Prof Lipumba: Why I'm worried by Magufuli's presidency

12Feb 2016
Profea Ibrahim Lipumba
The Guardian
Prof Lipumba: Why I'm worried by Magufuli's presidency

Former national chairman of the opposition Civic United Front (CUF), Prof Ibrahim Lipumba, said he has been impressed by President John Magufuli's commitment to fight corruption and supports the austerity measures taken by the government.

Prof Lipumba (l) with President Magufuli (l)

However, Prof Lipumba pointed to worrying signs in the Magufuli presidency, saying there was a deficiency of democracy in some of the ways the government has been going about its business. Following is an excerpt of the interview between The Guardian and Prof Lipumba...

Q. What is your general assessment of the first 100 days in office of President John Magufuli?

A. The first 100 days of President John Magufuli's government started really running, with a lot of things being done. He established hope in terms of making sure that the government is serious about collecting taxes and spends well the money that it collects.

The government has also moved to establish discipline in public office.

The president took some time to establish his cabinet and tended to have a more technocratic government. He also reduced the number of ministries, but increased the number of permanent secretaries. There are now more permanent secretaries than the actual number of cabinet ministers.

This is a bit confusing because the permanent secretary is the chief accounting officer of the ministry, therefore you need to have one top guy to advise the minister.

For example, the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock Development and Fisheries could have had one permanent secretary and three deputy permanent secretaries - this would mean there is one accounting officer in the ministry.

When we now have three permanent secretaries in this one ministry, it can bring a bit of confusion. That was the surprising part. These three previously separate ministries, agriculture, livestock development and fisheries are in a way related and can be coordinated together hence they were reduced to one ministry. So it was important to have one guy to do the coordination.

The other thing is that tremendous effort has been done in revenue collection by the Magufuli government in its first 100 days in office and they collected record revenue in December.

If this trend continues, then the government can reduce its dependency on aid and on borrowing locally and from foreign sources.
Some austerity measures taken by the government, including limiting the cost of celebrations was quite an indicator that he (Magufuli) really wants to reduce government costs.

But I think the president should have done a better job of reaching out to opposition leaders, particularly those in parliament. It is important to build bridges with the opposition to put an indication that he is ready to take good ideas from anyone regardless of their political afiliations.

There has also been an impression of a lack of feeling by the government towards the common man due to the manner in which the exercise to demolish houses built in valleys was handled in Dar es Salaam.

These illegal constructions of houses have been happening over a very long period of time. Even government utilities share blame by connecting these houses built illegally with electricity and water services.

A lot of these people have families, including children, and these children did not have a say on the construction of those houses. When you are dealing with this people who have not followed laws, you have to take into consideration that they have children.

This lack of feeling towards common people has a little bit damaged the public image of the government. There are children there, you just don't go there and pull down these houses.

Q. How would you rate President Magufuli's personal commitment to fight corruption?

A. I had an opportunity of holding talks with the president in the early days of his administration. As an individual, I do not doubt at all his commitment to fight corruption.

But I was surprised by the selection of some of his ministers who were linked to the Tegeta Escrow account scandal that was debated in the previous parliament. IPTL has been a major problem for TANESCO. The government was undermining the efforts of TANESCO to get out of this very terrible IPTL contract.

Q. What are your comments on the austerity measures being taken by the government, which includes restricting foreign travel by government officials?

A. The thrust of the measures is proper. I really appreciate that the government should not have public expenditure that is unnecessary. The problem is that we should not micro manage.

For example, civil servants now have to request permission to travel abroad from the president's office. It becomes micro management and sometimes problematic.

For example, is it right for the Controller and Auditor General (CAG), who is auditing the government, to request permission from the president's office to travel abroad to conduct an audit of public money?

I really support the thrust that we should control foreign travel by public officials, but it should not be in terms of micro management. Permissions for foreign travel for civil servants should be granted at the level of ministers or board of directors of public entities. Permission for foreign travel should not be centralised at the president's office.

Q. In terms of economic policy, what are your comments on the first indications of President Magufuli's government spending outlined in the 2016/17 budget guidelines unveiled recently by the finance minister?

A. What I was expecting was the government to first of all present the five-year development plan. When I listen to the president's inaugural speech in parliament in terms of the government's plans to invest in infrastructure, it feels that the government perhaps wants to start too many projects at once.

