Dar es Salaam. Two senior journalists with The Citizen were on Friday night declared overall winners of the 2014 Excellence in Journalism Awards Tanzania (Ejat).
They are the first two overall winners from the same media house, Mwananchi Communications Limited (MCL), in the awards scheme organised by the Media Council of Tanzania (MCT) and established in 2009.
The Citizen’s Investigative editor Lucas Liganga and senior reporter Mkinga Mkinga were all smiles as they were decorated with the prestigious award by the Vice President, Dr Mohamed Gharib Bilal, at a gala dinner at Mlimani City in Dar es Salaam on Friday night. They both scooped awards in the investigative reporting category, with Mr Mkinga also emerging winner in the economics and business category.
Mr Liganga and Mr Mkinga shared $4,000 (Sh7.6 million) in scholarships. Their winning story was on the Independent Power Tanzania Limited (IPTL) scandal, commonly referred to as the Tegeta escrow scam.
The Citizen first broke the story in March last year, setting the stage for a national debate on the fraudlently siphoning off of a whopping Sh306 billion from the central bank Tegeta escrow account, which was jointly opened by the Tanzania Electric Supply Company (Tanesco) and IPTL in the wake of a tussle over capacity charges in local and international courts.
The story saw senior government officials resign and ministers sacked after Parliament launched an investigation into the saga. President Jakaya Kikwete also reshuffled his cabinet.
Before the escrow funds were withdrawn, Pan African Power Solutions Tanzania Limited (PAP)--owned by tycoon Harbinder Singh Sethi--is said to have taken over 70 per cent of IPTL from Mechmar in a deal the investigation team called dubious. Other winners from various media houses took home iPads, flat screen television sets and trophies and certificates.
This was the second time The Citizen produced an overall. Mr Liganga scooped the award in 2012, making him the only journalist to have received the award twice.
MCT executive secretary Kajubi Mukajanga said this year’s competition attracted 959 entries and 44 were shortlisted. A journalist with The Citizen’s sister paper, Mwananchi, Ms Herrieth Makweta, was the winner in the Maternal and New-Born Health Reporting Award category.
MCL had three nominees this year, who came top in their respective categories. The haul of awards in the national competition reinforces the company’s strong position in print media leadership and best practices. MCL publishes The Citizen, Mwananchi and Mwanaspoti.
Speaking shortly after receiving the prestigious award, Investigative editor Liganga thanked The Citizen team for enabling him to clinch the award. He expressed gratitude to his mentor and inspirational editor Richard Mgamba.
“When it comes to pursuing an investigative story, I compare Richard with Ben Bradlee, the Washington Post’s legendary editor who presided over the Watergate reporting that led to the fall of President Richard Nixon,” said Mr Liganga. Bradlee died in October last year at the age of 93.
Like the Watergate reporting, the IPTL story has also had a massive impact in Tanzania.
Mr Liganga added: “We have seen international donors withhold budget support. We have seen top government officials resign. We have seen top government officials sacked and we have been witness to a Cabinet reshuffle.”
Mr Liganga also thanked MCT and organisers Ejat, saying the awards have helped improve the quality of journalism in Tanzania.
He also commended the Tanzania Media Fund for its new programme aimed at supporting investigative reporting. “Without sufficient resources, investigative reporting will always remain a pipe dream in Tanzania,” he said. “And this award has been an inspiration to me, to tell the truth even in darkness.”
Mr Mkinga said: “The award will be a catalyst for me to work hard, especially in the area of investigative reporting.”
The Lifetime Achievement Award went to Mr Jenerali Ulimwengu, a veteran journalist, activist, analyst and editor. He took home a cheque for Sh10 million.
Dr Bilal, the chief guest at the gala dinner, said the media were an important tool in the expansion of democracy in any country.
“I call upon media owners to establish new ways of encouraging journalists when they perform better in their profession,” he added.
The lead judge, Mr Chrysostom Rweyemamu, said there was stiff competition in this year’s awards due to the surge in the number of journalists who submitted their work.