Dar es Salaam. Shortly after he was sworn in as the fifth President of Tanzania on November 5, last year, Dr John Magufuli made his first impromptu visit to the Ministry of Finance.
And a pip at the members of the Cabinet’s modus operandi reveals how the ministers are struggling to borrow a leaf from their boss’s book.
Most of the ministers seem to be catching up with Dr Magufuli’s pace, as they attempt to avert red tape by storming into their subordinates’ offices to measure their performances and resolve the people’s woes right on the ground.
As ministers mimic their boss to meet his expectation, however, there are growing worries over some of them acting out of fear to please the appointing authority.
This would result in serious repercussions given indications on some ministers making autocratic decisions with no legal backing at all, some believe.
But Prof George Shumbusho of Mzumbe University though concurs with their reservations pertaining to the ministers’ performances, said the pace President Magufuli and Premier Majaliwa had set was worth it.
Last month alone, the country witnessed several suspensions, if not summary dismissals, of some top executives in ministries and parastatals, let alone visits, some of which impromptu, to the ministries.
The ministers’ orders, directives, and ultimatums to their subordinates have of late become a norm. They are apparently responding to the President’s warning that he would over his dead body tolerate armchair leadership.
During the month he worked without minister, Dr Magufuli had through his election campaign slogan of all work and no play saved billions of shillings some unscrupulous people had denied the national coffers through corrupt practices and tax evasion and avoidance.
About Sh1 trillion saved during the period would be lost to tax evaders had the country’s two top taxmen not intervened in the rot.
The proactive actions also saw Tanzania Revenue Authority (TRA) topping its collections by Sh600 billion to over Sh1.4 trillion last month.
The arrest of over 10 officials, largely from Tanzania Ports Authority (TPA) and TRA, allegedly for engaging in economic sabotage shows their determination to walk their campaign rhetoric.
Over 70 public officials from various institutions have also been suspended, pending investigations over their laxity, if not direct involvement, in the tax evasion scam.
Hundreds of clearing and forward firms have also been put on notice after it emerged that tens of thousands of containers and vehicles were cleared from the Dar Port without payment of due taxes.
“The emerging worries and fears are worth it,” stresses Prof Shumbusho, arguing that it was a wake-up call for thieves or lousy persons to change their attitudes and work diligently, lest they faced summary dismissal.
“There might be some negative repercussions, but at the end of the day we will get used to this system which will greatly help to do away with rampant business-as-usual outlook in the public sector,” he said.
Prof Shumbusho observed that there was a click of leaders which used to run government affairs without adhering to procedures, leading the gap between the haves and the haves not widening day in, day out.
Stern measures Dr Magufuli and Premier Majaliwa take will help to return such officials in the line. “People were fearful during the era of (the Father of the Nation) Mwalimu (Julius) Nyerere, but after things to the extent of abandoning leadership ethics and norms,” he said.
Much as Dr Magufuli was reviving accountability, people, particularly beneficiaries of the lopsided system of the past, were woried,” he said.
The Disabled Women Association chairperson, Ms Stella Jairos, said there was no short cut for restoring accountability and discipline within the government except the path Dr Magufuli was pursuing.
She was optimistic that the approach Dr Magufuli had would benefit ordary people who, for quite a long time, were compelled to ‘worship’ public officials when seeking social services. “The country had lost direction, what is currently happening will put it back on course,” she said.
Dr marched from the Magogoni State House to the ministry situated a stone’s throw from his office to, among other things, inspect an attendance register.
Dr Magufuli worked for four weeks without a Cabinet. Besides the Attorney General, he had only nominated Mr Majaliwa Kassim Majaliwa as his Prime Minister, an appointment which Parliament endorsed.
In those four weeks, along with Mr Kassim Majaliwa, he did an impressive job of setting a tone of how his government should operate.
He, among other things, showed the country, particularly the would-be appointed ministers, what he expected from them.
Dr Magufuli and Mr Majaliwa suspended the TRA Commissioner General, Mr Rished Bade and 35 other workers in November when 13 of them were charged with economic sabotage.
On December 7, Premier Majaliwa announced the suspension of the Works ministry permanent secretary, Dr Shaaban Mwinjaka, the TPA director general, Mr Awadhi Masawe, and over 30 other public servants for allegedly subjecting the government to a loss of revenue from taxes whose collections they were supposed to supervise.
After President Magufuli’s visit to the Ministry of Finance, the deputy minister for Health, Dr Khamis Kigwangallah, made a similar move by reporting to the office early and closing the main gate upon expiry of the reporting time.
Critics though swiftly poked holes in the move by Dr Kigwangalla, he defended himself, saying he intended to deal with a chronic challenge among public officials whose insincere excuses to report to their offices late were endless.
Prof Emmanuel Mallya, a head of Political Science Faculty with Open University of Tanzania, however, maintained that there was a danger of some ministers making decisions, which lacked legal backing, simply to please their boss.
“Such decisions might irreparably hurt some innocent officials,” he cautioned, adding that some ministers might end up issuing orders which were not viable.
“The ministers are supposed to operate under the confines of the laws and regulations when performing their duties and fulfilling directives from the boss,” he explained.
Ms Gema Akilimali, a gender activist, supported President Magufuli’s modus operand, but called on ministers and other government officials to be extra cautious on whatever orders and directives they issued.
“Dr Magufuli should continue with what he has started doing. However, in case he finds himself in a legal dilemma, he should not hesitate to consult the law-making arm of government -- Parliament,” she suggested.