization Lab on the power of positive narratives and collaboration in a “fake news” world.

Facebook rolled out their new strategies on top of employing more fact-checkers. But Marlee Baldridge cautions – news sometimes become the casualty amid Twitter and Facebook’s effort to tackle misinformation. Perhaps there is a better way than censorship? UN Special Rapporteur David Kaye proposes three key actions – involve local communities, increase transparency, and develop a global standard.

 

Strengthening media for good governance and social justice

The disinformation problem isn’t the only reason why the philanthropy sector should support the media – it has great potential for social justice and good governance, too. Cara Mertes explains why now is the time for the philanthropy sector to invest in emerging media. A growing body of research links local newspapers to civic political participation and government accountability. According to Danny Hayes of George Washington University, “When citizens know less about what’s going on in their government, that process of accountability isn’t going to work as well.” How does this play out in Kenya and what are the opportunities for independent reporting on governance issues? Reboot offers a detailed analysis (with the support of TAI member Omidyar Network). For more ideas on how funders and newsrooms can work together, Shorenstein Center and Media Impact Funder compile some compelling cases.

 

Open data, FOIA and data privacy

How can open data policies and FOIA work together? Are they competitors or complements? Sunlight Foundation is conducting research to find the answers.

How to make use of open data? In the UK, Rahul Rose makes the case for open justice to fight corruption. The European Data Portal documents the increasing use of open data in the tourism industry. The SME sector is catching up, although knowledge gaps exist (see survey by the European Commission). For more examples of public sector use of open data, explore the Data-Smart City Solutions database by the Harvard Kennedy School.

There is some headway being made on the open data and privacy front – the US Supreme Court declined the state’s unrestricted access to cellphone location data, which may have implications on personal information held by third parties such as email and text messages, as well as browsing history and financial records. But then again, what about mishandling of data by tech companies? TechCrunch claims that some popular Facebook quiz applications exposed the personal data of 120 million users (NameTests denies the allegation). The magnanimity of the problem has prompted international news organizations to open a communication line for whistleblowers on big data within the technology industry. Is the social sector doing better on this front? Digital Impact lists six nonprofits leading on data privacy.

 

Open contracting in Africa

There’s open data to support the SDGs, and there’s open contracting to protect the integrity of the estimated $97.5 billion infrastructure investments for the SDGs. Ben Fernz of Open Contracting Partnership (OCP) lays out their five-point plan to open contracting in infrastructure. Specific to the extractives sector, the OCP and NRGI compiled good practices by governments to improve transparency in the awarding of extractive licenses and contracts, where corruption risks are high. In practice, is Kenya leading on open contracting? President Uhuru Kenyatta recently issued an executive order putting open contracting as a key foundation of its commitment to OGP and of its economic platform. In addition, Makueni County signed an agreement with Hivos for Open Contracting Data Standards, the first county to open up its procurement system to international scrutiny. Nigeria should follow suit, says Alexander Onukwue, with the proliferation of projects in Lagos on its way to becoming a mega-city, but lacking transparency in public contracting. Also, see this ongoing investigation into the massive corruption inside the country’s security contracting. The proposed solution is two-fold: capacitate journalists on the principles of public and open contracting and on how to work with contracting data.

 

Improving learning and grant making practice in the philanthropy sector

Itching to geek out on Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning? Equal Measure and Engage R+D are spearheading an initiative to strengthen evaluation and learning in philanthropic practice. Simone Joyaux makes detailed distinctions between measuring fundraising performance and fundraiser performance. Make sure to read the second part for tips on what makes a great fundraiser. And while you’re still in MEL and fundraising mode – focus on outcomes, not overhead. According to charity watchdogs, “The percent of charity expenses that go to administrative and fundraising costs – commonly referred to as ‘overhead’ – is a poor measure of charity’s performance. We ask you to pay attention to other factors of nonprofit performance: transparency, governance, leadership and results”. Alex Forrester dives deeper into the effects of line-item budgets and proposes a solution – grant award letters with clear deliverables and reporting requirements but with no restricted line-item budgets. Another means by which foundations can support small nonprofits, outside of funding? The PropelNext project demonstrates the value and effectiveness of developing the capacity of small organizations to use data and fostering a learning culture.

Long read of the week: The State of Play of Beneficial Ownership Registration: A Visual Overview

Podcast of the week: How Can We Make Tech More Accountable?

Calls: Proposals, Speakers, Papers, Courses

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