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Genesis of the Parliamentary probe committees

4th September 2011
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Chief Secretary Philemon Luhanjo

A Chinese proverb and paradox is in process of making its logic felt in Tanzania, in the wake of the formation of a parliamentary committee to probe Chief Secretary Philemon Luhanjo in relation to an effort to clear suspended Energy and Natural Resources permanent secretary David Jairo.

It is a case that has rocked state-legislature relations and is probably on the way of defining how these bodies are to be related, and prima facie, the government seems to be losing the comfort of holding all the carrots and sticks in its hands. That there is surprise at how things went was evident on government benches.

The paradox attributed to the Chinese concerns the 'Chinese water torture,' that if someone is tied hands and feet, and then a drop of water is let on his forehead, it first looks like a joke, and then it starts taking a psychological toll.

Finally it becomes intolerable,the mind conjures it as if one is being hit with a club, and the victim could even start screaming, depending on mental ability to resist. There is something in the current investigation which resembles water torture that the Jairo clearance implied.

The current incident in Parliament is strange in a number of ways, and also constitutes continuation of what has been developing in terms of how the House relates to the government in checking the conduct of institutions. Often the source of allegations of misconduct is opposition MPs, but sometimes such charges have been aired by CCM MPs as well – for instance in the period before 1995 when all MPs came from the ruling party. Not much changed in the wake of the multiparty polls in 1995 on probes.

Two types of committees are formed in the House, one being procedural and another being accusatory or investigative in character. It is hard to say if there is a specific intention in rules relating to forming a committee, if it targets more of informative and procedural activity of Parliament to sort out a policy issue in the wake of conflicting public demands, or it presumes that something unsavory is going on in the ranks of Government.

It is a matter of political moods, for either motive for constituting a House inquiry committee is valid, in which case it is the frequency which matters, not the motivation per se.

Were it that the first phase and largely second phase outlook of Parliament was still operating, much of the recent inclination at investigative and accusatory committees wouldn't be there. More typically it is procedural and participatory engagement of Parliament in a vexing policy issue which ordinarily should come up, when unity within ruling party ranks is high – which is now seldom the case.

The trend did not start during the fourth term but goes back to the start of the third term, while second term demands for the formation of probe committees arose from Union problems firstly, and then import support cash.

The doctrine of 'positive guidance' which enshrined relations between the ruling party and Parliament in the first phase looked negatively at the formation of a parliamentary committee of inquiry, and scarcely any was formed at that time. When Home Affairs Minister Ali Hassan

Mwinyi resigned over deaths of remand prisoners, it was by directive of the president, similar to Finance Minister Edwin Mtei in 1977 and 1980 respectively. The first case – deaths of remandees – would have formed an excellent subject matter for an inquiry, but the president did not let the matter become a hotly contended issue.

The second resignation, that of the Treasury chieftain, had to do with policy, where no disputes had arisen in Parliament, save his strong if measured criticism of socialist policies as unworkable.

While the legend was that he was asked to resign for criticizing the president or consistently expressing doubt on policies, other sources (from well placed executives at the time) affirm that there was a more mundane cause.

A World Bank delegation had noticed a discrepancy in the use of project funds, directed to fund the purchase of relief grain for Dodoma or elsewhere, and raised the matter animatedly with Mwalimu.

What they did not know is that Mwalimu had already cleared the matter with his erstwhile associate, bank president Robert McNamara before directing the Treasury to use it in that manner.

In that case they did not have the courtesy of asking Mwalimu first why it was put to other use instead of the project expectation, and instead proceeding on a lecture on project ethics etc – which it is no use repeating was the last of what Mwalimu could tolerate from World Bank 'clerks,' to put it mildly.

He directed that the two officials leave the soonest, but Mtei failed to cancel a Kilimanjaro Hotel party already scheduled.

Parliament was more reactive than anticipatory of government action, and seldom held government to accountability, as the format of the political system was that it was the president who held ministers to a semblance of public accountability.

In the second phase this started to change, as the change of cap at the top produced a less distinctive role of president and cabinet, and instead the checking role started to shift to the legislature. Less fear of the top party (and state) leadership was clearly seeping in following the formal start of multiparty politics, so in 1995 a top minister shifted to opposition, as an opportunity.

This tendency has remained in parliamentary politics as a whole, with a number of policy advisory committees formed especially for the minerals sector.

Virtually each Parliament has formed its own committee and most of their recommendations go unheeded, where the crucial issue at stake is to enable some key stakeholders to express their sentiments on the matter in order to calm public opinion.

When policy positions are solid on the part of the government, policy impact of such committees is minimal, and its political impact is limited, as its tasks are seen as professional, its report suggestive.

That explains why there has been a series of committees on the minerals sector in relation chiefly to taxation, reflecting persistent demands in that direction which the government has always resisted.

