Tanzania: President John Pombe Magufuli Marks First Year in Office

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  • His Trials and Tribulations

EDITORIAL

It has been a year since President John Pombe Magufuli was sworn in as the fifth president of the United Republic of Tanzania.

However, his first year in office has been marked by a number of challenges that tested his government despite what has largely been seen a relatively good start. Following are some of the crises that shook his administration in its early days:

Demolitions in Dar es Salaam

The demolitions early this year targeting more than 8,000 houses built in Dar es Salaam contrary to the city’s 1970s master plan was halted after some residents rushed to court. A few weeks after Dr Magufuli was sworn in, the government moved in and started to demolish houses built in unauthorised. The demolitions followed unusually heavy rains, which left dozens of people dead and wreaked havoc on the city’s fragile infrastructure.

The government had for many years tried to convince poor families to move out of flood-prone areas, but many resisted. Few had money to buy plots elsewhere and many opted to build houses in risky areas such as the Msimbazi and Kinondoni valleys, which are close to the city centre.

Commentators say the government later viewed the demolitions as an ill-advised move that could alienate voters in the country’s largest and most populous city, coming hot on the heels of a closely contested presidential election.

Tanzania Misses Out on MCC Cash

The Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) board revoked Tanzania’s eligibility for nearly $450 million (Sh1 trillion) in funding, dealing a blow to the government’s plan to implement electrification projects in rural areas. The negative vote meant that President Magufuli’s government had to reduce expenditure even further to make funds available for the projects. Although the government has been reluctant to admit it, the fact remains that the withdrawal of MCC support is likely to have a long-term effect on power projects, bearing in mind that it was the largest bilateral funding by any single country.

Reasons given for the suspension of MCC support include concerns on good governance, especially following the contentious elections in Zanzibar, and enforcement of the controversial Cybercrime law, which is said to infringe on individual rights.

The Sugar Crisis

The country was gripped by a serious sugar crisis early this year following the government’s decision to restrict importation of the commodity by private traders, ostensibly to fight tax evasion, ensure quality and protect local producers. The government set a maximum indicative price of Sh1,800 per kilogramme, but the acute shortage of sugar that followed pushed up prices to between Sh2,500 and Sh4,000 in many parts of the country.
 
Although the government stepped in and imported several thousand tonnes of sugar, shortages persisted and prices remained high.
 
The government eventually yielded and relaxed restrictions on imports to give consumers a much-needed respite from high prices. The way the sugar issue was handled was seen as a clumsy misstep on the part of the new government.
 
Violent Crime
 
Insecurity has been and is still one of the challenges troubling the Fifth Phase government. Dar es Salaam has especially been hit hard by violent crime, with gangs such as the infamous “Panya Road” terrorising people in various parts of the city in recent months. The situation was not made any better by the killing of four police officers by gunmen in Dar es Salaam in August in what the Police Force said was a declaration of war.
 
Police have responded to an upsurge in crime with deadly force, shooting dead at least 30 suspects in various parts of the country since the beginning of the year.
 
This is hardly surprising after President Magufuli challenged the Police Force to be tough on violent crime. He wondered how gunmen could attack a police station, kill officers on duty, steal firearms and melt away without trace.
 
Human rights activists have voiced their concern and accused police of carrying out extrajudicial killings. They said police could target innocent civilians under the guise of fighting violent crime.

Kagera Earthquake

At least 20 people were killed and more than 200 others injured when a powerful earthquake hit Kagera Region on September 10.

Hundreds of buildings were destroyed in the 5.7-magnitude earthquake, the most powerful to have been recorded in Tanzania.

The relief response was swift, with well-wishers donating billions of shillings to help the victims, but the government has come under criticism for what is seen in some quarters as bureaucracy in the distribution of aid to those affected by the earthquake.

The government’s directive that relief efforts be coordinated by a single authority has raised concern that crooked officials could take advantage of red tape to line their pockets with proceeds meant for victims. Two senior regional officials have been charged in connection with a parallel bank account that was purportedly opened to collect funds for those affected by the earthquake.