First of all there is the central railway line from Dar es Salaam-Kigoma-Tabora-Mwanza. Then we have the Tanga-Musoma, Mtwara-Songea-Mbaba Bay railway lines and some lines to Liganga and Mchuchuma mines.

The government also plans to build the Uvinza-Burundi and Kahama-Kigali railway lines all within the next five years. We have quite a number of railway lines that are going to start within 5 years. One of our problems is that we start many projects without them being completed. We also have major problems in terms of the management of public utilities. The Tanzania-Zambia Railways Authority (TAZARA) for example has not been doing a good job in managing this asset.

Q. President Magufuli has been criticised for failing to address the Zanzibar political stalemate. What can the president do to resolve the crisis?

A. (Former) President Jakaya Kikwete should have resolved this issue before he left the presidency. The facts are clear -- the elections were conducted in Zanzibar and the counting of votes was done at the polling stations.

The aggregation of results was done at the constituency level and the final results were declared, with certificates given to winners of local government and legislative elections.

The Zanzibar electoral commission was only required to confirm the results of the presidential elections after the results were announced from the majority of the constituencies.

Everything went smoothly, even the website of the Zanzibar Electoral Commission (ZEC) said in a statement that things were peaceful. President Kikwete did not do his duty over the Zanzibar crisis. There is no way of escaping this. This is not just a case of elections, it’s about security and stability of our union.

This is an opportunity for President Magufuli to show Zanzibaris he is indeed the president of all Tanzanians. He could have easily informally called the Zanzibar Electoral Commission to establish what actually went wrong. He could have intervened. As commander-in-chief of the armed forces, he has a duty to intervene.

He should not hide behind a legalistic position that he can't intervene because the Zanzibar Electoral Commission is independent. He knows the Zanzibar Electoral Commission is not independent.

President Magufuli is now in charge of the security and political stability of this country.If we continue and have (repeat) elections in Zanzibar on March 20, we are going to have a lot of problems.

This will threaten the peace and stability not only in Zanzibar, but also in mainland Tanzania. If we allow political instability in Zanzibar we are going to be in a lot of trouble.

Q. Some critics have accused President Magufuli's government of trying to muzzle parliament and of displaying some elements of an authoritarian leadership. What is your reaction to this?

A. I was shocked by the use of the police in beating up opposition members of parliament and the way the media was treated because they were not allowed to report the incident.

The use of the police to beat up members of parliament is just not acceptable at all. That was totally uncalled for.The way parliamentary committees have been structured is also questionable.

Some influential members of parliament such as Zitto Kabwe (ACT Wazalendo) and Tundu Lissu (CHADEMA) could not enter into important parliamentary committees such as the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) and the Local Authority Accounts Committee (LAAC). You don't have strong members of parliament in those committees. Certainly that is one of the major problems. When you challenge the government, you actually help the government.

I have visited President Magufuli's inaugural speech in parliament and discovered that it was lacking emphasis on democratisation and need to build strong democratic instutions. It is important to have democratic structures to allow people to criticise the government freely.

"Hapa Kazi Tu" may now actually be translated as to push people and not waste time in following proper procedure, respecting human rights and the rule of law. The democratic process is seen as a hindrance to development. Democratic processes are seen as a hindrance and authoritarian leadership is used to get things done. This is not right, there must be respect for human rights.

I am also one of those people that are worried that there are some elements "Hapa Kazi Tu" being compared to a form of authoritarian rule. Some people in government may be afraid and not be able to speak their minds. I am worried that the president may not be getting good advice.

Q. What can Tanzanians expect from President Magufuli over the next five years?

A. I think that in the first 100 days of Magufuli's presidency, there has been a democratic deficit. I am worried that "Hapa Kazi Tu" should not mean to use authoritarian measures.

Accountability and transparency are very important in government. People's rights should not be abused. President Magufuli has started well, but there is a problem that his government has failed to adequately emphasise the importance of democratic processes and the respect of human rights.

Q. Do you think the first 100 days is enough time to judge Magufuli's presidency?

A. It is not enough time to judge, but you can see some indicators on how his presidency could turn out. There are some good indicators from his government, such as the commitment to the fight against corruption and ensuring the proper use of public funds. However, Magufuli now needs to move out and reach out to the opposition so that they understand his programmes.

There are some good indicators that we may be on the right path. But in other areas he needs to improve on the areas of democratic processes and good governance.
The good thing about reflecting on the president's first 100 days in office is that it gives him an opportunity of correcting where he went wrong.