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Is Tanzania serious about EALA?

22nd April 2012
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Deputy Minister for Works Dr Harrison Mwakyembe

To a large extent the election of Tanzania’s nine representatives in the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) on Tuesday lived up to what had been hinted by this column last Sunday.

In a piece headed ‘EALA is a job market for friends,’ the column spoke of whispers to the effect that the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) had in the past used the regional institution as a job market for friends who had failed in national elections.

And going by the profile of those who have already been elected to serve in EALA, it is a fact that at least three had failed in past general elections.

This ties in with allegations that the ruling party has been using EALA not in the interest of the nation but rather as a conduit for providing jobs for friends.

It is unfortunate that despite being warned by a former EALA legislator, Deputy Minister for Works Dr Harrison Mwakyembe, on the dire need to get the right crop of representatives in the regional legislative body, the majority of CCM MPs still went ahead and picked some of their cronies who had failed in past elections.

Dr Mwakyembe accused some former Tanzanian representatives in EALA of hiding under the table during debate on account of poor communication skills in English.

He appealed to his colleagues to be very careful this time around and elect those who were not only well versed both in regional and international issues, but had good communication skills in English as well.

However, there is a need to make special mention of three elected candidates, Abdallah Mwinyi from Zanzibar, Makongoro Nyerere (both from CCM) and Ms Nderakindo Kessy Pepetua from the opposition NCCR-Mageuzi. The performance of the three would-be EALA members during their interviews was excellent.

For some of the victors, it was clear that they had crammed what they spewed out at the podium, and evidence of that came thick and fast when they were subjected to questions. They failed miserably to answer simple, routine questions on account of being disoriented.

Before the election, rumours swept Dodoma about how some of the candidates spent millions on corrupt activities, but as is usual in Bongoland, there were no arrests.

According to the whispers, some people were alleged to have shelled out as much as Sh1m in a bid to facilitate their election to EALA.

However, the fact that no arrests were ever made, either by the police or the Prevention and Combating of Corruption Bureau (PCCB), the whispers remain what they are - just rumours.

The five-minute duration, three for personal introduction and two for answering questions, allotted to each candidate once again exposed Tanzanians’ lack of communication skills in English. Most of the candidates literally struggled in an effort to make sense of what had motivated them to seek candidature to EALA in the first place. Perhaps what was more unfortunate was the fact that most candidates, including some of the MPs who asked the questions, exhibited very little knowledge about the regional body.

For instance, not a single candidate, including members of the Union parliament, could articulate, even briefly, what had led to the collapse of the original East African Community.

While both the parties raised the monetary union issue, touching fleetingly on problems currently afflicting the European Union, most of them forgot that at some stage the original EAC had a common currency. It is incredible that while both parties spoke of the need to keep and maintain institutional memory, they were all oblivious of the erstwhile existence of the common currency in the region and appeared equally ignorant of what had led to the collapse of the EAC common currency.

In short, they did not need to look at the monetary problem presently bedeviling the EU, but rather in their own backyard where once upon a time one currency held sway in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania

Many candidates used the stage in the august House to parade their academic qualifications (which has become vogue in this country). Unfortunately, however, the academic certificates they claimed to possess were not reflected in their communication skills.

While most of the candidates were arguably highly qualified academically, their weakness in English communication skills could be attributed to a lack of a reading culture in this country.

At the end of the day, Tanzanians, through the Union parliament, elected some candidates who have in the past held very high profile posts in which they had failed to deliver.

The question is: if such people failed to deliver in the past in more challenging posts, what drove the MPs to elect such people? Can they succeed at EALA where more intricate issues and challenges abound?

What is very interesting about EALA, and by extension the EAC, is that while outwardly the Tanzanian government projects the image of being serious about the regional body, it does not view the rights of Tanzanians who had worked in the collapsed regional body in the same vein.

To date it has failed to pay their rightful terminal benefits after bungling their first payment over ten years ago when the Ministry of Finance ended up paying people who had not legally served in the regional body.

What is so unfortunate about the terminal benefits of the former EAC employees is that during their working tenure, they were deducted from their salaries as part of their pension scheme and the money was kept in trust by Britain’s Crown Agency.

Whispers have it that when Uganda’s dictator General Idi Amin captured the Kagera Salient in October 1978, the government used the money from Crown Agency in its war effort.

There was nothing wrong with using the money for the war cause. But having used it, it is only fair and right that the government of the day should have paid the former EAC employees their rightful terminal benefits.

However, when the government finally decided to pay them, the third phase government of President Benjamin Mkapa first decided to flout all the rules. While the number entitled for payment stood at 15,000, Mkapa’s administration came up with 31,000 employees.

Initially the government promised to pay Sh450bn, but eventually ended up paying only Sh117bn without explaining what had become of the Sh333bn balance. Although the 16,000 extra employees paid by the government had worked for the EAC, they were however not under permanent and pensionable terms. Therefore, they were not entitled to such payment.

Meanwhile, according to the whispers, the government has been using every trick in the book to derail the case lodged in court by the former employees of the defunct regional body. Indeed, how does one explain a court ruling passed by a panel of five judges being thrown out by a single judge?

According to the latest rumours, many Tanzanian lawyers are alleged to be agitating for the establishment of a strong East African Court of Appeal. The lawyers argue that the establishment of such a court will greatly help in curtailing the Tanzanian government’s machinations in cases ranged against it, which abound.

Since the majority of judges in the court will come from the other four countries of Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi, it will not be easy for the Tanzanian government to bring its pressure to bear on the court.

SOURCE: GUARDIAN ON SUNDAY
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