As usual, the story of a proposed sharp rise of our legislators’ sitting allowance was first disclosed by our news sniffing reporters.
And, as is always the case, reaction of officials expected to have this information and disclose it to the public was to pretend they did not know much about the issue. But the ‘hear no evil, see no evil and talk not about the evil’ principle helps little in such situations.
It is now confirmed that a decision to raise the sitting allowance for our compatriots who claim to be men and women “of the people” has been made although we witnessed some conflicting statements from officials in the same office before admission of the fact was made. A few outspoken opposition MPs are already commenting on it publicly.
We know of several ruling party legislators who are equally embarrassed by this development, but can’t oppose it publicly, apparently for the sake of observing party solidarity.
Indeed, an MP whose conscience is still working is likely to be embarrassed by this proposal for two obvious reasons. First, the malpractice of giving a sitting allowance to a public officer receiving a monthly salary topped up by a per diem allowance to cater for his/her upkeep while out of his/her duty station remains controversial and is considered as sheer waste of public money. The act of increasing this kind of allowance amounts to adding insult to injury!
Then there is the timing of this generous proposed award. It has come at a time when inflation, standing at a record of above 18 percent, is rearing its ugly head.
The country continues to experience power shortage and several other man-made problems, and millions of Tanzanians are not assured of their next meal.
Yes, our MPs are proposing to feather their already comfortable nests when thousands of workers can’t make ends meet and the army of unemployed youths is growing.
The tendency and folly of most of our legislators to rollick or seek comfort when Rome, nay Dar, is literally burning, has implications which those who have eyes that can’t see and ears that can’t hear fail to comprehend and do the necessary - that is give us a miracle of declining to take their juicy new year gift and win public respectability and confidence. A tricky and difficult decision this one; which can be a big challenge to our “men and women of the people!”
One of the implications is that what is envisaged is likely to trigger anger among other sections of society, especially in the workforce where labour sellers feel shortchanged by earning peanuts, whose purchasing power has been eroded by the free falling value of the Shilling, as weighed against international currencies used for external trading purposes.
Teachers, through their national organisation, have already linked their plight to the proposed MPs’ sitting allowance rise, arguing that a government willing to dish a sitting allowance to its over 300MPs and other senior officials is in position to raise funds and settle the arrears they claim as well as meet their other financial rights.
They are threatening to call a national strike. The umbrella organisation of workers has also picked the cue and declared its support to the teachers. This means other workers may also board the strike bandwagon, if the legislators happen to get a shot in the arm at this critical moment.
This development also creates an impression that there is no political will to push the government to devise and implement genuine austerity measure and ensure the nation, which depends on financial handouts, lives within its means.
Obviously, insensitivity to reality will lead to economic ruin. We may also note that the big brothers, read donors, may be tempted to flex their financial muscle in protest against our penchant for wasting the little resources available.
Many questions remain unanswered. Are our MPs in politics to serve the people or to make money? Will politicians of this calibre give us a new constitution, expected to address inequality issues in the land? The sooner our legislators read signs of the times and move cautiously, the better for them and the rest of us.
Henry Muhanika is a Media Consultant