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Cabinet crisis a reflection of failure of public-private partnership

29th April 2012
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An unparalleled crisis has engulfed the cabinet on the one hand, and the legislature against the cabinet on the other, such that the ruling party central committee has directed President Jakaya Kikwete to make extensive changes in the cabinet and either appoint new ministers or replace the premier altogether.

The core problem is negative reports in three major areas of economic life and administration of public assets, both from the Controller and Auditor General as well as from parliamentary standing committees which often conduct checks, investigations and audiences with administrators. It is hard to see how the current cabinet can now work in harmony or with MPs.

The media had initially expected President Kikwete to make such an announcement earlier in Dodoma, but it is understandable that the highest organs of CCM had to be consulted first. Ministers are people holding a not insignificant portion of the public trust in the system of government, and can’t be treated in a cavalier fashion.

However, with the opposition threatening to call public meetings on the issue, a certain amount of change or rectification that is visible and marginally sufficient was to be expected, where a change of cabinet was by far the easiest method available to the president. Even after the changes, nevertheless, it would still be opportune upon the president to give a different direction of leadership so that the problem which sparked the cabinet overhaul isn't rapidly replicated.

By examining the issues surfacing in the parliamentary committee reports, which were incidentally more extensively discussed than the CAG’s report, it would appear that the key difficulties lie in managing areas where the state foregoes control and enters into agreements with private investors.

One area is local governments where, apart from budgetary constraints for building schools, the problem of supervision of roads being constructed is pernicious. Other areas include power generation, mineral prospecting, allocation of hunting blocs, supervision of marine and forest resources and the issuing of certificates of quality (standards) where ministries and the authorities clash, or there are internal disagreements.

While the criticisms and demands for ministers’ resignation have focused largely on local government reports, to a certain extent to the health sector natural resources and the vast expanse of energy and minerals. Industry was also touched, agriculture as well as education.

It gives an impression of a state of disarray and lack of direction in government activity, which could be either true or false, depending on how one views the matter. If one is idealistic it would be a problem that arises from a variation of sentiment because MPs tend to be severe upon ministers whereas the latter face pressures from all quarters and it isn't easy to please all these quarters. Nevertheless, if one is realistic, there are severe problems awaiting attention.

One rather easy way of looking at the problem is to examine it from a behavioural point of view, that there are individuals who seem to be misbehaving in the cabinet and thus need to be replaced.

But the fact that one is talking about seven or eight ministries, where the MPs’ patience has been stretched to the limit, means that there is an extensive problem of a particular character, although it is possible that there are circumstances for the relative impatience of MPs to bear with the ministers.

It could actually be speculated whether the failed proposition to raise the MPs' sitting allowances hasn't contributed to the current malaise, where MPs are discovering that ministers are corrupt, like Natural Resources minister being said to have purchased a house for USD 700,000 in cash. Now, even if corruption appears more rampant, is legislative impatience rising?

From the look of it, this will be a cyclical problem that can only be managed but cannot be resolved, since anyone who takes this or that position is likely to face the same realities. In which case the way in which people take initiatives in their personal interest by bending the public interest will remain the norm.

Still, one specific parameter of causation of the stretch of problems that the legislative and executive systems are facing is encapsulated in the very notion of liberty that the country enjoys at present, namely the system where government retains control of the various sectors, and allocates work (investments and tenders to various claimants) on the basis of need.

For one thing, there is no sentimental disposition in society that this control be put aside to have more rational market-based relationships, but fostering probity, et cetera.

What the legislature and the public are essentially demanding is probity, but what is likely to take place is that those who will be picked to replace the ‘rotten’ pack will view the ministerial appointment as an opportunity because no one will deliberately opt out of seeking to ensure a good future in retirement, or even higher status now.

In the final analysis the people who are being contested are about eight or ten at most, but what is really at issue is systematic behaviour in local governments, major parastatals, various public authorities, top government officials, etc, all of whom behave or act on a peer basis, looking at role models.

Assuming therefore that the frenetic pace of acquiring wealth will go on undisturbed whatever cabinet changes the president brings about, it means he will only buy time for a while with changes, but the problems are sure to resurface.

It is crucial for the president to find a way of managing these conflicts so that peace is not disturbed and start interfering with the country's investment climate, confidence level and credit rating, and at the same time salvage the prestige of the ruling party. That is what appears to be in free fall with the current crisis, and to prepare for 2015 it will be necessary for the president to shore up the image of being able to change the conduct of senior government officials within the narrow matrix of stability of existing policies.

The latter framework itself may not remain stable for too long because the level of indebtedness is far too high, which explains the failure of the government to provide guarantees for a Sh408bn loan to Tanesco from commercial banks. It is from such issues that economic reform may arise.

A related source of reform could be sheer fatigue in how bureaucrats in the public-private partnership model operate or work together; for instance, when the Tanesco board chairman reportedly writes to Energy and Minerals minister William Ngeleja in relation to the delayed loan.

Gen. (Rtd) Robert Mboma, in a weekly newspaper report, is said to have told the minister that “delaying the loan is to show disrespect to the President as the commander-in-chief of the Defence and Security Forces,” depicting misunderstanding of grotesque propositions.

The minister would gladly have signed the guarantee if it was just a matter of Energy and Minerals boosting Tanesco as a ministerial parastatal, but the loan is guaranteed by the Treasury who know sensitive levels of debt, and where the lines are drawn.

The same board chairman would presumably have remembered that the MPs forced the government to add Sh500bn to the budget, all borrowed from local banks, by turning down Ngeleja's original estimates, and now turn around and think that adding another Sh408bn is nothing at all!

SOURCE: GUARDIAN ON SUNDAY
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