Editors Forum Secretary General Jabu Matsebula says the purpose of think tanks is to supply facts that provide leadership and good governance.
He was speaking during the celebration of Think Tanks Day 2019 hosted by the Eswatini Economic Policy Analysis and Research Centre (ESEPARC) on Thursday (January 31) at the Mountain Inn, where he made a presentation on ‘Why Facts Matter to the Media and the Public’.
ESEPARC, in coordination with the Lauder Institute of the University of Pennsylvania’s Think Tanks and Civil Societies Programme, joined over 160 organisations for a unique global programme involving a series of coordinated events intended to highlight the important role think tanks play in governments and civil societies around the world.
The theme for this year’s events was ‘Why Facts and Think Tanks Matter’, which was intended to provide concrete examples of the research and educational programmes created by these institutions and how they serve policymakers and the public with the necessary evidence during this technology driven era of constant information.
“A nation must think before it acts. Hence, the role of think tanks goes beyond analysing, developing, and promoting policy options. They set the agenda. Most studies of our development context by international consultants usually begin with a complaint about the paucity of recent, relevant, reliable data; baseline data,” said Matsebula.
He said this seems to suggest the need for a wider engagement with a greater stakeholder base to expand the range of development areas for policy research and to utilise the increasing capacity of institutions of higher learning. He said there is an opportunity to use Eswatini’s increasing capacity.
“In the past five years, three new universities have been established. Two of these are medical schools that should be engaged to broaden the national research agenda. The second area of concern will be appetite for facts. Anecdotal evidence also suggests a limited awareness, appreciation, and appetite for evidence based policy advice at the policy-making level,” he said.
The veteran journalist noted that in the liquidity crisis government faced in 2011, very high profile international economic advisors made recommendations that were accepted.
Some of the recommendations were actually implemented and institutions established, but the functions of these institutions do not appear to be fully appreciated, hence the need to utilise home-grown research and facts to inform policy.
“In media, we teach that facts are sacrosanct and comment is free. Facts matter to everyone who has a responsibility for information and influence. They are important to think tanks that advise policymakers, business, civil society, and mass media whose reports shape opinions. Facts matter to everyone. Facts equal truth,” he added.