Tanzania Former finance minister, Saada Mkuya relives Escrow scam pain

Thursday June 4 2020

 

By Noor Shija and Sharon Sauwa news@tz.nationmedia.com

Dar es Salaam. Ms Saada Mkuya was not directly involved in the Tegeta Escrow scandal in 2014. But being the Finance minister at the time when the scandal surfaced gave her sleepless nights.

The Citizen broke news of the siphoning off of $122 million (about Sh306 billion) from a joint escrow account held by Independent Power Tanzania Limited (IPTL) and Tanesco at the central Bank of Tanzania (BoT) in 2014.

Ms Mkuya held the Finance minister’s position from 20th January 2014 to 5th November 2015, replacing Dr William Mgimwa who peacefully passed away in a South African hospital.

Following a series of investigative pieces in The Citizen, the-then chairman of Public Accounts Committee (PAC), Zitto Kabwe, took it up and instructed the Prevention and Combating of Corruption Bureau (PCCB) and the Controller and Auditor General’s Office (CAG) to investigate.

PAC also recommended that the-then Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda Attorney General Frederick Werema, then Permanent Secretary in the ministry of Energy and Minerals Eliakim Maswi, Energy and Minerals minister Sospeter Muhongo and his deputy, Stephen Masele take political responsibility and resign over the scandal. Some High Court judges had to resign after they reportedly benefited from the money withdrawn from the Tegeta Escrow Account.

Speaking during an interview with Mwananchi Communications Limited (MCL) – publishers of Mwananchi, The Citizen and Mwanaspoti, yesterday, Ms Mkuya said she will never forget the scandal which emerged shortly after she had become Finance minister.

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She said with the BoT falling squarely under the Finance ministry’s hierarchy, she felt obliged to defending the government at a time when it was receiving ‘attacks’ from the opposition on the way it had handled the issue.

“It was during my early days as Finance minister that the issue came up. I had not known it before but being Finance minister, it was a difficult task indeed… It gave me sleepless nights and I hope you remember that I became Finance minister after the death of Dr Mgimwa,” she said. Prior to her elevation to Finance minister, Ms Mkuya worked under the late Mgimwa in the capacity of deputy Finance minister.

“We worked quite well together and his passing on was really shocking on my side and hard on my side,” she said.

It was during her time as Finance minister that the country also found itself in a number of pressing issues that needed money, including financing the 2015 general election.

“There was also the Constituent Assembly and that means we had a number of pressing needs that needed to be financed,” she said.

Unhappy

Ms Mkuya, said she will not forget how bad she felt when her ministry’s resolve to introduce electronic fiscal devices (EFDs) was shot down by members of the business community which had the backing of her fellow cabinet minister.

She did not mention the minister but noted that it was the one who held the trade docket.

Between 2012 and 2015, the Industry and Trade minister was the late Dr Abdallah Kigoda. The late Kigoda succeeded Dr Cyril Chami who was Industry and Trade minister between November 2010 and May 2012.

It happened that the late Dr Mgimwa was out of the country and being deputy Finance minister, Ms Mkuya and her colleagues at the ministry were one day compelled to go and explain the government’s decision to members of the business community.

They also had to hold a press conference to explain the decision and on how the government had prepared itself for a smooth rollout of the EFDs.

The stories did not however go down well with business community who opposed the move.

Ms Mkuya’s fellow cabinet minister joined ‘forces’ with members of the business community and opposed the government’s move. “I was weird. It showed that the government was not working as one,” she said.

Achievements

She said she remains happy now that the EFDs were being used in revenue collection.

According to Ms Mkuya, facilitating the civic elections and formulating systems for the National Identification Authority were some of the issues that she worked on during her days at the ministry.

Some of the projects that were already on the government’s cards during the time that she served in the government of former President Jakaya Kikwete’s presidency, included: construction of Terminal 3 at Julius Nyerere International Airport, the Mfugule Flyover (popularly known as Tazara Flyover), the Ubungo Interchange and the Standard Gauge Railway lien among others.

She exuded happiness on seeing that President John Magufuli’s administration was doing well regarding the projects’ implementation.

Zakia Meghji’s help

Zakia Meghji - who became the first woman to hold the post of Finance minister, serving from 2006 to 2008 - gave Ms Mkuya vital advice.

Ms Meghji told Ms Mkuya not to sign important ministry documents during the afternoon when the brain was exhausted.

“At times, you are busy with tasks outside the office throughout the day - and, when you get back to the office, you find several files waiting for your action. I would simply leave them unattended until the following morning,” she said.

She said at some point during her time as Finance minister, she resolved to only meet people within the Treasury premises.

“I did not meet a person and discuss official issues at home or at a hotel. The decision helped me to undertake my responsibilities well,” she said.