In short, the earthquake exposed glaring weaknesses in disaster response and preparedness.

mugufuli-first-year-in-officeThe Weighty, Tricky Matter of Fulfilling Campaign Pledges

The government’s apparent dilly-dallying on loans for students in higher learning institutions has put into question a key campaign promise by President John Magufuli.

Dr Magufuli said ahead of last year’s General Election that, if elected, he would see to it that more students were provided with loans and that bureaucracy in issuance of the money would be a thing of the past.

The then CCM candidate said his government would ensure that all students from poor families were provided with loans that would enable them complete their studies without hindrance.

Indeed, increasing the number of students in higher education institutions and ensuring that they get their loans promptly and in full were among key promises made by Dr Magufuli during his campaign. There are no prices for guessing that the promises were meant to persuade students in higher learning institutions and those aspiring to pursue higher education to vote for Dr Magufuli.

If a week is a long time in politics, then a year is an eon. The government has swiftly changed its tune, and now says only those pursuing “priority” courses will get preference in the issuance of loans. This will definitely leave many students out in the cold.

This is just one example of a myriad of promises made by Dr Magufuli during his campaign and how the pledges are being implemented.

The loans issues apart, there is a general consensus that President Magufuli is well on course to fulfilling most, if not all, of his promises, bearing in mind that he still has four more years before completing his first term.

Dr Magufuli and his party made numerous promises in almost all key sectors, but there are some pledges that have stood out. These are the ones people will remember most and use to gauge the Fifth Phase government’s performance, but there are some things which need to be taken into consideration. Apart from sectoral promises, there are some general issues which have helped to distinguish the Fifth Phase government’s modus operandi.

In his first year in office, Dr Magufuli has distinguished himself as a results-oriented leader. In everything he does or say, Dr Magufuli wants to see results.

He has also earned a reputation as a leader who tackles issues promptly and head-on. This is a far cry from the style of his predecessor, Mr Jakaya Kikwete, who was not known to be in a hurry to solve even the most urgent of problems. Dr Magufuli has no such patience.

Many people were surprised when Dr Magufuli fired Home Affairs minister Charles Kitwanga on the same day he reportedly turned up drunk in Parliament in Dodoma.

Promises and Delivery

Dr Magufuli’s leadership style has played a big role in his achievements in his first year in office. Many things have been accomplished simply because of his insistence on prompt results. While some may ask for plenty of time to tackle what may seem daunting challenges, that is not the case with Dr Magufuli

Shift to Dodoma

One of the issues that have troubled successive Union governments is the implementation of the decision made back in 1973 to move the government’s seat to Dodoma. This was not among Dr Magufuli’s election promises, but he nevertheless went ahead and declared his government’s firm intention to move to Dodoma shortly after he was elected CCM chairman in June.

The plan has been in CCM’s manifestos for many years, but the political will has been lacking. When Dr Magufuli declared that the entire government would have moved to Dodoma by the end of his first term, many people thought he was merely parroting what was said by his predecessors in the past, but it became amply clear that he meant business when Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa said he would move to Dodoma in early September.

Indeed, Mr Majaliwa has already moved his office to Dodoma, and the government has set a clear timetable for the move to the municipality in phases before President Magufuli himself relocates in four years’ time. For the first time in 43 years, the government’s promise to move to Dodoma cannot be dismissed as a load of hot air.

Fee Education

Another of President Magufuli’s promises is the provision of free education up to Form Four. When he said primary and secondary education would be free if he was elected, his detractors dismissed it as an election gimmick aimed at winning him vote, but in true Magufuli fashion, the promise was implemented from January 1, 2016, less than two months after he was sworn in.

Dr Magufuli launched a crackdown on tax evasion and government extravagance to ensure that adequate resources were available to fund free education. He made it clear that he would not tolerate any hurdles or excuses in the implementation of his pet project.

