Tanzania’s CAG and Speaker need to unite to drag their boss back from the brink

Tuesday January 15 2019

Tanzanian President John Magufuli.

Tanzanian President John Magufuli. The Speaker should not be picking quarrels with the Controller-and-Auditor-General, for both of them may need each other to rein in a chief executive of the country who needs to be saved from some of his more enthusiastic inclinations. PHOTO | NMG 

By JENERALI ULIMWENGU
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The Controller-and-Auditor-General is just what that title says. He is the man – always a man – who pores over all the country’s official accounts with a view to controlling and auditing the way government departments and agencies have used the money allotted to them on a yearly basis.

CAG is a constitutionally constituted (sic) office, and that means it is an independent body. The man holding that office enjoys tenure; indeed, we have not heard, since this country started becoming a nation, of a CAG being sacked.

At the same time, it is fair to state that the annual reports by the CAG have been rather ineffectual. They are routinely tabled before parliament and notice of their tabling is communicated to the legislators, and that is it. Rarely does an uproar arise from these reports, although they almost always point fingers at sometimes major infractions in spending by government chiefs.

As the adage goes, the dogs bark, but the caravan moves on. A couple of times, however, things have been rather different.

The Speaker of parliament has publicly taken offence at a remark made by the CAG that the reason his reports are not acted upon is the “weakness” of the House. The Speaker has appeared on social media videos fuming at the suggestion that he and the institution he heads are weak and has now ordered the CAG to appear before a parliamentary committee to answer charges of “contempt.”

The wagging tongues love nothing more than the wrangling among society’s grandees when they disagree and carry their disputes into the public square. Some people have been wondering what caused the Speaker’s ire at the CAG’s words when all along people have been commenting on the perceived weakness of parliament. What is so special this time round?

Is the issue that the remarks by the CAG were made outside the country? They featured in an interview he did with UN Radio Kiswahili Service while on a visit to the United States, but so what?

Surely, the CAG’s views on the weakness and/or strength of parliament cannot change between Dar es Salaam and Washington, and whatever he said there must reflect what he felt, and still feels here?

It is a tough act to look and sound macho when you are head of another branch of the state apart from the executive in a situation where the chief executive is John Pombe Joseph Magufuli, who acts like he never in his life heard of all that nonsense about separation of powers. Magufuli goes about his business acting like he is omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent.

He more than once has made the Speaker appear at State House functions without any apparent reason to be there. He has publicly told him what to do with “troublesome” legislators, to “chuck them out from inside there,” and “I will deal with them outside here.”

He once publicly told the Chief Justice he would give him the funds he needed to run the judiciary but wanted the CJ to imprison the people he, the president, wanted in jail.

In a strange way, Magufuli is a transparent man; he says what he thinks, however impolitic and unconventional. I believe he wants a weak parliament so that whatever he proposes sails through with minimal friction.

He has a very long and hefty to-do list, and, looking at the calendar, he must feel he is running out of time – 2020 is on the horizon, and he may have to fight for his political life, even though conventional wisdom says he will not be challenged from within the ruling party.

For the Speaker, the options are clear. He either asserts himself as an effective leader of the House who can stand up to the president and read him the riot act whenever it is necessary to do so, or acquiesce in the roughshod governing manner of a man in a hurry who will brook no opposition to whatever he wants, however outlandish.

In the meantime, the Speaker should not be picking quarrels with the CAG, for both of them may need each other to rein in a chief executive of the country who needs to be saved from some of his more enthusiastic inclinations.

In short, they should be working together.

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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