Why do we maintain officials well paid to listen, not to think?

Wednesday June 09 2021

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


In the light of what has transpired in our country recently, it will not hurt us if we do a little reflection on some key aspects of how we organise the systems we have put in place to run our country(ies).

Once the election is over (or the stealing of one is done), the man (or woman) designated to be the new national leader names a number of people from the country to help him/her run the country.

He/she chooses from a list of suggested names, who will be brought to the new boss having been passed (“vetted”) by a number of responsible offices which have supposedly conducted background checks on each individual being proposed.

It is not expected that the new president will have personal knowledge of all the individuals he/she picks, so the inputs of the state organs at his/her disposal are key.

They will scour the records of all the potential nominees, their cultural levels and qualifications; their characters, their work ethic; their levels of commitment to certain causes.

Business acumen


Those picked will be chosen because of their track records. If one has been a stellar businessman you will expect them to bring their business acumen to government.

If they have been progressive farmers; excellent teachers; leaders of economic groups; chiefs of trade unions and other people’s organisations, etc, you will expect them to bring that rich experience to the table.

The idea is that each one of those appointed brings their baggage to complete the chief, mostly bringing qualities the chair of the Cabinet may not have, or may have but needs someone who will focus on that area of expertise most, and little else.

In this logic, when the president picks a thug who is known to have been a bully in secondary school, who as a prefect used to punish offending students by boxing them till they fainted, and makes them police minister, we know he wants to seriously beat people up.

If he appoints someone who is known to have a been a petty thief, we will know that he wants someone to help him loot the national Treasury.

Now, in some countries the head of the Cabinet is not even the boss of the Cabinet but is what they call primus inter pares, (first among equals). He/she leads the other colleagues by consensus.

This was dramatically demonstrated in the UK when Margaret Thatcher and Theresa May were, during different epochs, felled by “the gentlemen in grey suits”.

But in our mongrel systems (part presidential, part parliamentary), the chair of the Cabinet is the boss.

He/she can summon the ministers and talk to them for hours without hearing what they have to say, except if he/she chooses to listen to them for personal amusement.

I am told a couple of Tanzanian presidents of the past would almost never listen to their ministers, choosing rather to lecture them as if they were schoolchildren, and then releasing them to go and put into practice what they have been told.

For nothing

If this is true, then we have a system that is too expensive for nothing. For what reason do we maintain a bunch of extremely well-paid listeners who are not paid to think?

If all they have to do is listen and implement, why do they have to come to government headquarters to listen when they could have stayed at home and listened to the boss on Zoom?

Why do we have to squander so much office space in air-conditioned offices, buy expensive SUVs for them to drive around in, employ so many assistants and secretaries, when all they need is a working telephone?

Furthermore, our current speaker, Job Ndugai, has recently made it clear that the institution he heads, officially called the parliament, is a useless body of ignoramuses who “debate” and adopt matters they have hardly paid any attention to.

He publicly wondered how he and his members had passed decisions that were so daft and incomprehensible.

I know Ndugai and his fellow praise-singers will say that the late John Magufuli had so intimidated some and hoodwinked others into not daring to oppose what he wanted passed by parliament.

Which makes me wonder if it was the same situation when Ndugai was vehemently announcing to the public that parliament would pass the decision to “force” Magufuli to carry on as president without term limits (“whether he likes it or not”). Was this “forcing” also Magufuli’s wish that parliament dared not resist?

Expensive jokers

The country pays a pretty penny to maintain these expensive jokers in office, and that money could be put to much better use.

Maybe we should revise our modus operandi and have whoever we choose to be our ruler to do away with these fancy institutions with their absent-minded occupants.

Jenerali Ulimwengu is now on YouTube via jeneralionline tv. E-mail: [email protected]