Dar es Salaam. Development stakeholders have challenged the government to address increasing inequality in three key pillars of public service delivery, progressive taxation and labour rights.
The call was made on Friday during a breakfast debate organised by Policy Forum, based on a report dubbed The Crisis of Extreme Inequality in SADC: Fighting Austerity and the Covid-19 Pandemic, which shows a rising trend.
The study measures and ranks government’s policy choices on the three key pillars against the Commitment to Reduce Inequality (CRI) index against implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.
According to the study findings, 14.08 percent was allocated to the education sector in the 2022/23 budget, ranking Tanzania the fourth lowest among countries in the Southern Africa Development Community (Sadc).
“It is positive that the 2020/21 budget increased to 16.2 percent. However, the prevailing trend puts the country far from meeting the required education for all budget of 20 percent,” says the report on the sector falling under service delivery.
Regarding the health sector, the report suggests that the 5.4 percent spending budget is very low for the country, ranking Tanzania bottom among Sadc countries and the 37th in Africa.
“More than half of the country’s population (57 percent) lack access to essential health services and four percent households have to pay over 10 percent of their income to fund their treatment,” reads the report in part.
On social protection, the report shows Tanzania as the second highest spender among Sadc countries at 23 percent of the budget.
“However, the spending is mainly on civil service pensions, but most citizens still fall through the cracks, 86 percent are not covered by any social protection...and pension coverage is the second lowest in Sadc countries at just 3.2 percent,” reads the report.
It goes on to say that overall public spending on health, education and social protection is reducing income inequality by 3.5 percent, ranking Tanzania 13th out of 15 Sadc countries.
Regarding the tax pillar, the report says Tanzania performs well on tax, ranking it the fifth out of 15 Sadc countries and 39th globally, noting however that improvements are needed in the areas of unprogressive Personal Income Tax (PIT), regressive Value Added Tax (VAT) and tax collections.
“Tanzania ranks bottom among Sadc countries and 144th globally on the labour rights pillar. It scores low on minimum wages and wages inequality.”
“Tanzania is ranked 13th among Sadc countries and 39th in Africa on labour rights, according to the Penn State University Index of labour rights 2017,” the report reads.
Debating study findings of the CRI index developed by Oxfam in partnership with Development Finance International (DFI), the Tanzania Episcopal Conference (Tec) national pastoral coordinator, Fr Florence Rutaihwa said despite government’s decision to waive school fees for advanced secondary school students the challenge of congestion in classrooms need to be addressed.
“Teachers proportionality in classrooms especially in rural schools should also be addressed. Spending in the health sector should also be increased because the 5.4 percent of budget allocation is relatively low in addressing inequality in the sector,” he said.
Fr Rutaihwa said most Tanzanians are not covered by health insurances, noting that those covered do not have access to good services including essential drugs in public healthcare centres.
Regarding allocated budget in the agricultural sector, Fr Rutaihwa said despite enacting good policies aimed to promote the sector, poor supervision, monitoring and evaluation led to poor development of the sector.
The Head Bishop of Mennonite Church of Tanzania, Bishop Nelson Kisare said despite the advanced secondary education school fees waiver, provision of subsidy to Tanzania Social Action Fund (Tasaf) beneficiaries and increased spending in the agricultural sector, maximum tax collections and proper disbursement would reduce economic inequality in the country.
“Despite having the law governing tax collections, the rich and businessmen continue evading tax, leaving the poor as the major taxpayers,” said Bishop Kisare.
The bishop who doubles as the Interfaith Standing Committee on Economic Justice and Integrity of Creation (ISCEJIC) chairman urged the government to efficiently collect tax and avoid biases.
The National Muslim Council of Tanzania (Bakwata) health and social advisor, Dr Salleh Abdallah said Tanzanian workers are denied better wages and pension payments.
“We have the responsibility to remind lawmakers and policymakers to treat workers fairly in order to enable them live decent lives even after retirement,” he said.
He said his experience working with HelpAge International in introducing the Universal Health Coverage (UHC) benefits for Zanzibar elders enabled him to be among those who launched the policy in 2016.
“The aim was to reach the elderly aged above 70 who had no employment record. Principally, they are few, therefore, Tanzania Mainland can borrow a leaf from there” he said.
The ACT Alliance Tanzania Forum national coordinator, Rev. Modest Pesha said citizens are not well informed on tax issues and respective benefits.
He challenged the Bank of Tanzania to strategise taxpayers’ education issue, expressing worries that declared revenue collections could be understated or estimates could be unrealistic.
The women and children health rights activist, Ms Festa Mwanyigili urged the government to avoid double standards in pension disbursement to retirees.
“While the majority of Tanzanians are eligible to receive pension at age 55 or 60, public servants including legislators receive their benefits after expiry of the five years of public service,” she said.
She blamed turning health insurances into businesses instead of services, cautioning the government to be careful during preparation of the UHC.
Rev Andrew Munisi of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Tanzania’s northern diocese said growing disparities between the rich and the poor was a threat especially in the areas of wage and healthcare provision.
“Having increased the budget of agriculture to over Sh900 billion, government should address challenges facing Tanzanians at the grassroots level and reduce inequalities,” he suggested.
The ISCEJIC coordinator, Mr Edmund Matotay shared the Interfaith Committee engagement progress with the government on establishment of the UHC.
He said the two sides held different rounds of consultations, dialogues and discussions with the ministry of Health, the parliamentary social services committee, held awareness campaigns in nine regions and visited Parliament in Dodoma.
“Yesterday (Thursday), CCM resolved to instruct the government on the UHC execution, which is a milestone to the struggle given that over 80 percent of the population don’t have access to better healthcare services.” Speaking during the event, a stakeholder, Ms Florida Mbezi hailed the increased agriculture budget to 4.6 percent in the 2022/23 Fiscal Year from the previous 1.3 percent.
“However, strategies should be put in place to lift farmers out of poverty. Otherwise the budget increase will benefit the rich and businessmen only and widen the level of inequality,” she said.
Another stakeholder, Ms Kidani Mhenga said better Universal Health Coverage services would be provided after formulation of the strategy that will set priorities.
“Disparities in the Universal Health Coverage should actively be addressed by the government in order to reduce if not eliminating inequality in the country,” she said.