Talk about our newly rich compatriots who are reported to have kept billions of shillings in foreign banks is in the air, and is likely to keep heads rolling for as long as the riddle surrounding the identity of the characters involved remains unsolved.
Reasons why members of the public have interest in this development are obvious. One, for most of the post- independence period the country did not have a reputation of having leaders and other members of the elite with millions or billions of shillings kept abroad. In fact, we used to be surprised by reports of leaders in other countries who had developed a habit of banking their cash abroad.
Secondly, members of the public are curious to find out how a few people have acquired the billions to keep in foreign banks, in a situation where the government is surviving on a shoe string budget, and millions of citizens are finding it difficult to economically make ends meet.
You have those wondering why a person who has earned his/ her fortune legally and has national interests at heart, opts for banking his/her “savings” abroad and boost the economies of the already financially strong countries. By the way, the law prohibiting citizens to have accounts abroad has not been repealed, and if changes have been made, the public is yet to be informed.
One may as well note that the theme is being raised at a time when awareness and concern about corruption in the country are preoccupying our minds. Even the ruling party deliberated on this topic seriously at its latest national conference, and apparently resolved to hold the corruption bull by the horns. Whether the commitment to tackle the problem is genuine or not, will be determined by mother time.
The latest twist in the saga started in June this year, when the National Bank of Switzerland issued its annual report, with some information on the amount of money kept in Swiss banks by foreigners.
The country-by- country breakdown reportedly indicated that some well-to- do Tanzanians have a total of about Sh314 billion in their Swiss banks accounts, although some whistle blowers claim the amount is much bigger than the one mentioned above.
The local media, some civic activists and opposition MPs have found the disclosed information too important and sensitive to pass without being digested and raising questions on the implications of this kind of development to the future of the nation.
It is against this background that the issue ended up in parliamentary corridors, and attracted a spirited debate. The government is now required to conduct an investigation and establish who the suspected Tanzanians are, and how they earned their fortune. The parliament needs the report by April 2013.
In short, the government has been given a daunting task of belling the fat cats, who may include past and present top officials in the government and political systems, as well as genuine and crookish tycoons. Is the government of the day committed to undertake such a task seriously? This is another highly debatable question.
One thing which is clear here is the fact that getting names of suspects is not easy, as banks treat such in information with strict confidentiality. Establishing how the billionaires earned their money is much more complicated. Already senior government officials, including the anti-corruption body Chief, are saying whoever has a list of suspects and other detail should come forward and spill the beans. This is not necessarily a bad idea, but it has to be understood that key information on this matter can’t be outsourced from Tanzania.
The position of the Swiss authorities on the issue makes the situation worse. Reports unearthed by reliable local media outlets revealed that the Tanzania government is required to furnish Swiss authorities with details about the controversial bank accounts before it can get any cooperation from the latter. Observers note that this is a polite way of saying no cooperation is expected from the beneficiaries of the stolen billions.
As complications arise, our basic question as to whether local leaders are committed to taking serious measures to bell the fat cats remain unanswered. Investigation on Kagoda Company, which was used to steal billions from the Central Bank is stalled. The radar money was refunded because the British took initiative to assist us.
The list of money theft scandals which have not been well investigated is quite long. I tend to agree with one friend of mine who believes that serious investigation of this scandal can probably take place if donors intervene.
Henry Muhanika is a media consultant. [email protected]