A newcomer to the Parliament building in Dodoma when the National Assembly is in session might easily mistake its parking yards as an exhibition of top-of the range Japanese car models, thanks to the costly lavish lifestyle of government officials which they have come to take for granted.
However, the cars are neither on show nor on sale. Most of them in fact bear government ante-numbers or number plates indicating that they have been bought with donor funds – DFP, for donor-funded project. The luxury vehicles ferry important and not-so-important government officials in the designated capital as supporting staff to their ministers.
The sight of so many gleaming and obviously very expensive vehicles in just one area might be forgiven for thinking that the Tanzanian government must be wallowing in money. But the opposite is the case, for Tanzania is in fact one of the poorest countries in Africa.
During the budget session, which stretches from June to mid August, Dodoma is awash with the gas guzzlers, and it’s an endless competition of who is driving the latest and more expensive model in town.
The officials are in Dodoma to assist their ministers in providing details, including answers to queries and questions that arise when Members of Parliament discuss their annual budgets.
It is during this period when the Parliament premises and Dodoma municipality becomes another Detroit or Tokyo motor show, leaving one to wonder how a poor country like Tanzania can afford to buy and run all these fuel guzzlers.
However, as the officials enjoy their rides in their preferred means of transport millions of Tanzanians are suffering in grinding poverty, partly because they have to maintain the senseless lavish lifestyle of people who should be serving them.
But, the government seems finally to have awoken from deep slumber and decided that the procurement and use of expensive motor vehicles for its officials is not in the country’s best interests.
This week’s announcement by Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office responsible for Policy, Coordination and Parliamentary Affairs William Lukuvi that some directors in the Prime Minister’s Office have begun using Toyota RAV 4 cars instead of Landcruiser VXs has come as welcome news.
According to a survey conducted by the Guardian, this is massive relief to many Tanzanians, though the damage caused during the past decade of dilly-dallying to ditch the fuel guzzlers is irreparable.
Speaking on ‘The 45 Minutes Programme’ aired by ITV this week, Lukuvi said Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda has stopped issuing permits for the procurement of government vehicles to various government entities, adding that some directors under his office are now using Toyota RAV 4 cars.
He said should any pressing need to buy cars arise then the prime minister would allow Landcruiser hard tops and double cabins cars to be bought and not the over Sh 200 million apiece Land Cruiser VX and V8 cars.
This means that the government will suspend the purchase of the Sh200million posh cars¬ – which is equivalent to the cost of financing tuition fees for 50 students at the university or the construction of ten classrooms- and instead procure cheaper Sh60 million cars.
According to details gathered by the Guardian, the moderate model chosen by the government, a new Toyota RAV4 costs between $ 33,000 ( Sh 52million) and $48,130 ( Sh 77 million) before other costs such as shipment and taxes , depending on the model.
Since government vehicles are exempted by the taxman the change from affluent Landcruisers to moderate RAV 4s will bring relief to the country, which is currently struggling with surging inflation, a growing national debt, a power crisis and a weakening shilling against major foreign currencies.
For instance, the recent reshuffled cabinet, with a total of 55 ministers and their deputies, costs taxpayers about sh11 billion for buying each one of them a VX car.
According to a Public Accounts Committee’s report of 2010/11, the government has vehicles worth Sh5 trillion, or 60 per cent of the country’s annual budget, according to the 2011/12 estimates.
About 60 per cent of the Sh5 trillion is the total value of the expensive fuel guzzlers, according to the report.
Landcruiser VX or V8 cars have been described as expensive in running and maintaining.
A government driver who drives a one of the fuel guzzlers told the Guardian on the condition of anonymity that his car, a Landcruiser V8, consumes 400 litres of fuel per month when he does not travel up-country. This means that a single car consumes fuel worth around Sh 840,000 every month.
“These cars are fuel guzzlers, my friend. Just imagine, if I take this car to the garage for regular service, which is done after every 5000km, the bill normally stands at about Sh 800,000.
In 2009 Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda promised to cut down on the procurement of expensive cars. He said the saved cash would be directed to the procurement of tractors to boost the agriculture sector.
But a renowned Tanzanian economist, Prof Ibrahim Lipumba, described Lukuvi’s pronouncement as irrelevant. He said the fact that the government already has a fleet of cars worth over Sh 5 trillion, giving such a statement does not change anything in terms of cutting down government expenditure.
“The PAC report has told us that by June 2010 the government had a fleet of cars worth Sh 5 trillion. Now, does it mean that they will sell those fuel guzzlers that the government possesses before purchasing the RAV 4 car model?” he queried.
For years now the public has been calling upon the government to review its policy of purchasing its vehicles after being noticed that billions of money was spent annually on the procurement fuel guzzlers at the expense of public welfare.
In the 2008/2009 financial year, records show that the government spent about Sh 150 billion after it ordered 800 brand new four-wheel drive luxury vehicles from Japan. Such a whooping amount of money could have paved 450 kilometres of roads or given to 7,500 university students loans amounting to Sh 5 million yearly for four years.
Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee ( PAC) John Cheyo submitted the committee’s report to Parliament last month in which it was revealed that the government, as of June 30, 2010, owned a fleet of cars worth Sh 5 trillion, almost 40 per cent of the 2011/2012 national budget.
East African governments have, in the recent past, been blamed for overexpenditure and embezzlement of public funds through the procurement and maintenance of vehicles.
In 2006, the Ugandan government commissioned a report titled ‘’Vehicle use in the public sector,’’which painted a grim picture about government expenditure on vehicles after the document revealed that the government was spending 54 billion Uganda shillings (approximately $31.7 million) on fuel and maintenance of its 11,000 fleet annually.
Implementation of the government promise has come almost three to eight years later after some governments in the East Africa region embarked on similar strategies to cut down government expenditure.
Records show that the Kenyan government started implementing similar strategies about four years ago by providing ministers and other top public officials with VW Passat salon cars to replace expensive cars. The car makes the Kenyan government stopped using, included Mercedes, Toyota Land Cruiser, Volvos and others with an engine capacity higher than 1800 cc.
In Rwanda only the president, prime minister, Speaker of Parliament, Senate Speaker and head of the Supreme Court are entitled to a government vehicle of more than 2000cc. Ministers and other senior government officers are given loans to purchase cars of their choice and fixed allowances for maintenance.
The government hires vehicles when needs arise, for example, for official up-country travel.
Since Rwanda started implementing the strategy in 2004 it has impounded 250 government vehicles, including those in donor-funded projects and those owned by non-governmental organizations and of May 2005 it had raised $ 3,5 million in the sale of the impounded vehicles.
The CAG audit report of the central government for the financial year that ended on June 30, 2011 revealed that the government has been losing millions of shillings on the maintenance of government vehicles.
It has been documented in the report that in 2010/2011 ministries, departments, agencies and the office of Regional Administrative Secretariats ( MDAs&RAS) mishandled payments for the maintenance of government vehicles amounting to Sh 77.318 million . This is minus cheating done on fuel bills.