Journalists covering tax revenue and public spending need a certain expertise. That's especially true in Mozambique, where government workers are rarely cooperative. But they may soon be given a run for their money.
Reporting on Mozambique's public finances is a daily uphill struggle. Twenty years after the end of the country's bitter civil war, journalists face huge obstacles, such as tight-lipped ministerial staff, pages of impenetrable statistical data and sometimes deliberate misinformation. A culture of accountability in public spending has yet to establish itself in the southern African country, and budget transparency is still in its infancy.
An uncomfortable relationship with the truth
"People in government offices get really uneasy when a reporter arrives to ask questions," says journalist Isabel Manhica. "They have an uncomfortable relationship with the truth." A TV reporter with eight years of experience, Manhica is one of nine journalists currently involved in a training project financed by Germany's state development bank, KfW. Conducted by DW Akademie in partnership with Mozambican consultancy MB Consulting, it aims to give reporters the instruments they need to analyze and explain public finances.
Gaining access to official information can often be an obstacle course. "The hierarchy in the state is still very heavy," says Manhica. "Things can be very opaque and spokespeople often use coded language, using lots of percentages. But when we ask what this means for the common Mozambican, they often can’t answer, making it difficult to decode all these numbers."
No budget specialists
Mozambique has yet to develop a special corps of journalists who cover public finances. "Until now," says Mariam Umarji, managing director of MB Consulting, "our journalists have been reporting the bare facts, just re-producing the figures published by the government. There's been no analysis, no critical reporting." A leading expert on Mozambique's public finances, Umarji is a crucial member of the training team, providing expert input on key budget documents and helping the participants to crunch numbers.
Reporters like Manhica recognize that "citizens need to know how the state works and where the money from their taxes goes." Another participant, Marta Odallah - a news editor with 12 years of experience - underlines the need for a particular set of skills in business and economics journalism. "Sometimes it takes us a whole month to convince officials to talk to us," she says. "And access to raw data is difficult. We need training so that people in news organizations don't give up on their stories in this field."
The focus is now moving to producing background coverage on Mozambique's national budget for 2013. Under the guidance of DW Akademie trainers Paulo Nuno Vicente and Adriana Jacobsen, participants are busy gathering material for their reports. Final training takes place in late November, just before the parliament in Maputo debates the budget.