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Vetted by The System, but, still corrupt, incompetent and arrogant in public office

7th October 2012
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It is on rare occasions indeed that I have any contact with government Ministers, Permanent Secretaries, who I still call Principal Secretaries, or Directors of Departments in Ministries.

I take pride in knowing all the names of the judges of the Court of Appeal in order of their seniority, all the names of the judges of the various divisions of the High Court in Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar, but ask me the name of the Minister of Higher Education, and his Permanent Secretary, if such a ministry does exist, and I draw a blank.

If my memory serves me right, I believe in the past 10 years I have had professional dealings with three Permanent Secretaries. It is not often that our paths cross and theirs is a world that is alien to mine. Two weeks ago though, I got an insightful glimpse into this world of the professional bureaucrat when my path collided headlong with that of a Permanent Secretary. The casualty of this collision was the hope I held that Tanzania could evolve into a society subject to the rule of law.

I watched the PS flounce into the room with an air of confidence, followed approximately 2 metres behind by a person whose head was slightly bowed towards the floor, subserviently carrying her briefcase, and I was entranced by the obligatory wig or weave, which was perched precariously atop her head.

As she started to chatter, so the wig took on a miraculous life of its own and the more mesmerized I became. After a prolonged oration during which I was informed that there is some faceless body called “The System” in Tanzania, whose very name appears to send a tremor of fear amongst those who want a job in public service, and that Permanent Secretaries do not act unless moved, we finally arrived at the crux of the matter, when the PS was kind enough to let us all into her world by informing everyone in the room that “When conducting our duties, we in government are not strictly bound by the law”.

It was then that I reached a deep understanding of the business of governance in Tanzania. Apparently there is an organisation that is referred to in quiet whispers as “The System”, whose job it is to vet all persons who wish to enter public service.

When I asked the PS whether “The System” was in fact the Tanzania Intelligence Service, the question was evaded and the chatter proceeded with some haste onto another subject matter. So it would appear that all those who wish to go into public service are examined by something called “The System”. The criteria for vetting is as elusive as the members of “The System”, but somehow vetting by “The System” is accepted and even boasted about by those in power.

In a country with two systems of vetting aspirants to public service, the first apparently reliant on qualifications and the second reliant on the intrigues of “The System”, it is surprising that public service is so rife with corruption and incompetence.

Clearly “The System” when vetting a candidate for a position in public service is either not interested in their ethical and moral standing, or it is so terrible at vetting that it can’t tell the good from the bad, a little like the American Intelligence Service and their conclusion that Saddam Hussein was harbouring weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, or the third possibility is that it is effective but its recommendations are entirely ignored. Whatever the case, “The System” has failed.

So Tanzania is on the whole being run by people who have been “vetted”, whatever that may mean, by “The System”, which do not act unless moved and who believe that when conducting their duties, they are not strictly bound by the law. A malignant combination if there’s ever was one.

How then do you explain the concept of good governance to these people? No doubt the donors will try instilling these concepts into their psyche by throwing lots of money in the form of seminars, retreats and per diems, which money will be accepted without complaint. In return, all those phrases, which were bandied about by the experts paid for by donor funds, will be openly repeated in parrot like fashion to the donors’ delight and mistaken belief that they succeeded to instil the concept of good governance. It would seem that people vetted by “The System” are not so easily broken, for one need only take a quick glance at the crust of our society to see the worrisome lack of good governance.

When I am stuck in the dreaded Dar es Salaam traffic wishing I were home with my family, I frequently encounter large Land Cruiser VXs with persons of exaggerated importance spread out on the front passenger seats and number plates beginning with the letters “STK”, “STJ”, “W” or “J” driving recklessly on the right hand side of the road, to avoid waiting like everybody else in traffic, insensible of the fact that they are hurtling dangerously towards oncoming cars. The message that is sent by people like these is that they are not bound by the Road Traffic Act. This rather mundane example of self-serving importance is a microcosm of our society.

The “big and important” boys and girls in our society truly believe in their own mantra that they are the chosen few who are not strictly bound by the law.

Thankfully, every year as the rainy season draws to a close and the Menace Brigade take their VXs and depart en masse for Dodoma to lobby and seek Parliament’s approval for their haphazardly prepared budgets, the roads in Dar es Salaam become sane and we get temporary respite.

Write a letter to the Queen of England and you will receive a response signed by one of her well-bred ladies in waiting. Try writing a letter to any government department in Tanzania including the Judiciary, and count yourself lucky if it is read, let alone responded to.

I have seen letters written by one government department to another, which have been ignored. How then does public administration proceed in a system in which written communication counts for so little? I assumed wrongly that when the PS said Permanent Secretaries do not act unless they are moved, she meant this figuratively, and that the letter of the law and correspondence rather than a crane would suffice.

I am left wondering how a society that was forged out of the fight for independence from Colonial Rule, the “Arusha Declaration”, and Nyerere’s “Ujamaa” interpretation of Socialism, has regressed into one in which bureaucrats and politicians have entered into an unholy and insufferable alliance creating a bizarre ruling class, which perceives itself as being above the law and answerable to no-one?

This, despite the fact that we are fortunate to live in a world where there are examples of societies founded on the absolute power and impunity of the monarch and the right of the aristocracy to rule over the common man evolving into societies in which the law is paramount. How was a revolution founded on equality so badly corrupted?

I suppose the answer to that question lies in the blanket of impunity within which are comfortably wrapped those lucky enough to have been successfully vetted by “The System” and not strictly bound by the law.

A few years ago, I was recounting to a judge and some lawyers the tale of Sir Allan Green, Director of Public Prosecution who was arrested and cautioned for kerb crawling in the London red light district of King’s Cross.

When I reached this part of the tale, a member of my attentive audience could not help but interrupt and provide a Tanzanian conclusion to an English tale by stating, “The arresting officer must have got into a lot of trouble when it was discovered that he had arrested the Director of Public Prosecution”.

Taken aback, I took a deep breath and explained as patiently as I could to my well-meaning learned friend that it was Sir Allan Green who was in a whole heap of trouble. He resigned in humiliation, for in England the DPP is subject to the law and kerb crawling is a criminal offence.

The matter did not end there, for everyone in the room came to Sir Allan Green’s defence, after all he was the DPP and by arresting him the policeman showed such lack of respect. Had he known better, Sir Allen Green would have packed his bags and moved to Tanzania where he could have sought refuge in the impunity we gift public servants.

As with the pigs in George Orwell’s “Animal Farm”, bureaucrats and politicians in Tanzania have convinced themselves, a lie so often repeated that the majority of Tanzanians have also come to believe it, that “All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others”. Self-serving greed, pomposity and indifference have entered the “Ujamaa” utopia with unabashed arrogance and unfortunately the ignorance of the misinformed masses has allowed a class of the more equal to flourish with complete impunity.

Ms. Karume was called to the Bar in the Middle Temple and is an advocate of the High Courts of Tanzania and Zanzibar. She is presently Litigation Partner with IMMMA Advocates in Dar es Salaam. Email: Karume@immma.co.tz

SOURCE: GUARDIAN ON SUNDAY
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