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Badilisha Lugha KISWAHILI

Cabinet reshuffle: Guilty as charged or a failed system?

6th May 2012

President Jakaya Kikwete reshuffled his cabinet on Friday, ending the political tension that gripped his party, the government as well as the entire nation.

Though the President showed a brave face during the week-long period when the nation was waiting with baited breath, deep inside his heart and mind he was facing tough choices in his career as head of state.

That’s why when announcing his new cabinet line-up, the President started by saying that not all ministers who were fired were really guilty as charged, in effect absolving them of guilt, adding that some of them took political responsibility for crimes which were in fact committed by their juniors.

He further added that the senior public officials who caused the political downfall of the ministers would be fired immediately, and, if need be, taken to court. Whether or not this will happen will be judged by time, because it’s not the first time the nation has come across such promises.

But as Tanzanians ponder the newly announced cabinet, the question that begs an urgent answer is: Were all the dumped ministers really guilty as charged or they are just the casualty of a political storm that has been brewing within the ruling party for some years, particularly since the resignation of former Premier Edward Lowassa and two senior cabinet ministers in February, 2008.

For instance, what if the MPs from the ruling party hadn’t pressured the government, would there have been any cabinet reshuffle? What if Zitto Kabwe, the Kigoma North legislator, hadn’t tabled a motion of no confidence in the prime minister, would the CCM legislators have reacted the way they did?

In a young democratic nation like ours, a watchdog Parliament is better than lapdog one, because it keeps alive checks and balance against the other two branches of the state, which are the executive and the judiciary. The only problem is that sometimes it’s hard to trust a parliament made up of some members who got power through corruption and all sorts of dirty politics to play the watchdog role, because it can easily be hijacked by greedy politicians who want to drive their agendas, even at the expense of their government or nation.

Today you have a parliament that can accuse, investigate, prosecute and issue a verdict. If this is thought good for the future of the country, I am afraid that one day something terrible might happen which could totally ruin this country. If the National Assembly can accuse, investigate, prosecute and issue a verdict, what will other state organs do? You have the Prevention and Combating of Corruption Bureau, the Police, the Intelligence, the courts and many more, all of which exist according to the law.

For instance, the very same Parliament hailed the Controller and Auditor General’s report that caused the political storm in the cabinet, but conveniently forgot that some six months back it had vehemently rejected an audit report by the very same man, Ludovick Utouh.

The same MPs went beyond rejecting the report, calling for the sacking or resignation of the CAG himself because he was judged unfit to perform his duties. Why did they reject his report? It was because the CAG issued an audit report which didn’t endorse their one-sided verdict against the suspended Energy and Minerals permanent secretary, David Jairo.

Some three years ago, Dr Edward Hosea, the anti-graft body chief, launched an investigation into double payments to the legislators, which is essentially against the law and pure embezzlement, but he came under fierce attacks from the same lawmakers who passed the law which established PCCB in 2006.

Some called for his resignation, saying he was being used by those who benefited from the dubious Richmond deal, while others claimed that it was an attempt by the state to silence parliament after it had proved to be a threat to the current regime.

Coming back to the case of the sacked ministers, some of them might not be guilty as charged but just the victims of a one-sided justice system originating from Dodoma. Take the simple example of Omar Nundu, the former minister for Transport, who turned out to be a victim of political conspiracy after allegedly rejecting a Chinese company in a tender valued at $540million.

Watching Nundu on television narrating his side of the story in the National Assembly two weeks ago, one would wonder whether some of these reports tabled by some of the parliamentary committees were well-prepared or not.

Nundu was a man who tried to question the irregularities that marred the expansion of Dar es Salaam port, but paid a heavy political price because his attackers knew how to play their cards well.

There was this young lawyer, William Ngeleja, the former minister for Energy and Mminerals, whose biggest crime was the worsening power rationing situation which clouded the country early last year. For instance, on August 13, 2011 the National Assembly passed a power rescue plan amounting to Sh1.3 trillion, in which part of the money was to be borrowed from the local banks.

The plan was supposed to rescue the nation from the power blues by the end of December, 2011. Now, what happened?

Tanzania Electric Supply Company followed all the procedures to borrow $400 million from the local banks since December last year, but failed to secure the monies on time because some bureaucrats in the Treasury were dilly-dallying in issuing a government guarantee.

Up to now there’s no loan from the local banks.

But Ngeleja has borne the blame. Think about the National Social Security Fund’s plan to produce 100 megawatts which were to be fed to the national grid by the end of last December, which was part of the power rescue plan endorsed by Parliament in August, 2011, which failed to take off as planned because of poor planning within the Fund.

Today NSSF’s failure to deliver what it promised has cost the minister and might also cost Tanesco’s chief executive officer.

Yes, perhaps this is what President Kikwete termed ‘political responsibilities’. From Parliament to the streets, we turned the electricity crisis into cheap politics, making the public believe that this was the creation of Ngeleja and company.

When Ngeleja and Tanesco proposed that the government purchase the Dowans power generating plants at a cost of $60 million, which we would have ended up paying only $35 million, some MPs strongly rejected the suggestion, saying they were prepared to see the country plunge into total darkness rather than buy the plants.

Zitto Kabwe was the only politician who stood out in the pack to side wide with Ngeleja and Dr Rashid, then Tanesco CEO, as the rest chose to harp on old story of the Richmond saga because, at the end of the day, they were gaining cheap popularity ahead of the 2010 general election.

But when the American firm, Symbion, purchased the very same Dowans plants at a cost of $100million last year, those who barred Tanesco from purchasing the plants were silent as if nothing had happened. Today Symbion is making billions of shillings from Tanesco for supplying it with over 100 megawatts through the emergency power-generation scheme.

When Parliament passed the 2011/12 national budget last year which, among other things, had set aside $800 million as allowances for government officials, it didn’t click into the minds of the legislators that the nation was in a deep power crisis. One month later, they vehemently rejected the ministry of Energy and Minerals’ budget because it didn’t have enough money to end power rationing.

Any serious person would have expected the national budget to give the highest priority to the power crisis, agriculture, education and infrastructure. But that wasn’t the case when the national budget was passed by our legislators. It was apparent that the problem wasn’t the power crisis but a single individual whom many believed had become a billionaire the day he was promoted to full minister in 2008.

Let me hasten to point out that the dropped ministers, including Ngeleja, are far from being angels. They are part of a corrupt system where leadership is pegged on how much you are willing to offer instead of your integrity and skills. They might have committed some serious blunders behind the scenes, but the way the debate on the electricity crisis was handled by some legislators creates more doubts.

If we want the public to believe that we are poor because of nine or five individuals, then we don’t know whether we are even poor or not. The problems we face today didn’t emerge in one day, they were created in decades. Our leaders were warned about a looming electricity crisis in 2009 by then Tanesco chief executive officer, but the warning was either ignored or didn’t sink enough at that particular time.

The current traffic jams we are facing in Dar es Salaam, accompanied by unplanned human settlements, are not a creation of one man, but a result of a failed system.

There can be dozens of reshuffles in this country, but if the system won’t be ‘reshuffled’ or overhauled, Tanzanians will always remain a nation of experiments and a citadel of the politics of witch-hunting.

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