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Costly Parliament, vast cabinet

20th May 2012
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After ditching luxurious Landcruisers, isn’t time the nation considered a lean government and an affordable Parliament amid the country’s shaky economy?

Whether measured by the total number of legislators or the size of its building, said to be the biggest in eastern and southern Africa, the Tanzanian Parliament is a blotted one, planned more for political expediency rather than economic viability.

And so is the recently reshuffled cabinet.

Today, with the weakest economy in the region, Tanzania has a cabinet three times bigger than Kenya’s, whose economy is stronger and twice as large as ours.

The Tanzanian Parliament boasts 357 members, including Special Seats and nominated legislators, while the Kenyan Parliament has in total just 224 members.

Some argue that Tanzania is more populated than Kenya, but the truth is that the difference in population between the two countries is just 4 million people. Though Tanzania is geographically bigger than Kenya, legislators in reality serve the people and not the size of land, says a senior government official on condition of anonymity.

The Tanzanian Parliament is twice the size of South Africa’s, a country with a gross domestic product (GDP) of $280 billion - fourteen times the size of our economy. In terms of population, South Africa has more people than Tanzania.

The South African National Assembly, the lower house of the former apartheid country’s Parliament, has 350 members elected every five years using party-based proportional representation where half of the members are elected proportionally from 9 provincial lists and the remaining half from national lists so as to maintain proportionality.

Ironically, our National Assembly leads in terms of absenteeism, whereby whenever legislators assemble in Dodoma for business on any given day, half of the House’s chamber is empty.

This has been the situation during the past decade, and it has been worsening when compared to the era of Mwalimu Julius Nyerere’s sizeable Parliament that could easily assemble and ‘fit’ in Karimjee Hall.

Economically, 357 members of Parliament mean a burden to the country, which is already bearing the brunt of a weak economy caused by poor policies as well as the global economic crunch.

The 357 legislators mean free loans to them amounting to Sh32 billion, which the state doles out soon after the election to enable our MPs buy their fancy fuel guzzlers in order to maintain a lifestyle befitting an honourable member of Parliament.

Salaries and allowances for MPs cost about Sh34 billion yearly, which in five years total Sh171 billion. At the end of their five-year term, each MP gets a golden handshake amounting to 40 per cent of their last salaries multiplied by the period served, which amounts to billions of shillings.

According to the details gathered by the Guardian, after every five years the taxpayers cough up about Sh220 billion as salaries, allowances, loans and gratuity for the legislators. This amount is an average of Sh42 billion a year, or ten per cent of the total monthly government revenue collected by the Tanzania Revenues Authority (TRA).

But Parliament is not alone. The cabinet is another institution which is highly blotted simply to accommodate political allies, but at the expense of Tanzanians. The recently reshuffled cabinet has a total of 55 ministers and their deputies.

Financially speaking, this means 55 Toyota Landcruiser VX-V8s for the cabinet at the cost of Sh200 million per each vehicle. According to government reports, to cater just to the ministers’ and their deputies’ transport, taxpayers pay Sh11 billion, being the price of purchasing the luxurious Japanese cars.

This huge cost is besides the monthly operational bills, which The Guardian failed to obtain because the Ministry of Works has no up-to-date data about how much it costs to operate the feet of fancy cars for ministers and their deputies.

However, according to the Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office (Policy, Coordination and Parliamentary Affairs) the government would finally ditch the purchase and use of the expensive fuel guzzlers.

As developed countries eye austerity measures aimed at cutting unnecessary spending, the question that lingers in the minds of Tanzanians is: Does the country need a blotted cabinet or the biggest Parliament in the region?

According to a survey conducted by The Guardian on Sunday, the size issue doesn’t only involve the cabinet and Parliament. It goes down to the regions and districts, where for the past few years the government has been creating more ‘tribal’ strongholds in the name of new regions and districts.

New regions and districts mean new commissioners and the attendant bureaucrats. Economically, this means more money at the expense of the taxpayers.

“One would have expected either a small cabinet or Parliament in a country like ours where every year we create regions and districts. But this is not the case because our leaders think politically, not economically,” a permanent secretary who spoke on condition of anonymity, says.

He adds, “If the idea is to reach more people in terms of administration and development, then regional commissioners and district commissioners are better positioned to play the role.

This being the case then there’s no need for a big cabinet and Parliament.” “But most of these posts are politically created to reward political allies from the ruling party,” the PS further says.

As one analyst put it this week, Tanzania doesn’t need a ministry of public relations or a ministry without portfolio, but today it has both of them.

“Public relations for a government that was elected by the people doesn’t make sense…the PR of any government to its people is how it governs them politically, economically and socially,” a former prime minister says, adding that you need PR during the election because of marketing yourself and your party’s manifesto, but not after the election.

According to the former PM, who declined to be named fearing repercussions from some top party leaders, Tanzania needs not more than twelve ministries, including finance, foreign affairs, home affairs, works and infrastructure, defence, transport, local governments, minerals and energy, natural resources and tourism, health, education, and agriculture.

Livestock, fisheries and water can be accommodated within the twelve ministries, but with strong technocrats backed with credible boards of directors.

A political analyst and a senior University of Dar es Salaam lecturer, Dr Azavery Lwaitama, said the country’s administrative structure should be overhauled to make it cost-effective.

He said there was a pressing need to have a fixed number of ministries and constituencies if the nation is really determined to cut down unnecessary expenditure.

An area that should be reviewed with a view to reducing the size of the current Parliament, according to the don, is the current political system of appointing women to Parliament on Special Seats.

“As a nation, we should come up with a special affirmative action arrangement to ensure that women are also elected as MPs from the constituencies by setting aside a certain number of constituencies where only female candidates from different parties will compete,” he said. Speaking on the number of ministries, Dr Lwaitama said it was absurd to have a whopping 30 ministries, each with a minister, deputy minister, permanent and deputy permanent secretaries and directors.

“In my view, it is quite sufficient to have only a minister in each ministry who will be assisted by directors,” he said, adding that the number of ministries should be clearly stipulated in the constitution to prevent every new president from using his jurisdiction to form new ones which came to his fancy.

He said if Tanzania adopted a three-tier government structure- Tanzania Mainland, Zanzibar and Union governments - things could be much simpler. He said under the structure the Union government would have only six ministries: home affairs, defence, finance, foreign affairs and immigration.

According to the don, some ministries could be merged to form a single ministry. Giving an example, Dr Lwaitama said the ministries of Education and Health could be joined to have a single Ministry of Social Services with one minister who would be assisted by two directors, one for education and the other for health.

SOURCE: GUARDIAN ON SUNDAY
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