A broke country with an expensive govt; guess who pays the price?

Saturday June 07 2014

You wouldn’t know that our government was broke if you looked at the way its officials are going about their business. Everywhere you look you see the trappings of luxury and excess. Our people behave like they are Beyonce or something.

It’s visible on our miserable roads in the major towns and cities. Huge petrol guzzling 4x4s whose purchase price could have bought a small-scale factory to employ 10 young men and women.

That’s only the purchase price. We have not factored in the running costs.

The petrol, the maintenance, the spares. The uses to which they are put. These are vehicles that cannot have logbooks.

For, what would you enter in a logbook if the car you were responsible for were parked outside a club the whole night? Or at a wedding the whole weekend? Or gone to collect oranges and mangoes from your shamba? Or to carry fertiliser for the same?

Last year I went to Dodoma, the fictitious capital of this country.


There happened to be taking place a joint meeting of our ministers and regional and district commissioners. Outside the meeting hall were parked all these cars, all of them almost brand-new. It looked like a Toyota show-yard. All of them purring on “silent.”

Why? To keep them cool till the bosses emerged from their meeting. And these are bosses who, left to their own devices, could not have afforded a bicycle.

And it’s not as if the issue of the misuse of public vehicles has not been addressed.

We even took the decision to loan cars to our officials and pay them maintenance allowances. After which, of course, they parked their newly acquires cars and continued using government vehicles. Because these are better suited to cart mangoes and fertiliser, I suppose.

To add insult to injury, they are on display on our congested roads. They are the ones who break all the traffic regulations by climbing over kerbs and driving in the wrong direction.

It’s like those who should solve the road problems for us are not only incapable of doing so but they are rubbing it in by showing us they can operate outside the law, avoiding the mess of their own creation.

When they travel abroad they fly first class. And they travel a lot. Most times unnecessarily.

I have seen photographers accompanying a high official in business class. Photographers. At the same time, a donor country’s minister will be travelling in economy.

Our officials are paid higher daily sitting allowance than the United Nations pays, so if they can choose between UN and government sponsorship, they choose government. It’s the only area where they don’t want donor assistance.

There is a tactic that works wonders for our government types. As someone says, if you cannot dazzle them with your brilliance, bamboozle them with your bullshit.

They don’t have the brilliance to dazzle a dimwit, but they have bullshit enough and to spare. So, they engage in very expensive behaviour, but when it comes to an idea they don’t like, they reject it because it is too expensive.

Like the proposal to have a three-tier government. It’s too expensive, they say. But I bet if our bigwigs drove around in their own cars, flew economy and cut down on the number of foreign trips we would have more money in our government coffers.

As matters stand, we are told, the government is so indebted that every Tanzanian, including Majuto who was born yesterday at Mwananyamala, owes 600,000 shillings, or the equivalent of $375 American.

We are told that over the past seven months, the debt escalated from 21 trillion shillings in June, 2013 to 29.5 trillion shillings in January this year, an increase of over eight trillion shillings.

It does not look like it is going to get any better. Next year, we will be going into another major vote buying exercise, otherwise known as an election.

Needless to say, a lot of money will be injected into that blighted process, and at the end of it all, we all will pay heavily for the profligacy of this government and those who run it.

Jenerali Ulimwengu is chairman of the board of the Raia Mwema newspaper and an advocate of the High Court in Dar es Salaam.

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