The last time such a committee was formed, following an accord for the start of the Buzwagi gold mining project, it wasn't an accusatory orientation to check probity shortfalls with Minister Nazir Karamagi in how the contract was reached and signed. Under the current atmosphere in Parliament it is arguable if its terms of reference would have remained the same; the tone in MPs' demands now tends to be radical.

Another substantive aspect of the formation of parliamentary committees is the composition, which in large measure helps to indicate the sort of interest groups which Government wishes to give a hearing, in tune with parliamentary sentiments on the issue.

In a previous House committee on minerals sector policy the key figure from outside Parliament that the government brought in was retired head of the armed forces, Gen. Robert Mboma, in his capacity as chairman of the board of directors of the Tanzania Petroleum Development Corporation (TPDC). Stamico, the state mining outfit, is weak at the moment.

In the more recent House committee on the matter, the key non-governmental figure was committee chairman and ex-Attorney General Mark Bomani, and plenty hinged on the participation of Kigoma North MP Zitto Kabwe. Still the climate wasn't as yet critical for the government on the issue as Speaker Samuel Sitta had endorsed a motion to suspend the Kigoma North MP for alleging that impropriety was apparent in how the Buzwagi contract was concluded in negotiations and then put to signing, especially since the minister flew to sign it in London as a matter of urgency.

It thus was induced, a language format that irked the Speaker at the time, and would appear very reasonable today!

A number of committees have taken roles that have not differed from what used to be the case during the first and largely second phase presidencies, namely constituting a committee to show concern for public demand, allowing the pressure to dissipate.

There was an outcry on removals of herders from various areas of Loliondo game controlled area, which the government said had included invaders from kindred tribes across the border to the north, and human rights groups said only local residents were involved. Scarcely have MPs from the area or various MPs generally, whether ruling party or opposition seemed habitually persisting in the matter, and it has largely gone out of the 'radar screen' since 2009.

Certain matters keep surfacing after being handled by committtees while some wither away depending on the depth of their political intensity. For once there has never been a parliamentary inquiry on the manner in which dozens of small miners were caught underground as a 24-hour deadline to vacate the Bulyanhulu mining zone was cut short to 12 hours.

Opposition political leaders who took up the issue soon took fright, and in recent years it is only civic rights activist Tundu Lissu, now opposition MP (Singida East, Chadema) who speaks about it as part of Lawyers Environmental Action Team (LEAT).

This exception to matters that are put to parliamentary investigation implies that it is issues for which the government is slightly soft that are put across, not when the government stamps its foot on an issue.

That is why heightened initiative on various fronts during the fourth phase to make inquiries in certain areas has to do with greater openness and transparency, irrespective of whether it is also evident that the severity of issues would also have risen. One such question was the Richmond tender award, where it is surprising Government failed to explain that Richmond, and later Dowans, was the cheapest bid....

Owing to growing parliamentary rifts reflecting rising contention in society (giving opposition and edge in ethical debate) and greater levels of dissent within the ruling party (seeking to domesticate opposition motions, platforms), probing seems to be rising too.

In the latest dispute there are two sets of inquiries, one concerning the letter by PS Jairo for raising funds towards a parliamentary seminar, to cultivate 'understanding' for ministerial positions and performance, and another on Chief Secretary Philemon Luhanjo. The latter is accused of interfering in parliamentary work, a novel area of dispute.

For all intents and purposes the present inquiry marks a watershed, and it can't be said if there will be equally destabilising inquires in due course, depending on how this one goes. Factually, it could be kept within reasomable bounds if it is directed at procedural issues of the Chief Secretary's intervention, not the content.

For in the latter context it would be obvious that the head of the civil service had to check with the president, in which case a 'bull in china shop' kind of inquiry would amount to seeking a vote of no confidence in the president, where definitely Parliament would also be in line for own dissolution.

No one expects that the House has a stomach for such inquiry or logic of inquiry, thus the sense of common interest that should not be put in peril would prevail, despite heightened agitation for all sorts of reasons, especially factional politics.

The funds that the PS was collecting were being directed at MPs, and out of nowhere the same MPs want the matter to be put in the clear as to what was happening, as if the presumed targeting of the funds was not correct. When it is evident that this detail can't be disputed in favor of embezzling funds, why must MPs be so militant that the matter be fully disclosed?

That sort of discrepancy in how the matter is going through Parliament shows widening cracks in the ruling party, as Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda was reported to have threatened to resign if David Jairo is cleared and returns to work. The idea wasn't just to clear Jairo but to clear MPs, but they don't want to be cleared – why?

It would follow that there is a high stakes game where a large number of people stand to gather a few precious points before public opinion, in line with the 'skin shedding programme' in CCM, where hurting the minister, William Ngeleja, reduces chances for Edward Lowassa to regain initiative!

That is why observers of the Tanzanian political scene need to distinguish between transparency as a quality of democracy and instability creeping in, donning the masks of transparency. A cardinal aspect of how systems work is that self-interest is predetermined, while group interests are also acknowledged, and national interest as well.

