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Cosmetic changes?

6th May 2012
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  As a prominent lawyer sees violation of the constitution in cabinet reshuffle
Freeman Mbowe: The administration system of this country is rotten from the lower level to the top most level. It needs to be overhauled
Deo Filikunjombe: I have been informed that some ministers are organising functions to celebrate either their appointment or `bouncing back`. I think they should have been praying to God so that he enables them discharge their responsibilities

With the country struggling with a limping economy, skyrocketing inflation, surging national debt and, possibly, a looming power crisis, some politicians and critics yesterday reacted to the cabinet changes announced on Friday by President Jakaya Kikwete, calling the move ‘a cosmetic change’.

Some warned those appointed that it was too early to celebrate as the task ahead of them was heavier than imagined, what with the national debt having surged to a record high of $12.5 billion (Sh20 trillion), and inflation currently hovering at 24 percent, the highest in the past two decades.

With the country struggling with a limping economy, skyrocketing inflation, surging national debt and, possibly, a looming power crisis, some politicians and critics yesterday reacted to the cabinet changes announced on Friday by President Jakaya Kikwete, calling the move ‘a cosmetic change’.

Some warned those appointed that it was too early to celebrate as the task ahead of them was heavier than imagined, what with the national debt having surged to a record high of $12.5 billion (Sh20 trillion), and inflation currently hovering at 24 per cent, the highest in the past two decades.

The mixed reactions come amid concern that inclusion of the newly appointed legislators into the cabinet might have violated the constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania.

Speaking to the Guardian on Sunday, Prof Mwesiga Baregu said he sees the changes to the cabinet as purely cosmetic.

“The president's cabinet reshuffle is, in the main, cosmetic. This is not to say that cosmetics do not have their usefulness in politics. They do; but as is the case in real life, cosmetics tend to be temporary, delivering short-lived gratification but leaving no lasting effects on the person involved,” he said.

Cosmetics also tend to mask the true image of the subject, creating false confidence and the conditions for addiction of the subject to the treatment. When the mask falls off, which often happens without warning, then disaster strikes,” he added.

He said what the president needed to do was to dissolve his cabinet altogether and give himself the opportunity to reconfigure and reconstruct it anew. He said this would have allowed him to address all the weaknesses that have revealed themselves over the last one and a half years.

The professor said several such weaknesses could be identified as they are more structural and institutional than personality-based, though the latter plays a big role as well.

According to Prof Baregu , one is the problem of size and cost. He said the cabinet, at 30 full ministers and 25 deputies, is simply too big and too costly to run by any standards. He said it is the largest in East Africa.

“The second is the problem of focus; partly due to size the cabinet has been rather unfocussed and incoherent. Being unfocussed also implies lack in priorities,” he pointed out.

He said the third problem is cohesiveness. According to him, an effective and efficient cabinet must not only be coherent and focused but also work as a cohesive team following a common strategy to reach clearly defined collective goals. He said at present there is hardly team-spirit, leave alone a team itself.

“A lean, mean, focused and cohesive cabinet is what we need. Going by these criteria, the present cabinet, as recast by the president, leaves a lot to be desired.” he said.

But Kigoma North MP Kabwe Zuberi Zitto warned the minister about the tough challenges ahead, saying they must hit the ground running, adding that there would be no honeymoon for them.

Speaking to the Guardian On Sunday yesterday morning Zitto, who doubles as Shadow Minister for Finance, said ministers have enormous tasks ahead of them, especially crafting strategies to bring ‘the limping’ economy back on track.

“First, let me be clear regarding this cabinet line-up. There is nothing to celebrate, and as far as I am concerned, I don’t have any congratulatory message to the appointed ministers,” he said.

He added: “There are a lot of critical issues to deal with at this particular moment. That is why I am saying they must hit the ground running”. Elaborating on the main challenges facing the nation Zitto said Tanzania currently shoulders a huge public debt amounting to over Sh 20 trillion, adding that the government currently spends about Sh 1.3 trillion annually to service it.

“ It is true the audit reports of the Controller and Auditor General (CAG) for the 2010/2011 financial year show that the public debt stands at Sh 14.4 trillion, but if you add the amount of guarantees that the government issued to various private and public firms the total amounts to a whopping Sh 20 trillion,” he said.

He said servicing public debt has now become the number-one public expenditure, adding that the amount being spent on servicing the debt is more than what the government spends on health or education or the road sector or power generation projects in the country.

