Magufuli applies shock therapy, but needs to shake up whole system

Saturday November 28 2015

Tanzanian president John Magufuli. The president has issued a raft of instructions to curb government spending, winning praise from citizens. PHOTO | AFP

Tanzanian president John Magufuli. The president has issued a raft of instructions to curb government spending, winning praise from citizens. PHOTO | AFP 

It has been a hectic time for President John Pombe Magufuli since he took his oath of office on November 5, and it looks like his presidential plate will remain full for some time to come.

Since ascending to power, Magufuli has inaugurated the new parliament with a speech in which he spelt out the priorities for his administration, but the inaugural ceremony itself was marred by dissention as opposition legislators loudly protested the presence of Zanzibar President Ali Mohammed Shein.

The new president has also been giving directives to set right matters he thinks are wrong, such as banning “unnecessary” foreign trips, pruning lists of such delegations and curtailing expenditure on official celebrations.

His crackdown on wasteful spending has endeared Magufuli to East Africans on social media with the hashtag, “#WhatWouldMagufuliDo” trending across the region.

The day he inaugurated parliament was supposed to end with a sundown reception which would have cost some $350,000. Magufuli ordered a much more modest reception costing a little more than $10,000.

The rest of the money, which was reportedly contributed by unnamed individuals and institutions, he ordered be sent to the national hospital in Dar es Salaam to buy beds to ease the problem of patients sleeping on the floor.

Next, he ordered an official delegation to a Commonwealth conference slashed from over 55 officials to just four, saving $300,000. This exercise came as a shock to many government officials who have for a long time used foreign trips as a means of subsidising their incomes.

Tanzanian government DSAs are more generous than United Nations allowances, and even middling officials are used to travelling Business Class while ministers and senior officers consider First class travel as their right.

The restrictions on foreign travel are likely to affect, not only the officials touched by the directive but also the airlines, especially those servicing the routes from Dar es Salaam and Doha and Dar es Salaam and Dubai, which may now have to face up to dwindling numbers of passengers on those routes usually preferred by government delegates.

The clampdown on foreign travel is widely seen as a negative commentary on former President Jakaya Kikwete’s record of frequent missions abroad. An opposition legislator, James Mbatia, recently dissected Kikwete’s foreign trips, showing their costs and what that money could have been spent on in favour of the country’s development programmes.

Even Kikwete’s confidante, former foreign minister Bernard Membe, went on record as saying that the travel was “indeed too much.” He added that “we were crisscrossing the skies like people running from a burning house,” Membe, who was among the CCM aspirants for the presidency, was quoted as saying in a Dar es Salaam newspaper.

The executive actions taken by the president have unleashed commentaries in various quarters, and the opinions have been as varied as there have commentators. Some have viewed these measures as populist window dressing designed to appease a public long resigned to a spendthrift government and give the impression that something was changing while nothing of real significance would change.

Frank Mulalula, an electrical engineer in Dar es Salaam was of the view that the president was going around giving orders “instead of working to put in place an elaborate system that would be all encompassing, touching every department and reaching all corners of the country.

There is so much rot in our civil service and among the [political elites that measures like these will only amount to palliatives which cannot cure the basic ailment”.

Another Dar es Salaam-based political analyst, Charles Kitima, had a different opinion, judging Magufuli’s speech to parliament to be “simple, direct and down to earth, and touching the common citizen directly.”

He said that listening to Magufuli make that speech, reminded him of the founding president Julius Nyerere because of the “simplicity and the tone of sincerity.”

Whatever the opinions on the first few weeks of the Magufuli administration, he is likely to face up to a number of tough tests in the immediate future, the most glaring being the political impasse in Zanzibar. In his parliamentary speech, he vowed to give that issue special importance and promised to resolve it through negotiations with all involved.

However, it is not easy to see what channels he will be able to explore. The parliamentarians who heckled him as he came into the hall with Shein were chanting the name of Seif Shariff Hamad of the Civic United Front (CUF), who has claimed victory in the Zanzibar presidential election.

The Zanzibar Electoral Commission (ZEC) chairman Salim Jecha announced the annulment of the elections after he had started announcing the results from some of the constituencies.

Jecha, claiming there had been systematic rigging in the elections, especially in Pemba, which is Hamad’s stronghold, said fresh elections would be organised within three months.

Technically, right now Zanzibar does not have a government, and that is why the opposition MPs were chanting Hamad’s name as Shein walked into the hall with President Magufuli. The speaker, Job Ndugai, having failed to silence the Opposition legislators, ordered them out, which they did happily.

Over time since the reintroduction of multiparty politics in Tanzania in the 1990s, Zanzibar has known heightened political tensions with the Opposition CUF claiming consistent rigging since the first elections in 1995.

In all the three elections before the last one in October, CUF has repeated the same charge of election rigging. This time, CUF did their own vote tallying and announced their “victory,” which was rejected by Jecha.

The ensuing impasse is what Magufuli is called upon to resolve, and on his actions will hinge the credibility of his presidency as an authority that extends to the totality of the territory of the United Republic, and not just the Tanganyika part.

Meanwhile, members of the public are anxiously awaiting the formation of the government, which will serve as an indicator of what to expect during Magufuli’s rule. The pointers suggest a leaner government, with a smaller number of ministers that there have been, a more austere administration with an eye on every cent spent and an accent on a hands-on approach to doing business.

Magufuli has already announced that December 9, Independence Day, will not have the traditional military parades and government receptions, but will be dedicated to people coming out to clean up their environments in their places of residence.

People expect more surprises to follow the ones already in play. The choice of prime minister was one such surprise. A relatively unknown junior minister in the prime minister’s office in the immediate past administration, Majaliwa Kassim Majaliwa, cuts a low profile in Tanzanian politics.

Nobody seems to remember him for any outstanding act or pronouncement. In the last administration he served as deputy minister in the PM’s office responsible for local governments.

The new prime minister will be kept busy by his boss’s no-nonsense approach to running government affairs. He will have the task of reining in the ministers and keeping the entire civil service on a short leash. Areas that will concern him the most will include cutting down excessive government spending on seminars, workshops and celebrations.

Little known he may be, but Majaliwa has already made his presence felt in a big way. Last Friday, he descended on the Dar es Salaam Port, long known for its inefficiency and corruption. He ordered the suspension of a number of top-ranking Tanzania Revenue Authority (TRA) officials, who he accused of corruption and occasioning loss to the government in connection with 300 containers which recently went missing from the port.

The government immediately announced the sacking of the Commissioner-General of TRA, Rished Bade, and his replacement with Philip Mpango in an acting capacity. The prime minister has ordered that the concerned officers, at the highest level of the TRA be taken into custody and investigated.

Already the chief secretary Ombeni Sefue has been issuing directives on expenditures to be avoided. One area is the traditional printing of stationery, including calendars, by government agencies.

Another is expected to be the unfettered use of government vehicles after office hours, or on personal errands that have nothing to do with the office. A lot of money is lost in this area from fuel and maintenance costs.

But as a senior legal counsel, Arnold Mwamba put it recently, all the measures taken by Magufuli so far are positive, but “they need a systemic overhaul to give them a policy context and make them predictable and universal in their application across the land.”