Stop joking about state thievery; hold these officials to account

Sunday November 12 2023

Lawmakers having a conversation in parliament in Dodoma, Tanzania. PHOTO | JONATHAN MUSA | NMG


There is a growing realisation in the Tanzanian political class that there is nothing of any effect that can be done about official thievery; all that anybody involved in unearthing financial misconduct among our officials can do is give reports which will cause many people to rail against what they have railed against since fifty years, then it is once again business as usual.

The scenario is one of helplessness because no one seems to know what has to be done. And it is not in any way a new phenomenon; we have had it this same way ever since this country became independent.

There is a ritual that we observe in almost a knee-jerk fashion: Every year, the Office of the Controller and Auditor General (CAG) of the government is supposed to inspect all the financial records of the government and report what has come to the notice of the scrutiny.

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But, to the best of my knowledge, the report from the office of the CAG is tabled before parliament, and members debate it, mainly by pointing out the vast sums of money that has been stolen, pilfered and/or squandered in a variety of ways.

These include money that was spent on totally inexistent projects; projects that were fully paid for though they were not completed; invoices that were grossly overinflated, and such like.


These reports are sometimes talked about in heated exchanges in parliament, during which MPs demand explanations, condemn the various forms of financial indiscipline, profligacy and outright theft and embezzlement.

Because these exchanges take place largely in the public sphere through the media, there is raised a hullabaloo around the issues unearthed by the reports, the media giving vent to popular discontent with the levels of corruption and irresponsibility.

Government ministers mentioned in a bad light by the report will make perfunctory explanations, trying to justify what was called out in the reports, mainly trying to cover their posteriors.

Sometimes the debates become acrimonious and may even descend into name-calling between the line ministers and the backbenchers. But these have been some of those engagements that generate more heat than light.

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Indeed, very little illumination is made on how these aberrations could be curbed, nor why they keep recurring in spite of the loud noises made by all and sundry and the promises made by government to rein the culprits in.

This past week our parliamentary debate – we still have one, once in a while-- has recorded a new level of intensity in the statements made on the floor by backbenchers after another CAG report showed that it is still business as usual and nothing has really changed from what was reported last year, and the year before, and the year before that. We used to hear numbers of lost money stated in millions (1970s); then they came in billions (1980s and 1990s) and now they are reported in trillions, and very few people seem seriously disturbed as the zeroes mass up behind the figures.

In fact, as these frightening figures are plucked from CAG’s reports by members of parliament, there seems to be an anger deficit; the members churning out these numbers look like they are more intent on entertaining their fellow members rather than on incensing them and nudging them into action.

A particularly humorous member was bringing the House down this week with his mimicking of the government officers who, loaded with money they have stolen from government coffers, prance about the watering holes in the capital, demanding their bills in superfluous English.

The member, endowed with a Kiswahili gift of the garb, went on to regale his listeners with anecdotes about what our students learn in our schools.

“Do they teach you how to steal and impoverish your people instead of helping us to rise out of poverty?”

It all makes for a good laugh, and that sure helps in these very stressful times.

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But, on a serious note, someone needs to be serious enough to stop laughing about such gross financial crimes and call for stern forensic steps to be taken so that the miscreants who run our chancelleries are beaten into line.

Governments are naturally the biggest centres of corruption—they are necessarily the main dispensers of largesse —but that is also the reason why serious governments across the world have instituted strict accounting systems to curb misplaced appetites.

It does not help matters when a top leader talks about every goat eating according to the length of its tether, suggesting that if you are trailing a long enough rope, you may “eat” more than others.

In case someone has forgotten, the plundered resources belong to the people, and they have the right to be given proper accounts of how these resources are being disposed. If the institutions put in place to ensure that transparency are turned into laughing stocks, there is no reason why we should continue keeping them at such a high cost.

This is not only for offices like that of the CAG. It is also for parliament. I know our current constitution states that parliament’s role is to advise—instead of to control and direct — the government, which is nonsensical, really. Government has enough resources to employ its own advisers, instead of using our representatives as advisers.

Either allow parliament to play its role or disband it.