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When ministers were put `under house arrest` as nation waited with baited breath

5th May 2012
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Prime Minister, Mizengo Pinda

The tide swept the country for about a fortnight.  And the entire nation was caught in a quake of suspense.  It was gradually going all through without knowing how it would end, and to make things worse no one stood up to call it off.

It started from the august house in Dodoma, where some cabinet ministers came under the stinging attack of fellow parliamentarians.  The ministers were apportioned blame after blame, all boiling down to the embezzlement of public funds, but some accusing them of stashing the funds into their personal wallets.

  What started as a mere parliamentary debate finally turned into a political nightmare, haunting the ruling party and the entire government. The President was put under intense pressure to reshuffle the cabinet or else his Prime Minister, Mizengo Pinda, would be a sacrificial lamb in Parliament.

 As President Kikwete weathered the political storm, his ministers were also in week-long tension, waiting for the head of state to decide their fate. As one analyst described the situation, ‘it was like the ministers were under house arrest for one week’, counting the days, and finally hours, before knowing their political fate.

  Announcing his cabinet on Friday, President Kikwete made it clear that some ministers had just taken political responsibilities for misdeeds they never committed or for crimes that were committed on their watch.

 One of them, William Ngeleja, former minister for Energy and Minerals, took political responsibility after the country was plunged into total darkness last year due to prolonged drought and lack of  a clear national policy to invest in energy.

 He survived twice early last year, but his critics never stopped accusing him of failure to manage the crisis, though he defended his performance, saying, he used all it took to curb power rationing after Parliament passed the $1 billion power rescue package in August, 2011.

 Perhaps Ngeleja was the only minister who survived for five years in a troubled ministry, which a few years ago caused political storm that saw then Prime Minister and other two senior cabinet ministers lose their jobs in February 2008.

  Omar Nundu, an aviation expert and former Minister for Transport, strongly defended his record, saying he was wrongly implicated by the Parliamentary committee responsible for transport affairs.

 However, Nundu’s defence was helpless because his accusers had already built a strong case against him, though with questionable evidence, especially after he narrated his side of the story one day after news broke out that eight cabinet ministers had been forced to resign by the ruling party’s parliamentary caucus.

  Then there was Ezekiel Maige,  former Minister for Tourism and Natural Resources, who was crucified by his neighbour,  Kahama legislator James Lembeli. In his damning report tabled in Parliament two weeks ago, Lembeli accused his counterpart of corruption, saying he had failed to manage the ministry in the best interests of the country.

 When the public was still pondering Maige’s unenviable situation, another scandal emerged, with the very same Lembeli accusing him of buying a posh home at a staggering amount of $700,000. However, Maige said he bought the house at the cost of $420,000, with a five-year loan from CRDB Bank.

 But judgment against him had already been passed and therefore his defense was helpless. To put things into perspective, Maige’s downfall was caused by, among other things, accumulation of wealth within a very short period, his move to touch the untouchable in the ministry and the politics of witch-hunting originating from his Sukumaland in Shinyanga region.

  Then there is the country’s former controller of the country’s exchequer, Mustafa Mkulo, a man who managed the treasury for over five years but failed to come up with a strong fiscal management policy, as well as austerity measures during the economic crisis. In his heyday Mkulo failed to manage the Sh1.7 trillion stimulus package issued in 2009 to cushion the country against the global economic crisis.

  One year after the hefty stimulus package was issued, it turned out that the cotton sector alone cost the country about Sh48 billion, paid to dubious dealers who had never purchased a single kilo of cotton, let alone exporting a single bale of ginned cotton to the global market.

 But when Kigoma North MP Zitto Kabwe and other legislators demanded explanation as well as documents justifying how the Sh48 billion was paid to dubious dealers, Mkulo declined to cooperate. Then he was implicated in another dubious deal involving the controversial sale of a business plot in Dar es Salaam.

 Last Sunday his ministry issued a strong clarification, trying to defend him against any wrongdoing during the transactions, but, like his counterparts, the judgment against him had already been passed. 

 Then there is Dr Haji Mponda,  the former Minister for Health, who failed to manage the doctors’ strike, plunging the country into a costly health crisis early this year. At one time the doctors gave President Kikwete a 72-hour ultimatum to sack the minister and his deputy, but the president took it in stride and met the top leaders from the Tanzania Medical Association at State house.

 When Mponda was still pondering his fate at the ministry, the Controller and Auditor General, Ludovick Utouh, issued a damning audit report which detailed how the Medical Stores Department swindled billions of shillings during the leadership of the former minister.

 The CAG report painted a gloomy future for the former Health minister, whom the doctors had declared their number-one enemy during their strike early this year.  Unlike Nundu, Maige and Mkullo, he didn’t go public to defend his ministerial position but opted to remain silent, gauging the political storm.

Then there is Cyril Chami, former Minister for Trade and Industry, who was strongly attacked by the legislators following allegations that Tanzania Bureau of Standards opened ghost offices abroad to inspect used vehicles before being imported into Tanzania.

  Despite being advised by his deputy, Lazaro Nyalandu, who survived the reshuffle, to suspend the embattled TBS Director General Charles Ekerege, the minister failed to act on time.

  But, whether measured by the impacts it caused or the total number of ministers it cost during the past one week since Parliament ended its session in Dodoma last week, the ministers were ‘under house arrest’ as the nation waited with baited breath what the head of state would decide.
 
 This had reached the stage of asking the prime minister to step down through the collection of signatures of the legislators.  Youthful Kigoma North legislator Kabwe Zitto was the first to appeal for an endorsement to sacrifice Premier Mizengo Pinda for not taking what he described as the right kind of action against his misbehaving subordinates.

The matter must have coaxed the anger of President Jakaya Kikwete, who also must have had fight with his nerves on the next line of action.  The president, considering this was the first time in the history of his office for matters to go to such proportion, mulled over this and decided to take a step many people would not believe he would.  Fully armed  with tricks and surprises,  President Kikwete sought the blessing of his party’s central committee, which gave him the greenlight to do away with the ministers accused of evil.

Accusations apart, not all of them are guilty, or do we need proof for that?  Hear this: Proof enough that some of them must remain innocent, although they will die poor.

A delegation of businessmen or their associates had once approached one of the ministers.  With them was a briefcase full of dollars, said to be in the region of one million.  What they had wanted from him was only his signature so they could proceed doing something.

The said minister, still in prime age, was disgusted.  He looked straight at their faces, fixed a hard smile and showed them the door.  He was not interested in the bribe they were ready to put on offer, and because he felt slightly belittled and tortured for his patriotism, the minister actually ordered the security guards at his ministry to slam the door behind the delegation.

But they left with a pang of warning to the minister.  He would remain poor for his entire life, threatening him at the same time that their mission would be accomplished, even without his help.

“I only wish I had the guts to accept that offer by that delegation, because after all this disgrace of being stripped of my ministerial portfolio, I will have no friends to accept me as my name is tarnished.  But, most distracting, I will remain poor because I could not steal from my employers,” said sadly the minister, who was  dropped from the cabinet yesterday. 

The warning sounded by that irate team of thugs, said to have come from one of the Asian countries, had come true.  They had the power to destroy a dedicated patriot.

Consider a scenario where ministers are almost put under house arrest following an order not to allow them to move outside Dar es Salaam.  Also when they are not allowed to use their official vehicles any longer pending announcement of the new cabinet.

What had gripped the nation for about two weeks regarding the anticipated cabinet reshuffle or its complete dissolution came to an end late yesterday as the head of state, in a solemn mood, unveiled the new cabinet.

Well, that’s life!

SOURCE: THE GUARDIAN
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