The W word and Bunge: Can our MPs swallow their pride before things fall apart?

Monday April 8 2019

Tanzania parliament

Tanzania’s Speaker Job Ndugai. Last week, the House passed a resolution not to co-operate with the Controller and Auditor General. PHOTO | THE CITIZEN 

JENERALI ULIMWENGU
By JENERALI ULIMWENGU
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It is one damn thing after another in the never-ending tragicomedy that has become Tanzania’s politics.

There are light moments that come across as comic relief; there are moments of pure nonsense that make you wonder if common sense was ever common; then there are those episodes that suggest you are travelling in a vehicle without a driver, hurtling toward a precipice.

All of the above apply, and the last one was in evidence last week, involving our parliament and the Controller and Auditor General who, you will remember, committed the cardinal sin of stating in public that the august House was “weak.”

The W word so infuriated the Speaker of the House that he ordered his committee on parliamentary privileges to summon the CAG and question him on the matter.

Now, the privileges committee has come back with its verdict: The CAG was wrong in using the W word, because it “belittled” the House, which is fair by me.

What is not, however, is the sanction that the committee proposed and the parliament imposed: The House would from that point on refuse to work with the CAG.

What does that mean? As his moniker says, this is the overall controller and supreme auditor of all government, and his annual reports have to go before parliament.

So, what does it mean when parliament says it will not work with the man who has the duty to scrutinise all the country’s accounts and whose report he is compelled to submit to the president, who must in turn forward it to parliament within seven days of receiving it? It seems to me there is an impossibility being suggested here.

Parliament is refusing to do its work, unless it is resolved to have the person who is currently the CAG removed and replaced by another, with whom parliament is willing to work, and that is a tall order that has to navigate a complex process.

That is what has set the local commentariat talking about a possible constitutional crisis.

It would appear that President John Pombe Magufuli has no choice but to submit the CAG’s report by the beginning of this week.

If he does this, as the Constitution requires him to, he will be compelling parliament to work with an official it has decided to boycott. If, on the other hand, the president does not submit that report to parliament, he will be in beach of the Constitution.

Luckily, we do not have to wait for too long before this particular crisis plays out. There is sufficient innovativeness among our politicos to find a way to get out of the quagmire before we bogged down in a fresh one.

In my last piece on this subject, I suggested that the two sides, parliament and the CAG, had an interest in working closely together, for, although the CAG is an official of the executive, he plays an important oversight role that has to be complementary to the one played by parliament.

It is what he finds during his investigations that the parliament has to act on, especially where there is evidence that government departments have been spending money they should not have been spending, and other irregularities. If there is a situation in which it truly takes two to tango, it must be this one.

We have heard, several times, the president emphasising the imperative for all who are liable to pay their taxes to do so, and for the money paid by the taxpayers to be spent wisely and according to the allocations decided by parliament.

Our legislators have also been vocal when castigating spendthrifts, embezzlers and thieving public officials. How are they going to deal with all these wrong-doers unless they are told by the CAG where they have been unearthed?

So, I dare suggest that parliament swallow its pride and own up to a grave error of judgement. There are so many issues that parliament has not been able to deal with because it is saddled with historical, institutional and human deficiencies, which all add up to what may be termed as weaknesses.

The way to deal with these deficiencies is not to pretend they do not exist and to castigate those who tell you they can see your deficiencies.

Meanwhile, I can hardly wait to find out what is in that report by the CAG once it gets to the parliament that has refused to work with its author.

Jenerali Ulimwengu is chairman of the board of the Raia Mwema newspaper and an advocate of the High Court in Dar es Salaam. E-mail: [email protected]

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