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Badilisha Lugha KISWAHILI

MPs` new allowance: Wrongly attacked or lavish lifestyle?

11th December 2011
Speaker of the National Assembly Anne Makinda

It now clicks in the minds of Tanzanians, who by their number are the majority that truly the elders had it perfectly when they said a goat always eats by the length of its rope.

The adage was widely recalled Wednesday this week when people read headlines that Members of Parliament are now receiving Sh 330,000 per day, being Sh80,000 per diem, Sh200,000 sitting allowance and Sh50,000 for car fuel.

Speaker of the National Assembly Anne Makinda explained to the media that the rationale of the allowance hike, over three times from the previous allowance, is that living expenses in Dodoma have increased, thus the law makers need that amount to curb the situation.

Although the cost of living is going up due to inflation, which is due to many causes including high food prices resulting from inadequate rain and electricity shortages, there are areas of responsibility as well. As Dr Honest Ngowi, a business lecturer at Mzumbe University explains, there are a number of stakeholders who have to be blamed.

He points out that the Government has to be blamed for inadequate policy and structural responses to problems leading to inflation. But consumers have to be blamed for the high demand of imports compared to domestically produced goods.

Dr Ngowi continues that this causes high demand for the dollar which weakens the shilling and contributes to inflation. Producers are to be blamed as well for producing inadequate goods and services in quantity and quality. Therefore consumers opt for imports, he elaborates.

It is true that earlier this privileged organ, through its economic affairs committee questioned the government and the Bank of Tanzania (BoT) on the economic situation in the country. Questions such as that of power cuts was handled, but Dr Ngowi believes that more could have been done by MPs.

The ridiculous squandering of public funds for parliamentary allowances follows a report by the media a few days earlier, quoting the Visual Economics organization that Tanzania is ranked third in the world in foreign aid per capita, just behind the two war-torn countries of Iraq and Afghanistan.

According to the report, since independence, foreign aid in Tanzania has tremendously increased from $ 39.19m (66bn/-) in 1961 to $2.89 billion (over three trillion shillings), making the country number one in Africa for receiving aid.

Dr. Ngowi says the aid level implies that we are not doing enough to mobilize domestic resources in terms of taxation, therefore we keep on depending on aid, which is not that good. “At times it has a lot of conditionality and does not really contribute to making the country self-reliant,” the lecturer asserts.

The Speaker’s affirmation for the particularly ‘handsome’ allowance comes two days after parliamentary secretary Dr. Thomas Kashililah trashed media reports insisting that “the matter is yet to be decided.”

The controversial statements from law making body leave the public suspecting that ‘something fishy’ might be surrounding the allowances increment decision.

The fact is, as sensitive as such the matter might be, there is no way deliberate misinformation by top parliamentary officials can be proper public policy. How could the matter have been decided so suddenly after the parliamentary secretary’s denial?

This time around, fifty years ago, when incoming Prime Minister Julius Nyerere was addressing the country on Independence Day, he insisted that every Tanganyikan will be treated equally regardless of their religion, race or their status in the community.

In other words, when something like living expenses rises and needs a fix, the treatment decided is expected to serve all affected individuals. That includes both the leaders and the led. But that is not what the majority Tanzanians are witnessing and experiencing today, 50 years later.

Amazed by the increment decision, the Kasulu MP said it was surprising that MPs need to be assisted about costs of living as this has hit them hard. But is it only them who were hard hit? What about their staff, wonders Moses Machali (NCCR-Kasulu Urban) should they also demand for increased increment as well, he pursues.

In Dodoma, one kilogramme of rice costs Sh.2, 000 and beans Sh.1,800 per 1kg, while sugar costs Sh.2,200 per kilo, a five litre gallon of cooking oil costs Sh.17,000 and a kilogramme of corn flower or wheat costs Sh.1,000 and Sh.1,300 respectively.

The ever increasing food prices for example in the market suggests that intervention is urgently needed not only for MPs but also for primary and secondary school teachers who earn not more than Sh700,000 per month, for “we all buy in the same market,” as the Mzumbe lecturer underlined.

Machali is of the view that since the problem affects Tanzanians at large, it would have been better for MPs, as the people’s representatives, to sit down and look for ways to easing the cost of living for the majority, both public and private sector servants like teachers and street vendors, alike.

He advises the government that it is never wise to use excuses like increased sitting allowance will help the MPs show hospitality to their visitors, especially their voters, who often time come to visit them during parliamentary sessions.

While Machali admits that voters usually come and ‘beg’ the MPs for money, he does not take it as justification for the sitting allowance increment, saying that little amounts of Sh 5,000 or say Sh 10,000 do not solve an individual’s need anyway.

If the increment plan is put underway, it is estimated that the government will spend almost Sh28 billion for the MPs’ sitting allowance alone.

Thus, at a time when the government complains of budget constraints which has led to slashing Project funding in certain areas, Machali suggests that the money should have been used to cover the slashed project funding.

“Why shouldn’t this money be used say to improve our infrastructure, or pay the teachers’ debt? We have problems with power; this money would certainly be useful to handling such critical issues,” Machali emphasised.

In comparing living expenses of Dodoma region with others like Arusha, Machali says still Dodoma’s is not as high as the rest. “Arusha is very expensive that some good hotels range between Sh100,000 and Sh 300,000. But in Dodoma there are good hotels that one can pay as much as Sh 60,000 per night,” he affirmed.

He insists that there is no point for Tanzanian MPs to compare their payments with other countries, and instead they should reason according to the country’s financial status. “If our ability is only for rice and beans, let’s just learn to happily accept that fact,” the MP added.

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