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Badilisha Lugha KISWAHILI

Cabinet quake first corrective step

28th April 2012

It is as yet too early to skim the breadth of political benefits that President Jakaya Kikwete and the ruling party are likely to obtain, on account of a less vaunted ‘skin shedding’ exercise, that of a number of cabinet ministers, close to a quarter of the list.

It is even possible sections of the media will remember it as ‘the Friday night massacre’ for it is evident that in history Friday night is best for massacres, whether it was editorial shuffles during the first phase administration, or now, ministers. One thing is that the shake up took a little long to come about, and in the end it is unclear how it is harnessed.

Were it that all what is needed is a political gesture that the president is awake and listening – for everything to return to normal in terms of active regime support that also shores up the prestige of CCM as a party to be relied upon for solutions and hope – the gesture would be enough.

But the trouble is that this is a major step about one third of the problem, namely accountability, while there is still a problem of workable administrative systems and especially controlling expenditures. Here it is hard to say what Parliament is even demanding in that direction, as a plethora of demands is heard, not a clear solution.

In that case it can be contended that the shake up has the hallmark of becoming a lost chance of opportunity for reform, a situation where people awake to new expectation, and glad about the change, could have taken up new challenges.

But since the government – by which meant chiefly the president and perhaps the party central committee – are happy with the state of affairs and are at best worried about drifting popularity, it will be easier for them to bask in the sunshine of public support for that measure. Bureaucrats as usual will feel the water, find out the limits of change, thus reasonably adapting to the situation.

Were it that the change at the level of cabinet composition is followed up with at least a review of procedure so that the Budget is at least spent as planned, and even improved in his money is allocated, change could go a little further.

But ideas given in that direction have hardly gone beyond seeking prosecution powers for the Controller and Auditor General, and at some point the parliamentary committee for local government finances also wanted to have powers of prosecution.

All this risked degenerating into chaos, as hauling government officials to court can’t be done randomly, requiring the law to stay.

The principal problem here is that the three stages need to be taken together so as to really solve the problem at the foundation, while even making the first step is exhaustive to the top levels of state, and can hardly go any further.

Changing a few compromised ministers is one thing, altering procedures to ensure supervision of government finances is another, but the key is finally bringing up policies that enhance productivity at all levels. This way, public officials will live on their salaries and inspectors can do their job.

Basically that is what the parliamentary outcry is all about, but it is immersed in a camera obscura, a dark chamber of comprehending graft and misallocation of public funds as just an ethical problem.

Dr Karl Marx wrote in ‘Critique of the Gotha Programme’ in 1875 that ‘right can never be higher than the economic foundation on which it is based,’ in
which case ‘marginal productivity of salaries’ has to change if ethics, probity are to be fostered.

A basic change in the purchasing power of what government officials are paid can’t be willed by the state but is a result of the policies that the country has chosen to implement.

It is difficult to imagine how at some point in future – one could say ‘I have a dream’ like Dr Martin Luther King – MPs and political parties shall grasp the truism that probity in the government is linked with purchasing power of salaries, and that is tied to policies.

They have no idea that the policies that are now followed by the government, in Tanzania as in most or virtually all African states propel a minimal productivity of labor, and a marginal ability to purchase goods and services with salaries. In that case frenetic action ensues to decide who shall be allocated service delivery for exorbitant pecuniary reward.

Ministries spend ten times on ‘other charges’ than they spend on salaries, the reason being the low marginal productivity of salaries, related to the social imperative of living as senior executives in the government.

Precisely how this need for a particular level of endowment socially is expressed relates to the wider socioeconomic reality, especially the presence of quasi-state organizations of an economic character, specialized authorities and agencies of various sorts.

Their artificial endowments at the salary level act as a cost push as others rush to equalize benefits or image in social terms, fostering misallocations.

