Slack public service may block Magufuli's reforms

Thursday November 26 2015

Tanzanian president John Magufuli. Observers are of the view that President Magufuli has no option but to overhaul the public service machinery if he is to succeed in implementing his grand plans. PHOTO | AFP

President John Magufuli may be determined to implement reforms, but a slack public service machinery may prove to be the biggest hurdle to fulfilling the expectations of the majority of Tanzanians.

With a modus operandi that is unfamiliar in government circles, observers are of the view that President Magufuli has no option but to overhaul the public service machinery if he is to succeed in implementing his grand plans.

There is growing concern the country’s public service machinery is in a shambles and accountability among public servants at an all-time low.

Access to service in some public offices, hospitals, schools and other government institutions is no longer an automatic right for the citizenry. 

There is no quick fix for the situation, which some analysts say gradually started nearly 20 years ago, and building a vibrant public service machinery is a challenge President Magufuli must confront head-on.

“I cannot tell to what extent President Magufuli understands that the public service machinery is in disarray and whether it has the capacity to implement his plans,” says a retired permanent secretary, who spoke on condition of anonymity.


He said although the President had demonstrated great determination to change the lives of Tanzanians, any plans geared towards the realisation of his goals should go in tandem with overhauling the public service machinery.

President Magufuli outlined the priorities of his government in his speech when inaugurating the National Assembly in Dodoma last week in which he clearly sent out the message that it will not be business as usual under his leadership.

He said the time has come for Tanzanians to walk the talk and confront vices that were holding the nation back.

Magufuli's inauguration promises

Apart from reiterating his decision to offer free education, he also promised to cut public spending, fight corruption and enhance accountability in public service. 

But the former permanent secretary who spoke to The Citizen said a lot needs to be done to make Dr Magufuli’s plans a reality.

“Resources to offer free education are there, but the question should be: how are we going to curb corruption? We need a step-by--step approach to curbing and eventually eradicating corruption. Our problem is that the public service machinery to do that is no longer there,” he said.

He cited as an example the Ministry of Energy and Minerals, saying its accountability and service delivery were poorer than was the case 30 years ago.

“If you look at the systems at the Energy and Minerals ministry today you will see that we are very backward in terms of the capacity and strategies to bring about development. This explains why ministers and permanent secretaries who served in the ministry in the last ten years invariably left under a cloud of  corruption allegations,” he said.

Because of ineptitude in the system, the former official said, Dr Magufuli may find himself sacking many bureaucrats in the early days of his administration.

Little or no capacity

He cautioned, however, that Dr Magufuli could be left with people with little or no capacity  to put in place effective strategies.

“What will follow is that public servants will be advising him in fear, and this will worsen the situation. He (the President) must look for people who are courageous enough to tell him what he does not want to hear.”

A private consultant on leadership and public service management, Mr Jesse Mashimi, said President Magufuli could not implement his plans because the relevant institutions have been dismantled.

“The laxity you see in public service is a direct consequence of the abolishment of Ujamaa, which had its checks and balances as far as public service delivery was concerned,” he said.

According to Mr Mashimi, public service delivery had been neglected and it is place taken by personal discretions  and biases rather than laid-down rules and procedures.

“New styles and systems of operation in public service only serve to support corruption. The President will need to start rebuilding our public service delivery system from scratch…he is unlikely to succeed if he doesn’t overhaul the system first.”

Mr Mashimi added that the new government should start to make use of the national security and intelligence system to enhance accountability in public service.

The Secretary-General of the Trade Union Congress of Tanzania (Tucta), Mr Nicholaus Mgaya, said morale in the public service sector was “very low”.

“It is not right, in my opinion, to point an accusing finger at civil servants without addressing their plight. For Dr Magufuli to succeed in his bid to transform the sector, the welfare of the civil servants must be a top priority,” he said. 

According to Mr Mgaya, there are currently two classes of civil servants.

“There are those at the top of the hierarchy, who are claiming huge allowances which account for 52 per cent of the public wage bill, and there are those at the  bottom of the ladder, who are paid peanuts.  These are the ones who are demoralised,” he said.

Mr Mgaya added that the Public Service Negotiating Machinery Act, 2003, among other issues, established a joint committee to review salaries annually, but the panel has never been operational.

“What we have are meetings which never reach a consensus. The small increments we occasionally see are unilaterally decided by the government,” he said.