Deo Filikunjombe (Ludewa), a CCM legislator who rose above party politics in the just-ended Parliamentary meeting to name former Finance minister Mustafa Mkulo as one of the dishonest cabinet members, warned that ministers were there to serve the public interest, not their personal agendas.

Filikunjombe was the first CCM legislator to support publicly the motion of no confidence against Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda two weeks ago. He said the cabinet reshuffle made by President Kikwete after spirited debates in Dodoma indicated that the government was now becoming responsive to the cries of the public and the House.

“We want a responsive government, a government that can put its ear to the ground to listen to the public outcry. These ministers are there to serve the public, not otherwise,” he stressed.

He said by making changes to the cabinet it has now been proven that Parliament does not only play the role of a legislative function but also plays the role of a watchdog. Filikunjombe gave a strong warning to the cabinet ministers against celebrating their appointments, saying this was not the right time to do so.

“I have been informed that some ministers are organizing functions to celebrate either their appointment or bouncing back. I think they should have been praying to God so that he enables them to discharge their responsibilities responsibly,” he added.

He said it was illogical for Tanzanians to be poor while the country is endowed with untold riches. The leader of Official Opposition in Parliament, Freeman Mbowe, said the changes to the cabinet will not help bring any positive impact to the country since the major problem lies in the country’s administrative system.

“The administration system of this country is rotten from the lower levels to the top-most level. It needs to be overhauled,” he said. Commenting on the cabinet reshuffle, Mbowe said the changes have been long overdue since the cabinet lost its credibility right from the beginning.

“We told President Kikwete to dissolve the cabinet just a few months after the general elections after ministers began revealing cabinet secrets and differing in public but he wouldn’t listen to us,” he said.

He added: “A cabinet that has lost credibility can hardly address problems facing the public; that is why there is massive embezzlement, outright theft of public funds, rising inflation and a tough life for wananchi,”.

According to Mbowe, changes to the cabinet were like a change to a ‘hair style’. He said as long as the cabinet is under the same prime minister who has proved to be soft and toothless, the public should not expect any positive change.

Constitutional crisis?

But as the politicians and academicians focused on analyzing the new changes in cabinet, a renowned lawyer, Professor Chris Maina Peter, has faulted the appointment of legislators who are yet to take their parliamentary oaths as cabinet ministers.

Professor Maina Peter told The Guardian on Sunday that he saw no problem for appointing ministers who are already MPs since they had taken oaths, because they can be appointed by the President even after dissolving the National Assembly as stipulated in Article 55(5) of the Constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania.

“The controversy rises for the three appointees, one senior cabinet minister and two deputy ministers who have been appointed before taking oaths as legislators. This is because, as per Article 55(4) of the Constitution, ministers are to be appointed from among members of Parliament,” he said.

The ministers at the centre of the constitutional debate is the newly appointed minister for Energy and Minerals, Professor Sospeter Muhongo, and two Deputy Ministers, Janet Mbene and Saada Mkuya Salum, both at the Ministry of Finance.

“Article 68 of the Constitution states clearly that every legislator is required to take the oath before Parliament, so this is an important condition for the legislators to engage themselves in business and avoid contradiction,” noted Professor Maina Peter, a lecturer at the University of Dar es Salaam.

The said Article 68 stipulates: “Every Member of Parliament shall be required to take and subscribe before the National Assembly the oath of allegiance before commencing to take part in the business of the National Assembly save that he may take part in the election of Speaker before taking that oath”.

“Then from that very relevant Article the important question to be asked is whether a Member of Parliament can be in a position to take part in the business of the National Assembly before taking the oath? To me the correct answer is no because the oath is a crucial precondition for all MPs,” he said.

Professor Maina Peter noted that it should be taken into consideration that the business of the National Assembly, which the Members of Parliament, including ministers, are restricted from taking part before taking oath do not limit to responding to questions but override to pre-House session meetings, including those of the Parliamentary Standing Committees.

Asked about the possible interpretation that upon appointment or being elected, a person becomes an MP as the constitution suggests, the don said that such interpretation could be raised based on the point that the constitution is silent on the MPs elected.

“But despite any argument that might be raised based on the English language version, it is clear that legally the Kiswahili language version is paramount in the event of failure to reach a consensus,” he said..

SOURCE: GUARDIAN ON SUNDAY
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