In this issue our focus is on the progress that Africa has made over the past decade not only in terms of healthy economic growth rates but also in the structure of society and the conduct of politics and governance. It is therefore pleasing to be able to comment on the sacking of a bunch of Tanzanian cabinet ministers for their improper conduct while in office.
In mid-May, Tanzania’s President Jakaya Kikwete fired six ministers, including the ministers of the lucrative mining and tourism industries, and reshuffled his cabinet. They had all been accused of either corruption or incompetence in a hard-hitting report by the country’s Controller and Auditor General.
What makes this development particularly significant and pleasing is that the initiative to punish the ministers came from the country’s members of parliament rather than the executive. As soon as the report, which gives chapter and verse on shocking instances of either total ministerial incompetence or graft, was made public – a very encouraging development in its own right – there was an uproar both in parliament as well as among the public. The President was out of the country on a state visit but the Prime Minister, Mizengo Pinda, facing angry calls from the parliamentarians, wrote to the ministers concerned asking for their resignations. They refused.
The ruling party, Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM), joined the fray allying itself even with members of the opposition in parliament to call for the sacking of the miscreants. In November, the party had pledged to fight corruption and incompetence and by this gesture, it was making it clear that it meant every word.
But without the President’s say-so, nothing could be done and the ministers stayed put. The MPs, losing patience, warned the Prime Minister that unless action against the ministers was taken, they would pass a vote of no confidence, thus dissolving the government. Once the stakes had been raised to this level, action did follow and it did so swiftly. President Kikwete, having returned from the funeral service for the late Malawian head of state, Bingu wa Mutharika, sacked some of the ministers and demoted others.
Kikwete said that in future, not only ministers but even their subordinates and executives working for state-owned enterprises would be held responsible over embezzlement.
However, in a country in which several high-profile cases of corruption involving ministers have been exposed over the past decade and a bit, questions were being raised on why action against the ministers had taken so long and why there had been no investigation or criminal charges. At least, this was the case at the time of going to press and if the country’s legislators show the same vigour in demanding an investigation as they did in pressuring the government to sack the ministers, it seems very likely that charges will be brought.
Beginning of the end to corruption?
One would like to believe that this particular case shows a sea change in the attitude of those who constitute the government in African countries – the legislators and the executive. A few years ago, and perhaps not even as far back as that, the allegations of impropriety would never have reached the public in the first place and if they had, there would have been attempts at cover up or to shift the blame elsewhere.
Corruption, as many used to say, was a way of life. Politicians expected, as a matter of course, to make money from their positions and to get away with it. Often this was done blatantly, without even a token gesture to conceal the crime. They believed they were untouchable once they were able to occupy the hot seats and this was one reason why electioneering had become so cut-throat (sometimes literally) in Africa.
Let us hope all that is in the past tense. Tanzania’s MPs, newspaper columnists and the general public have shown that corruption cannot flourish if the people are dead set against it. In the new climate prevailing post the Arab Spring, the public want full accountability from those who represent them. Elsie Eyakuze, writing in The East African newspaper and commenting on the quality of the nation’s executive, has this to say: “We do not have a formula yet that can compute for public awareness what value for money we get out of each individual member of the executive – and wouldn’t that be an excellent way of inserting transparency where it is least wanted? I suspect that on average, Tanzanians are paying premium prices for not-so-premium performance, and that we have been doing so for a long time. We need to look into this.”
This is a sentiment that will be echoed up and down the continent