Dar es Salaam. The hiring and firing of five Tanzania Revenue Authority (TRA) bosses within four years is a manifestation of serious dysfunction at the taxman’s, and in some key government institutions, rather than individual incapabilities to manage them, analysts say.
President John Magufuli unexpectedly sacked TRA commissioner general Charles Kicheere yesterday and appointed Mr Edwin Mhede to head the tax agency.
Sacked along him was the Trade and Industry minister, Mr Joseph Kakunda, who was replaced by Mr Innocent Bashungwa.
The changes came in the wake of a meeting President Magufuli held with top businessmen from across the country where they aired shocking accusations of harassment by TRA officials, bureaucracy, and corruption, which they said were killing their businesses.
Mr Kicheere becomes the fifth person to head TRA in the past four years and the fourth to be hired and fired by President Magufuli since he took power in November 2015.
A few weeks after he was sworn in, President Magufuli sacked then-TRA boss Rished Bade over mishandling of tax for imported containers, and appointed the current finance minister, Dr Philp Mpango, to act.
Mr Mpango briefly stayed at TRA before the President picked Mr Alphayo Kidata to become the third TRA commissioner general in a month in December 2015.
Mr Kidata served for one year until November 2016 when he was replaced by Mr Kicheere.
Analysts feel that the frequent change of guard call for re-consideration of the whole system, beginning with appointments.
“If the systems and institutions are functioning properly, then he (the president) wouldn’t have to convene such meetings,” said Prof Haji Semboja.
The president, being the chairman of the National Business Council, and with the existence of other trade facilitation bodies like the Tanzania Private Sector Foundation (TPSF), the Tanzania Chamber of Commerce and Industry Association (TCCIA) and the Confederation of Tanzania Industries (CTI), Prof Semboja says, many of the problems aired by businessmen wouldn’t have to wait for the Head of State’s intervention.
“He is supposed to make sure the systems work so that he gets ample time and energy to implement major national programmes like the industrialisation drive,” says Prof Semboja.
The former University of Dar es Salaam (UDSM) lecturer says the improper functioning of institutions and agencies are forcing the president to operate as an individual.
Yesterday’s changes have also triggered debate on the system used to appoint individuals who head key government institutions, check their capabilities and commitment to the dockets.
“The president is supposed to have and use the system of acquiring people with skills relevant to their dockets, people with interest, commitment and capacity to do what the president wants them to do,” says Prof Haji Semboja.
Some positions, he suggests, are supposed to be advertised to allow competent people to apply.
“There are times these people (appointees) commit mistakes without their knowledge because they are not serving the areas of their competency and capability.
According to Prof Semboja, Tanzania has never had a president like Dr Magufuli in terms of implementing projects, but there could be some ineffectiveness in the system.
President Magufuli has repeatedly insisted he will not hesitate to make changes in his administration whenever he sees thing were not moving.
He said in January this year when swearing in new Minerals minister Dotto Biteko and the Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s office in charge of Investment, Ms Angela Kairuki, that he would continue making changes ‘...where I am not satisfied with performance.”
He, however, was adamant that the laws were clear and good but people who were tasked with supervising their implementation were the ones creating problems.
Professor of economics and researcher, Honest Ngowi, says the causes of the mess which businessmen exposed before the president should be looked at beyond TRA and individual capabilities.
“It is the question of the whole institutional and legal framework in creating a favourable business environment and investment climate,” he said. “Issues of ethics, the fear of God, bribes and over-estimations of taxes go beyond TRA. If we don’t touch on the kernel of the matter we may keep on changing individuals a thousand times without results.”
Nzega MP (CCM) Hussein Bashe says there is an urgent need for experts to review and overhaul the taxation system in the country.
“The president has done a great job, but there is a much bigger problem with our taxation system and policies, which are creating an environment for corruption,” he said.
An economics expert, Dr Godwin said if he had a chance to advise the president, he would ask him to review the whole TRA system, especially its laws and policies, which he says are the source of problems.
Other commentators still feel that poor ethical standards of some executives are the ones derailing the president’s development agenda.
“It is not only in TRA; the performance of some officials is highly questionable. MPs have made noise about taxes but nothing happens until the president himself intervenes,” says Prof Benson Bana of the University of Dar es Salaam.
The executive director of the Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC) Anna Henga says the sacking of individuals at TRA will not suddenly turn things around.
“The important thing is to change TRA laws. Under what environment and laws are TRA executives working? This should be the question,” she said.
Prof Gaudens Mpangala of the Ruaha Catholic University (Rucu) has a different perspective.
“All these issues at TRA are a result of deep-seated corruption; and so we need to deal with the root causes,” he said.