Tanzania’s President Samia Suluhu Hassan has ordered the lifting of a ban on media houses and formation of a committee to review Covid-19 pandemic guidelines among other directives.
In a directive to the Ministry of Information, Culture, Arts and Sports, President Suluhu wants the media ban that has been in place since 2015 lifted and ordered authorities to stop harassing the media.
She announced the changes after the swearing in of Principal Secretaries, their deputies and heads of state corporations at State House Dar es Salaam on April 6, 2021.
“The Ministry of Information, you have a lot on your plate. I hear you banned social media outlets. Lift the ban but ensure they adhere to the law and government regulations,” President Suluhu said.
Since the late President John Magufuli came to power in 2015, Tanzania has seen a sharp backslide in respect for basic freedoms of association and expression, undermining both media freedoms and civil society.
Authorities have passed new legislation and enforced existing laws that repress independent reporting and restrict the work of media, nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) and political opposition groups.
But President Suluhu’s directive has granted the media some hope, 21 days since the death of their President Magufuli.
“Please lift the ban. Do not grant them a licence to accuse the government of violating and abusing freedom of information. But rather ensure that whoever you license to broadcast information does respect and adhere to the government laws and regulations.”
She also called on the Ministry to ensure the laws and regulations were made clear and transparent for easy interpretation and application.
“Ensure the penalty for violation of media laws is clear and transparent. For each violation of the media laws, ensure clear and transparent penalties,” she explained.
“Do not rush to ban them. Let them operate but within the laws and regulations of the government.”
On the Covid-19 pandemic, she announced the formation of a team of experts to provide policy guidelines on how to respond.
“We will create a committee of experts who should be able to inform us on what direction we should take. We want them to review the remedies and provide advice that can help us in the treatment of Covid-19,” she said.
“We want them to review the Covid-19 remedies both scientifically and professionally and advise the government. It is not advisable to remain silent, deny or even accept the existence of the pandemic without carrying out professional research.”
A departure from her predecessor who shunned the WHO advice on Covid-19, President Samia boldly called for more information and research into the pandemic admitting the matter had isolated Tanzania from the rest of the world.
“We cannot isolate ourselves like an island and accept what we are told without our own research,” said President Suluhu who also called for universal health for all Tanzanians.
She called on the streamlining of Tanzania’s NHIF and provision of medicine in all hospitals.
Corruption in the Ministry of Trade, Manufacturing, Mining, Investment and Immigration was also part of the highlights as she ordered a crackdown on corrupt officials who demand bribes from investors.
“We must also improve on the ease of doing business by reducing red tape in the issuing of trade licences and ensuring VAT refunds on time,” she said. "Why does it take so long to license a new investor? That is a conduit for bribery and it must stop."
President Samia, the first female president in independent Tanzania, also directed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and East Africa Community to improve and nurture better diplomatic relations with foreign countries.
“In the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, I have appointed a hard working lady who understands how the office works. I have also appointed a PS who understands the running of foreign affairs offices,” she said at State House in Dar.
“You have a major task in handling our relations with other countries. And I know you, the Hon Minister, you are capable of this and that is why I saw the need to have you back. I know they listen to you. Therefore, I am requesting that we let us go and restore our good relationships with other countries.”
The Head of State last week appointed veteran diplomat Liberata Mulamula as the new Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, replacing Professor Palamagamba Kabudi.
Ms Mulamula was the permanent secretary in the ministry before her new appointment. She has also served as Tanzania's ambassador to the United States and was the first executive secretary of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR).
President Suluhu told Ms Mulamula to improve diplomatic relations with other countries and spiced the directive with a saying, “There is a saying that ‘if you want to arrive faster, go alone. But if you want to achieve more, go with others’. Therefore, I am calling upon us to move together with others.”
She also tasked the Foreign Affairs ministry with the responsibility of improving the working relations between Tanzania mainland and Zanzibar.