The enigma the arbitrary and therefore erratic setting of bus fares has graduated into is one of the factors that, sadly and embarrassingly, easily characterise life in Tanzania.
The problem has gradually grown from something one could afford to dismiss as a fleeting inconvenience into social and economic chaos promising the citizenry needlessly tough times, and all this within a relatively short period.
Phrased a bit differently, it began very small but it has become very big while threatening to get all the bigger and more dangerous if not appropriately addressed in good time.
Some years back, one or two operators of commuter bus transport services in urban areas would wake up any morning of their choice and “test the waters” by announcing fare hikes – often blaming it all on alleged rises in fuel prices and operational costs generally.
But both the relevant authorities and the commuting public knew better, many simply laughing off the resulting fare increases as the machinations of greedy merchants out to fleece their hapless customers without giving the slightest thought to the consequences.
As noted, the situation has since worsened considerably, and this despite intermittent checks by law-enforcement agents including traffic police and Surface and Marine Transport Regulatory Authority (Sumatra) officials.
There is no consensus among members of the public over why the practice has not only survived the various measures meant to contain it but actually become all the more vicious and sophisticated, many of the people making it live on clearly no longer interested in observing the law.
One explanation is corruption having become so pervasive that people have come to believe that there will often be a way out of danger even if one were caught red-handed charging a hire bus fare than agreed at consultative meetings bringing together all the relevant parties.
The fact that huge armies of unauthorised agents are openly engaged in the dirty game lends credence to this proposition. Question: Can anyone really stand up and declare that we are seeing no end to bus illegal fare hikes because the crime is committed in the dark and people can only guess that it is actually committed?
The things Transport minister Dr Harrison Mwakyembe witnessed during his unannounced dawn inspection tour to Dar es Salaam’s bustling Ubungo upcountry bus terminal on Monday and the developments that followed the visit were so bizarre that the resounding success with which he addressed them will have put to shame prophets of doom preaching that no one can tame illegal bus fare hikes and associated criminal practices.
But however much of an optimist one may be, things will only work as expected if the leadership skills the good minister put to use during Monday’s adventure are replicated and therefore put to useful purpose many times over – and not only in our commercial capital.
Well done, Dr Mwakyembe, and may many more people in our midst emulate you for the better future of our country. Surely, allowing criminal elements to carry the day would be a national disgrace if not disaster.