Magufuli strikes again: Uhuru Day scrapped

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In a statement yesterday, the President said funds meant for the Uhuru fete would instead be used for a major clean-up campaign aimed at stemming the spread of cholera in the country.

Dar es Salaam. President John Magufuli has ordered a cancellation of this year’s Independence Day celebrations in yet another shock move aimed at reigning in unnecessary public expenditure.

In a statement yesterday, the President said funds meant for the Uhuru fete would instead be used for a major clean-up campaign aimed at stemming the spread of cholera in the country.

Tanzania celebrates her independence from British rule annually on December 9.

“It’s so shameful that we are spending huge amounts of money to celebrate 54 years of self-rule while our people are dying of cholera,” the President said in a statement read by the Chief Secretary Ombeni Sefue.

While the Chief Secretary did not say how much money had been budgeted for this year’s Uhuru fete, the event itself  is a red-carpet affair normally  marked by elaborate celebrations including a military parade at the National Stadium in Dar es Salaam.   

In the three weeks since he assumed office, President Magufuli has imposed a form of austerity on the country’s famously free-spending civil servants, warning in his maiden speech to the National Assembly Friday that days of misuse of public funds were over. Across the country, the majority of Tanzanians seem to have welcomed the raft of austerity measures President Magufuli has announced since his inauguration on November 5.

 But his latest move will surprise many, who, each year, religiously look forward to celebrating Independence Day in style.

Hundreds of millions of shillings  are spent on the celebrations each year across the country. And a good portion of the budget is sunk in travel and per diems for public officials.

“The message he (the President) is sending is that it’s not true that Tanzania does not have money to improve public service delivery, resources are just not being directed to projects that can change the lives of people,” said University of Dar es Salaam political science lecturer Dr Benson Bana.

In an interview with The Citizen, Dr Bana said the idea was long overdue, adding that government executives should take this as yet another austerity lesson.

But some opposition leaders have dismissed the President’s decision as a ‘non-event’ in the fight to overhaul public service delivery. “You cannot get rid of cholera by stopping an event like this. It’s the whole system that must change,” said Mr James Mbatia,  chairman of the opposition NCCR-Mageuzi.

The opposition leader said it’s sad that Tanzania was ranked 138 out 160 countries in the water and sanitation  catergory under the Millennium Development Goal (MDGs).  “These statistics tell us why cholera persists,” he said.

But Mr Sefue expressed hope that the December 9 clean-up campaign and other social services to be made public soon would go a long way in addressing public health concerns.

 “The Head of State says he does not want to hear anything like people dying of cholera starting December 9th,” Mr Sefue said.

The Chief Secretary toured the country’s main referral hospital in a follow-up visit to assess progress made in implementing  President Magufuli’s directives for reform.

He said the President was saddened by the fact that Tanzanians were losing their lives due to diseases that could be controlled by simply cleaning their surroundings. 

“The President has directed all regional leaders to oversee the clean-up exercise in their areas on that day,” he said. Regional and district commissioners as well as local government leaders will adminster the programme.

Over the years, there has been increasing public outcry over huge amounts of money unnecessarily spent on  the celebrations.

In 2011, the government reportedly spent about Sh64 billion on celebrations  to mark Tanzania Mainland’s 50th independence anniversary.

The money was mainly used  in organising exhibitions by ministries and government agencies.

The grand gala that marked the climax of the event was held at the Uhuru Stadium in Dar es Salaam.

Critics believe senior government officials use the celebrations to embezzle public funds.

But echoing the President’s recent remarks against free spending in the civil service, Mr Sefue warned “it will not be business as usual in government”.

Meanwhile, Mr Sefue has ordered officials at Muhimbili National Hospital to ensure that  all defective machines at the referral centre are repaired within three days.

He directed Phillips, the service providers, to begin repairing the machines yesterday.

The Permanent Secretary in the ministry of Health, Dr Donan Mmbando, said he had also directed the engineers to remain in the country for a week after they finish their job to monitor the machines.