Magufulu axe: Who’s next on the chopping block?

08Mar 2016
Felister Peter
The Guardian
Magufulu axe: Who’s next on the chopping block?
  • Critics say the ongoing abrupt dismissals of top public officials is causing anxiety levels within the civil service and among cabinet members to escalate

Who is next? That’s the question senior civil servants and public officials are probably asking themselves as the chain of high-profile sackings by President John Magufuli’s administration since taking office in November last year shows no sign of slackening off anytime soon.

President Magufuli (2rd l) swears in Ambassador John Kijazi (r) as the new Chief Secretary at State House in Dar es Salaam yesterday.

According to trade union leaders and analysts, the ongoing government in-house purge apparently led by Magufuli himself has already created an atmosphere of uncertainty among public office-bearers and within the civil service, and the growing fear is that this could in turn affect overall job efficiency.

The uncertainty appears to have been compounded by Sunday’s abrupt removal of Chief Secretary Ombeni Sefue with immediate effect, barely two months after confirming him to the key presidential aide position which also includes heading the civil service and acting as secretary to the cabinet.

Yesterday - less than 24 hours after that surprise announcement - the president swore-in John Kijazi (Tanzania's former ambassador to India) as Sefue's replacement.

According to State House, the outgoing CS will now be assigned other government duties, although it has still not been officially clarified why he was effectively elbowed out of Magufuli's inner circle.

Previously Sefue - who was photographed at State House yesterday wearing a deadpan expression on his face as he witnessed the swearing-in of his successor as chief secretary and later posed for ceremonial group photos with the country’s top government hierarchy - was seen as the de facto spokesman and chief policy articulator of Magufuli’s presidency.

During the course of a whirlwind first four months in office, Magufuli has so far purged a good number of senior figures from his government, with the need to clear the path for proper investigations into allegations of corruption - or just to improve efficiency – almost always cited as the main driving factor.

Top public officials who have already faced the axe in this manner include the former commissioner general of the Tanzania Revenue Authority (TRA), Rished Bade; the former director general of the Prevention and Combating of Corruption Bureau (PCCB), Dr Edward Hoseah; and the ex-Tanzania Ports Authority (TPA) chief, Awadh Massawe.

Though he was elevated to the rank of ambassador, Dr Ramadhan Dau, immediate former director general of the National Social Security Fund (NSSF) - the country's biggest pensions fund – has also been widely cited as another casualty of the fifth phase administration’s unrelenting crusade.

But now observers are warning that if not properly executed, the ongoing purging of top public service figures could end up being counter-productive.

"Arbitrary dismissals of civil servants can create an atmosphere of distrust in government because people don't know what is going to happen tomorrow and if they will be next in line for the chopping block," Nicholas Mgaya, secretary general of the Trade Union Congress of Tanzania (TUCTA), told The Guardian in an interview yesterday.

"This situation of literal job insecurity causes people to work in fear, and it could well affect the efficiency of the civil service," Mgaya added.

He said the Magufuli government could face expensive lawsuits over supposedly unfair dismissals if it continues to sack public officials “without following procedure.”

"The laws are very clear about what needs to be done when taking disciplinary action against civil servants. In some cases such as the recent dismissal of the Mwanza regional administrative secretary (RAS), these procedures have been flouted by the government,” Mgaya asserted.

He was referring to an incident back in January when President Magufuli summarily sacked the Mwanza RAS, Faisal Issa, for indiscipline after he had an alleged altercation with his boss, Mwanza regional commissioner Magesa Mulongo.

According to the TUCTA boss, it was wrong for the president to fire the RAS on the same day he received the complaints against Issa and without giving him the right of reply to show cause why disciplinary action should not be taken against him.

Mgaya said some current members of Magufuli’s cabinet of ministers, along with regional commissioners and district commissioners, were showing evident signs of trying to impress the president by also dismissing public officials willy-nilly.

It is widely believed that the jobs of the ministers themselves are also not so safe, especially after the president last month threatened to dismiss any minister who failed to formally declare their assets and liabilities and sign an integrity pledge before the Leadership Ethics secretariat.

Tanzania Teachers' Union (TTU) acting secretary general Ezekiah Olouch also suggested that the recent dismissals of some public officials may have not followed procedures, especially at district and regional levels where jurisdiction is an issue.

Olouch said the government should be more careful in conducting its clean-up exercise in a way that protects the dignity of employees.

According to Prof. Mwesiga Baregu, senior lecturer at St. Augustine University in Mwanza, the performance of civil servants - especially those in decision-making positions – is increasingly likely to become affected by anxiety and a perceived lack of security of tenure.

Prof Baregu recalled that the Constitution Review Commission (CRC) under retired Judge Joseph Warioba had proposed a reduction of presidential appointing powers and that the hiring and firing of top public officials should be done by specific institutions.

Also speaking to The Guardian, the former president of the Tanganyika Law Society (TLS), Francis Stolla, said civil servants had a right to be heard and should be given a chance to defend themselves before being fired.

“Some civil servants have learnt about their suspensions only through the media…this is unlawful because they deserve to be officially notified by written letter”, said Stolla.

On the other hand, the former Controller and Auditor General (CAG), Ludovick Utouh, appeared to wholly support the Magufuli administration's methods of purging public officials, saying the concept was good as long as there is justification for every suspension or dismissal.

“I think it is being done scientifically and the leaders have all the facts before taking action...there is no need for civil servants to panic if they are clean and execute their duties perfectly,” Utouh said.