For the last two weeks there has been a fierce debate on allowances given to Members of Parliament, chiefly fuelled by recent revelations by two leading daily newspapers.
The revelations were first denied by the Clerk of the National Assembly but later, in a swift move, confirmed by the Speaker.
Members of Parliament herein referred as MPs are entitled to various allowances in conducting their affairs. According to the National Assembly administration act these are subsistence allowance, travel allowances, constituency allowance and for those holding parliamentary portfolios a responsibility allowance.
Sitting allowance is paid to MPs everyday he or she attends a committee meeting or parliamentary debate. However this allowance is not mentioned in the law. Currently, an MP receives TZS 70,000 ($40) a day as sitting allowance.
Members of Parliament in Tanzania receive a monthly salary as remuneration for the legislative, representative and oversight role they do. Additionally, they are paid for sitting! Sounds ridiculous for sure.
During the 5th session of Parliament which ended in November 2011, MPs lobbied for an increase in allowances claiming that costs of living have skyrocketed. MPs are paid per diem to cover costs of living, but in an interesting move the Parliamentary service commission passed a resolution to increase a sitting allowance to TZS 200,000 ($130) a day.
Sitting allowance doesn’t address the challenge of cost of living. It is subsistence allowance that is pegged to costs of living. I asked one of my colleagues who serves in the Parliamentary Service Commission about this and she said that per diem applies to all civil servants so an increment to it would mean an increment to all civil servants and it must therefore be avoided.
And indeed they did avoid it and went ahead and directed The Clerk to effect new rates. The Clerk was not impressed as the law requires that the President of the United Republic approve the new increment in writing – and hence the divided stand between the Clerk and the Speaker.
When the news reached investigative and news hungry editors, the difference between them was all out and the public outcry was huge.
The President hasn’t approved the new rise so far, with some credible sources saying the Speaker didn’t even attempt to send the requests to the President. The Parliamentary Service Commission met at the weekend and revoked their proposal.
The media have played their role, and the public has won. A senior parliamentary staff told me the other day that the whole matter was a hoax – that MPs pressured the Speaker to increase their allowances and even threatened her that she would be removed from her post.
It is said that the Speaker in turn pressured the Clerk to pay new rates, contrary to existing laws and regulations. The public, through the media, pressured both of them and the President against increasing the sitting allowances rate. So far the public has won.
Is it a temporary victory? Definitely, yes. The highest prize is scrapping the sitting allowances regime altogether. Paying an MP for sitting isn’t justified. The public, NGOs/civil society organisations and the media should campaign towards this to the very end.
The allowances culture is killing our nation as it diverts public funds from public investments to current spending. It is killing our working culture as public office holders keep attending meeting after meeting merely to get sitting allowances instead of working.
Our country is faced with mountains of challenges. It is demanding that we work hard and create an enabling environment for economic activities that create jobs, add value to our produce, increase our exports, produce more food and generate more electricity. Otherwise, no one will call us a nation.
The writer is opposition Chadema MP for Kigoma North. He is also, among other things, Chairman of the parliamentary Parastatal Organisations Accounts Committee, Deputy Leader of the Official Opposition in the House, and shadow Finance minister.