Thursday, July 13, 2017

YOUR BUSINESS IS OUR BUSINESS: Empowering the House on publicly-financed contracts


By By Karl Lyimo

As the latest meeting of Parliament drew to the close of FY-2016/17 on June 30, 2017, the Session was suddenly extended for five days into the 2017/18 financial year!

This was to enable the National Assembly to debate three pieces of proposed legislation tabled under a Certificate of Urgency.

One was ‘The Natural Wealth-and-Resources (Permanent Sovereignty) Act-2017.’ Another was on a ‘Review-and-Renegotiation of Unconscionable Terms’ of Tanzania’s ‘Natural Wealth-and-Resources Contracts…’ And the third was for a ‘Miscellaneous Amendments Act-2017’ regarding the country’s Mining, Petroleum, Insurance and Taxation frameworks.

In the event, the Bills were ‘passed’ with much ado but minimum change!

No doubt sensing the clearly-noble intentions of the proposed legislative frameworks, the House Speaker, Job Ndugai, oiled the procedural machinery that ‘allowed/enabled’ the Bills to be accepted for debate – doing so against considerable opposition from the Political Opposition and other stakeholders who questioned the hurried legislative processes.

Concerns for caution are founded on past experience, whereby laws that were expedited through Parliament – including especially those that were processed under ‘Certificates of Urgency’ – turned out over time to be wanton exercises in futility: impracticable, lopsided, oppressive…!

The ‘new’ laws are intended – on paper, anyway – to transform Tanzania’s economic, social and political regimes for the better!

It’s a shame that Tanzania – which is phenomenally-endowed with potential (natural) wealth – is still home to the world’s 20 poorest populations, more than half-a-century of political Independence from alien rule and under homegrown leaderships notwithstanding!The envisaged legislative frameworks’d also trim the relatively-immense powers of the Executive Branch of Govt., entrenching the powers in the Legislature and the Judiciary.

But, this isn’t the first time that the authorities have gone through the motions of expediting benevolent legislative frameworks processes… But the end results were invariably nugatory over time!

So: could this latest ‘expedited’ move in that same old direction be ‘History (proverbially) repeating itself’ – but, hopefully, NOT as a farce this time round? I say this with good reason, in all fairness – and without an iota of prejudice: some readers may recall my December 2008 article in ‘The EastAfrican.’

Urging the Govt. of the Day to ‘Expedite legislation empowering Parliament on ‘public’ contracts,’ I noted that “the relevant authorities in Tanzania’ve reached arrangements whereby Parliament’ll be involved in major Govt. deals. It’s not quite clear at what stage Parliament comes in: throughout all the deal-making processes – with the power to reject outright, or improve some aspects thereof… Or will Parliament be a mere repository for information and record purposes of irreversible faits accompli by the Executive Branch? “Deals the subject of the envisaged arrangements include lucrative, high-value contracts in public procurement, mining, oil, new investments, professional/consultancy services, privatization/concessionnairing, etc.

Such deals are considered hallowed trade secrets between the Executive and the Contractors.

However, ‘protection’ of contractual secrets is largely clumsy and graft-ridden! Indeed, ‘generous’ leaks aren’t unknown – and amply demonstrate that all’s not well in these crucial cross-cutting Socio-Economic sectors. Examples thereof are legion… The ‘Watchman’ Radar purchase deal with British-Aerospace; the External Payment Arrears (EPA) funds looted from the Central Bank of Tanzania (BoT); the looted Tegeta/IPTL/TanESCo BoT Escrow Account; the 2006 Richmond Emergency Power Purchase Agreement; the Lugumi/Police Equipment Deal; the Alex Stewart Gold Production Assaying Contract; the Lazard Freres Contract for Auditing the BoT-EPA funds; the SaskTel/TTCL and NetGroup/Tanesco deals; the Mineral Tailings scandal…

Will the rushed 2017 legislation truly empower Parliament, and close the book on dubious, economically-debilitating publicly-financed deals forever? Dedicated goodwill and Time’ll tell. Cheers!