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Badilisha Lugha KISWAHILI

Are suspensions enough to clean up management mess?

9th September 2012

One can say for certain that most executives in public corporations and government agencies must be among Tanzanians who currently experience sleepless nights.

They are in this sort of situation not necessarily due to economic hardships at personal level, but because the ongoing so-called “house cleaning” guillotine is hanging close to their necks.

So far some executives of key public corporations have been suspended or laid off, and several others must be on the chopping list.

We understand suspended ones are being investigated to establish whether they have been involved in embezzlement of public funds through all sorts of corruption deals, have abused their offices in one way or another, or are simply victims of administrative incompetence. To survive the three litmus tests is not all that easy.

The background to the cleanup project is well known. When the CEO of the land axed several Ministers in the unexpected April cabinet reshuffle, in response to the Auditor General’s report which had revealed a mess in the accounts books of several ministries, he categorically stated that company executives and government technocrats behind the muck must also be shown the door.

Since the President’s word in most third world countries is law in itself, the crackdown began immediately and continues. Now debate on the exercise is in the air, and appears interesting to those who follow it keenly.

One of the issues raised is whether suspending and laying off a few company bureaucrats and government technocrats will bring us back on the right track, in terms of managing public affairs and state resources. Since corruption is the monster behind it all, is the ongoing measure likely to be a proverbial magic wand and fix the problem?

As expected, views on this question differ, depending on who is responding to it. Some hail it, arguing that the move will knock sense in the heads of public officials, and remind them that their tenure in office depends on exemplary performance and trust.

There has been a feeling that once one is appointed by the President to the post whose contract is silent on tenure, he/she could thereafter take things easy and manage, or mismanage the office without any worry of losing it. Apparently that era is gone.

Other observers feel that corruption, one of the root causes of mismanagement, is rampant in other state pillars like the judiciary and parliament, as a number of studies and scandals published by the media daily have revealed. This school of thought, looks at a bigger picture, is of the opinion that fixing the problem requires a holistic approach, as opposed to piecemeal initiatives. They say there are management systems to be overhauled and scientific interventions to be pursued.

In fact, some critics feel that some executives are likely to be victimized where the house cleaning exercise is left in the hands of new Ministers, some of whom are busy trying to create history. This claim need not be taken for granted in a situation where bureaucrats and politicians are doing things with the year 2015 in mind.

Another vexing issue, which arises when senior executives in public companies and government prove unsuitable for their jobs, is the effectiveness of the so-called vetting procedure, claimed to be observed before confirming those recommended for such strategic jobs.

To vet a person for a specific job simply means examining his/her past record critically on matters related to qualifications, experience and conduct, to establish whether one is competent and trustworthy enough to manage a given office. Who can blame those who now feel that due to corruption, vetting is probably done as a mere formality?

Boards of Directors also seem to be on trial in the public opinion court, accused of failure to do their fundamental duty of strictly monitoring activities and developments taking place in the institutions they are supposed to oversee.

For example, it is common for media outlets to report on alleged corruption scandals taking place in public companies, only to have such hints casually ignored by Boards of Directors and the criminal investigation police unit. This tempts observers to believe that watchdogs of this kind are either incompetent, or have been compromised and are part of the corruption network.

As we conclude, it may as well be noted that our management related problems are clearly and predominant man made. This means they are surmountable, at least in the long run. Addressing some of them through our envisaged new constitution may be a significant first step.

Henry Muhanika is a Media Consultant ([email protected])

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