Once upon a time, it was as good as generally presumed that state-owned property really belonged to no particular institution or individual and it was therefore perfectly in order to treat it as such – including misusing, damaging or wasting it.
It mattered little whether among such property were multi-billion-shilling building complexes, fleets of aircraft or plush vehicles, institutions of learning, newly constructed highways, plantations, or fuel depots.
Metaphorically speaking, ‘mali ya umma’, as such property was commonly referred to as in Kiswahili, was a park teeming with all manner of wild animals where anyone and everyone with a razor-sharp machete and teeth that bite could march into any time of day or night, make a kill and stroll back home with impunity.
Those who watched developments in Tanzania long and keenly enough those days will still have fresh memories of how some people in positions of leadership remorselessly transformed public corporations into virtual personal, family or clan property, as the men and women under their commanded applauded their “shrewdness, daring and foresight”.
It was only after those state-owned agencies began to crumble under the weight of that very “shrewdness, daring and foresight”, leading a series of bankruptcy declarations, pervasive layoffs and liquidations, that common-cadre workers in their hundreds of thousands gradually discovered that they had had it all wrong and all were sinking into joblessness and poverty.
The loot the “shrewd” heavyweights accumulated for themselves were later to be transformed into some of the spellbinding mansions and other enthralling “investments” to be found in the wealthiest of locations across the country. Meanwhile, many of those who applauded as the plunder ran on have since succumbed to abject poverty and disease – too much of destitute even to afford themselves a square meal a day or suitable medical attention when the need arises.
Serious observers with Tanzania’s interests at heart know whether we have gone past that appalling state, and if so to what degree. And they know that this is hardly subject to debate in that the mismanagement and plunder of public property in the country is far from tamed and that, if anything, it may become more subtle but is wreaking even greater havoc than previously obtained.
Periodic revelations by the Controller and Auditor General, media reports and findings by civil society organisations, lawmakers and a wide range of scholars have shown precisely as much on countless occasions.
But there are pieces of evidence so conspicuous that one does not have to dig very deep to come across them – such as the mess in some of the few public corporations still around, of course often thanks to endless financial and other support from the government, the country’s development partners.
It is the height of irresponsibility and insensitivity when some employees of corporations essentially on life support sabotage the very property and operations they are paid to safeguard.
And, if it is not sabotage when the relevant authorities act too late on credible reports of foul play or criminal activity in a public agency, what is it?
We have tolerated, even acquiesced in, plunder of public resources for much longer than we should have. We must say ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!