Some had predicted that it would cost the government a staggering Sh5 trillion to implement Dr Magufuli’s promise, and that the initiative would soon fall flat on its face, but the first year of free education is almost coming to and end in what can rightly be viewed as a success on the part of the Head of State.

Health

A key promise in this area is the construction of a dispensary in every ward and ensuring that public health facilities have adequate medical supplies and personnel. However, the results so far have not been easy to quantify.

The construction of a dispensary in every ward is essentially a long-term project, which is virtually impossible to implement in one year. However, this is not the case with the aim of ensuring that all public health facilities have adequate medicines and personnel.

As Dr Magufuli marks a year in office, the situation in many public health facilities is dire due to an acute shortage of drugs, equipment and personnel. This has been confirmed by no lesser a person than Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan herself after a round of unconvincing denials by the Health minister and other government officials.

A few days after he was sworn in, Dr Magufuli visited Muhimbili National Hospital where he sacked the acting director general and dissolved the board of Tanzania’s biggest referral hospital after seeing patients lying on the floor in crowded wards and learning that important diagnostic equipment had not been working for several months. Many had expected that the tour would mark the start of marked improvement in service delivery at public hospitals, but this dream has yet to become a reality a year down the line.

Corruption and Accountability

This is an area that is likely to shape President Magufuli’s legacy. He has cracked down on corruption and wasteful spending with unprecedented zeal that has made him a household name in Africa and beyond in his first year in office.

Dar es Salaam Port and Tanzania Revenue Authority (TRA) have particularly come under close scrutiny in Dr Magufuli’s war on corruption and outright theft of taxpayers’ money. Casualties of the crackdown include a Treasury permanent secretary and TRA commissioner general. Businesspeople said to be colluding with crooked TRA and port officials to deny the government revenue have also not been spared. President Magufuli also refused to yield to pressure by traders opposed to the use of fiscal electronic devices.

As a result, revenue collection shot up from a monthly average of Sh800 billion to about Sh1 trillion. In years gone by, plenty of thieving hands would have dipped into this cash pile, but the situation is different under President Magufuli.

Measures have also taken over the past year to curb unnecessary expenditure, and these include restricting non-essential travel and cancellation of national celebrations.
 
Dr Magufuli has led from the front when it comes to discouraging globetrotting by public officials. He has made only three foreign trips in his first year in office – to Rwanda, Uganda and, more recently, Kenya.
 
On accountability, Dr Magufuli has not hesitated to wield the big stick against incompetent public officials and those involved in various forms of impropriety. This has served to keep people in positions of authority on their toes.
 
As part of renewed efforts to combat institutionalised corruption, a special court has been established to try people accused of involvement in the vice as promised by Dr Magufuli during last year’s campaigns.
 
Village Empowerment Fund
 
Another promise whose implementation is still pending is provision of Sh50 million for every village every financial year. This promise was made as part of a wide government empowerment plan.
 
In a way, it is a continuation of another plan rolled out during President Jakaya Kikwete’s leadership, and which was dubbed ‘Mabilioni ya Kikwete’. Under that plan, the government set aside funds to be loaned to small and medium entrepreneurs. The original plan was that money repaid by borrowers would have been loaned to others in a scheme operating like a revolving fund.
 
However, poor supervision and management crippled the plan as most of those who initially received loans did not bother to repay them.
 
To avoid what befell the ‘Mabilioni ya Kikwete’, money under the village empowerment fund is to be distributed to identified groups to make it easier to trace recipients and take action against defaulters.
 
Central Railway
 
Another grand plan by President Magufuli is the revival of the Central Railway by upgrading it to standard gauge. A loan has already been negotiated for the project which, if well implemented, could boost the country’s economy prospects.
 
But given the importance of the project, Dr Magufuli did not wait for the loan from China to be released, and the government has set aside funds in its 2016/17 budget to allow the construction of a standard gauge railway from Dar es Salaam to Morogoro.