In Tanzania at present and in Parliament specifically, all these things seem to be wobbly, where demarcations between ruling party and opposition are hard to define. At one point the prime minister voted with the opposition on a motion on membership of district ethics committees!

There is hence reason to offer the compliment, 'a house divided against itself, falls' that there is every sign that CCM is working towards its downfall, because it has failed or refused to answer opposition criticism about actions of the government, when it knows perfectly well why it conducted that policy course.

And when shove comes to push, it asks officials in charge at the time to resign or has in at least two instances hauled them to court, apparently on wobbly evidence, or lacking a prima facie case to answer.

At times an inquiry is suggested in advance, for instance Premier Pinda saying lately that any official who shall enter a faulty contract will be taken to task – whereas a contract can't be deemed faulty for what it says, but on the basis of what some other person wished to see being negotiated, etc.

It also needs to be said that the David Jairo case has opened new vistas between Parliament and the Government, where the prime minister has demonstrated that he is anchored squarely in parliamentary sentiments rather than cohesion of government activity.

Clearing out the mud from the House by simply ascertaining that the money contributed had been returned wasn't enough as MPs were baying for blood – which they tried with the report on the Richmond contract and failed. This case has also intensified the vindictive attitude of Parliament, of seeking court cases instead of simple resignation by executives.

That means it is rather easy to predict that current vindictiveness is a suicidal drive which overtakes political systems before they branch off into chaos.

Such an atmosphere is building up because prickly sentiments seem to be greeting any seeming mishap in government conduct, to extract as much in parliamentary 'pound of flesh' as is possible, hindering the security mechanism of government from acting in the right direction, as it attempted in the Jairo case.

When MPs insist that all attempts at their very bribing be put to light in the clearest manner possible our political system hinges on loose bolts.

What Parliament’s probe committees have produced Parliamentary Probe committee emerged powerfully in 1990s, shaking the government’s circles with damning report implicating some of the members of the Executive.

For instance in 1996, a Parliamentary Probe Committee probing Ministry of Finance on scandal of Nile Perch industries taxation, caused the the resignation of Finance Minister Simon Mbilinyi and his deputy minister Kilontsi Mporogomyi, after the two were implicated by in the committee’s report.

Earlier in 1994, a Parliamentary Committee chaired by former Rorya MP, Edward Oyombe Ayila, to investigate the debt-buy-back program implicated prominent government figures including former Chief Secretary, Paul Rupia, and key business tycoons like C.V Chavda.

However, after the government failed to implement the findings of the committee, the then Minister for home affairs, Augustine Lyatonga Mrema opted to resign after differing with the Executive on how the matter was handled, accusing the latter of shielding corrupt leaders.

After his dramatic resignation, Mrema opted to join the opposition party, National Convention for Constructions and Reforms, NCCR Mageuzi, before vying for the presidency in 1995 first multiparty election.

There was also Sugar imports permits dispute probe leading to resignation of the then Industry and Trade minister Iddi Simba, then more recently the Richmond contract controversy leading to resignation of Prime Minister Edward Lowassa and two sector ministers, Dr Ibrahim Msabaha and successor, Nazir Karamagi.

Still the import support CIS funds probe was the most important, and despite other issues surfacing, funds for payment of external debts remained the most controversial area of government financing.

Lately the government has been working on reconciling (after audit queries) the use of Sh1.7trillion economic rescue package, mostly going to cotton related firms, and Sh48bn not clearly accounted for according to the Controller and Auditor General.

Even if a parliamentary probe has been mooted it seems to be low key, since the strength and intensity of parliamentary probe committees relate to animosities raised around a particular question, rather than its material character in situ.

Note would also be taken of close involvement of Parliament in the Land Acts of 1999 as the original report by the Land Commission had to be rewritten and considerable changes made so that it is 'progressive' and marginally permits land allocation for investment.

Parliament was however more involved in the Sex Offences (Special Provisions) Act of 1998, in a manner similar to the Jairo event, of organising a seminar with colourful parliamentary participation. The rest hasn't been as elaborately discussed.

Noticeably, among donor agencies, the UK Department for International Development (DfID) has in the past year or so been praising Tanzania for rising transparency in its governance platform, and that is precisely what President Kikwete seems to target by allowing the formation of parliamentary committees and where he deems fit, even allows prosecution of top government officials, without there being any doubt as to where his sentiments are located - distinctively from Premier Pinda, whose feelings are with the radical group.

There is still, in waiting, an advisory committee on how to constitute a constitutional review panel to collect views, a matter that has been postponed to a later date.

Nor are the results and action taken on the 2009 Loliondo evictions clear, if any - while vast evictions from Ihefu Valley in Usangu Basin in 2007 was also said to have occasioned broad breaches of human rights, but since the pastoralists were not residing in their traditional area, it appears they have felt to be lacking locus standi as they were migrants on public land in the sense of open land, not identified with any customary land rights on their part, as in the Loliondo evictions matter.

SOURCE: GUARDIAN ON SUNDAY
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