At the same time there is a prevalent quasi-feudal hierarchy arising from the culture of allowances, as usually such income is badly spent, on luxuries. When people obtain means of transport by using salaries and entering personal loans, chances that top level government officials will all go for cars worth 100m/- and above are absolutely limited, not to say negligible.

But when this endowment comes at an absolute discount at the expense of public coffers, no personal loss criteria is exercised against that choice, and instead a different kind of hierarchy takes precedence, of ‘who has’ this or that vehicle.

That is why rectification efforts arising from a parliamentary uproar are unlikely make any real gains in terms of compliance with procedures, though admittedly this may help to contain a few excesses.

Worse, in many cases even those who tendered resignation letters or were expected to do so aren’t convinced of their own wrong doing, and history testifies to the fact that resignation is often needed so as to calm the public psyche. If that is the case for the majority of those tendering resignations, it means that the event doesn’t even ignite change of ministry habits but is seen as accidental; everything remains as it is.

Transportation minister Eng. Omari Nundu battled accusations against him all the way, and in many cases resignation is seen as political convenience, to calm public feelings.

That means efficiency of the payments system, project implementation etc will remain the same, on account chiefly of prerogatives of a legal character that the state maintains. It denies the state plenty in terms of capital inflows for infrastructure, while igniting graft.

In the final analysis there is no likely use of this contention of probity at top ministerial levels to also examine the sort of procedures and implementation results that either force an impression of graft, or indeed cultivate graft as such, despite denials.

The point is that in economic terms bribes arise from wide options on the part of executives or any official which can be exercised discretionally without any consequence on the part of a decision maker. When capital (investment, purchaser, procurement agent, etc) seeks things to go in a particular way, perhaps a little indulgent on his part, and an executive official can bring about such a result without harm to his own office, pecuniary consideration helps.

So long as policy insists on a myriad of state prerogatives on each and everything, it will not be possible to resolve problems of graft that are encountered all the way, for it is this graft that actually motivates those who hold those offices.

The reason executives refuse economic reform is that it reduces prerogatives for public officials in a way that is almost always detrimental to the public interest and in favor of personal interest, as when foreign researchers say investors are ‘sold’ land at 2.5m/- per acre, which is peanuts to say the least.

The price of land might be marginal but someone pays to be sold the land, as an expression of privilege since several investors could be looking for it and one is picked.

When it comes to complaints as to how the railways for instance is administered and what the government should do to improve it, and always the answer is that a Chinese company has shown ‘interest’ in the project, MPs are satisfied with the response.

The reason is that MPs like the government operate from the bottom-line of not privatizing the railway system, and at most contemplated, and invited an Indian firm, to invest in the business itself (transporting goods, purchasing equipment, paying the staff) but without being allowed to take over the property.

Refusing to convert public goods into properties that can be traded, thus provide the condition for appropriate capitalization, is a problem.

MPs and other experts often make references to how countries like Singapore, Malaysia, Dubai (Emirates), Thailand, Korea and others have made great gains in economic growth in the past 50 or 60 years since becoming independent.

But they always go back to the same solutions, in like manner as Peter Serukamba (Kigoma Urban-CCM) underlined in
relation to constructing two extra ship anchoring facilities at the port of Dar es Salaam, urging that ‘the loan be signed quickly’ so that the work can proceed.

We also heard that Tanesco was waiting for a 480bn/- loan guarantee to be ‘expedited’ by the government (that is, the Treasury), while alert comes up of an astronomical level of the public debt.

The core of the issue was well presented by Mwalimu Nyerere in his Arusha Declaration background speech in 1967, seeing a rising instability on that account and that is why he brought about the Declaration.

It was to create an economic basis or environment for the proper exercise of party supremacy, so that parliamentary anger for unmet expectations – in liaison with major foreign companies – does not destabilize the government.

He said “when an MP stands up to demand something for his constituency, he believes that the money is there but the problem is the minister, or the government.” This is still the way Parliament thinks despite 50 years of global economic change, on account of a negative nationalism which can’t think of private property, or converting state assets into property.

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