“WHEN I was sworn in as President of the United Republic of Tanzania, I took the oath of protecting the Union of our country,” states a newly-elected President John Pombe Magufuli as he starts his first five-year term as the Head of State.
This was back in 2015-- four years ago, when the country witnessed the man, who would go on to orchestrate great social and economic reforms, underlines his priorities before the newly-elected parliamentarians and would-be ministers.
Maintaining and strengthening the Union is one of the principal duty any Tanzanian President must execute steadfastly if the two sides of the Union Republic of Tanzania should realize the spirit of the Union, which is centered in socio-economic prosperity of the citizens.
Mainland Tanzania and Zanzibar are thus the two sides of a coin; They are literally inseparable. The face and strength of the Union is a measure of success for any political regime in Tanzanian politics, past and present.
Conversant with that reality, President Magufuli soon after being voted into power vowed to defend the Union from any threats as he delivered his inaugural speech to inaugurate the 11th parliament, listing his government’s set of priorities.
President Magufuli described himself as a committed believer in the unique Union that saw the two sovereign states Zanzibar and Tanganyika voluntarily and peacefully merge into one nation and vowed to protect it.
“I believe with all my heart that our Union is the source of our unity, peace and security. I have every reason to protect and nurture our unique and rare Union,” insisted President amid cheers from the legislators and invitees.
He said it was his intention to see the people of Zanzibar and those of the Mainland enjoying the fruits of the Union instead of it becoming a constraint towards their personal welfare and growth of the two sides of the Union.
Four years into Magufuli’s presidency and one would rightly argue that ‘the promise made a promise kept’. He is walking the talk. His government has succeeded in maintaining great cooperation with the Revolutionary Government of Zanzibar, under President Ali Mohamed Shein to further and strengthen the Union.
The Union remains stronger, the brotherhoods atmosphere between the Islanders and Mainlanders even much stronger. Dr Magufuli and his Zanzibar counterpart, Dr Shein have enhanced political stability, safety, peace and security under the umbrella of the Union.
The long historical beneficial association between the people of the two parts of the United Republic of Tanzania, the understanding and harmony between them has been successfully maintained and strengthened.
Zanzibar Minister for State in the Second Vice-President’s Office, Mr Mohamed Aboud says the existing national unity, political stability and peaceful co-existence have been the prerequisites for economic prosperity witnessed in both sides of the Union.
Mr Mohamed hails the prevailing good environment for Tanzanians to engage in various economic activities and contribute towards national as well as their development. “The free movement of people plays a crucial role in promoting economic development, with people from either side enjoying the luxury of living and pursuing their economic endeavour anywhere in the country,” he says.
More Union challenges addressed
The progress of Union has been a gradual process, whereas the two governments have continuously kept working on inherent and emerging challenges. A number of Union burning issues have been addressed since the fifth-phase government came into power four years ago.
Among them is the issue of gas and oil exploration and extraction. Now each side has its own legislation governing its own resources. According to the Minister for State, Mr Mohamed, two more issues have addressed during President Magufuli’s first term, the public outcry over double taxation.
The recent decision to get rid of double registration for Zanzibar vehicles in Mainland Tanzania is one of the major decisions the two governments reached out recently, and will definitely sound popular among ordinary citizens.
Two joint sectoral meetings chaired by Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan, resolved that vehicles registered in Zanzibar are free to operate in Mainland Tanzania, same as vehicles registered in Mainland can now operate in Zanzibar, said the minister.
“Motor vehicles including cars can now be used in both sides of the Union, what is important they should be registered according to the laws,” says Mr Mohamed. The joint committee also resolved that Value Added Tax on all taxable goods and services supplied in, or imported into Zanzibar from Mainland Tanzania should now be collected in Zanzibar by ZRB and not TRA in Mainland Tanzania as was previously the case.
TRA was, thus, acting as ZRB’s tax collection agent in Mainland Tanzania but ceases to perform that task in that case. Similarly, VAT on goods manufactured in Zanzibar and transported to Mainland Tanzania shall now be collected in Mainland and not in Zanzibar, said Mr Mohamed as he hailed the governments for measures taken so far to address Union burning issues (Kero za Muungano).
He said revenues collected by TRA Zanzibar go into the Isles government’s coffers. This financial year, the TRA Zanzibar branch is projected to contribute 350.2bn/- to the Zanzibar annual budget of 1.315tril/-, about 26 percent of the budget.
The minister noted that Zanzibar was the only beneficiary of TRA activities in Zanzibar, revealing the Union government shouldered all running costs and salaries for TRA officials on the Isles. On the other hand, Mr Mohamed said the two governments, through the Joint Financial Committee were still working on grievance over Zanzibar’s dividends from Bank of Tanzania.
When addressing the parliament, President Magufuli admitted that poverty and unemployment remained Tanzania’s biggest challenge and promised to work towards reducing the gap between the rich and the poor.
In an effort to fight absolute poverty, the Union government has continued to support the underprivileged households through Tanzania Social Action Fund (Tasaf) programme. Launched during the fourth-phase government, the Tasaf Productive Social Safety Net programme has proved to be one of the most innovative ways of reaching and assisting the poor from the vicious circle.
Poor communities in Zanzibar have pocketed a total of 28.2bn in grants and soft loans through Tasaf Programmes. The amount was disbursed as primary and conditional grants to a total of 32,154 poor households, says the Minister of State in the President’s Office (Public Service and Good Governance) Ms Mary Mwanjelwa.
The money was disbursed between 2016 and 2019 through several initiatives under Tasaf Program, whereby 4.3bn/-out of it was issued in the form of wages to poor communities who benefited from the creation of short term jobs through Tasaf in Unguja while another 3.9bn/- was issued in the same manner to Pemba families.
Zanzibar Second Vice- President, Ambassador Seif Ali Idd applauds the implementation of Tasaf programs on the Isles, saying many people have improved the lives while the program has also contributed to the improvement of social services in some areas.
“Tasaf programmes implementation has impacted a number of lives in Zanzibar. Through TASAF III, students’ enrollment in primary and secondary school has improved, improved food security at household level due to cash transfer and increased saving behaviour among beneficiaries,” said Ambassador Idd.
Despite much of the successes recorded over the years, there are still a number of unresolved issues whose resolutions continue to be sought.
Some of pending issues include the modality on how to fund the Union and revenue share, the registration of shipping liners under the Tanzanian flag, Zanzibar’s share in the defunct East African Currency Board and Zanzibar’s and participation of Zanzibar in international affairs.
There are persistent complaints from Zanzibar traders that some of their products such as drinking water, sugar and other beverages are prohibited from entering the Mainland market. They also claim to be charged twice when they trade with their Mainland counterparts.
The Deputy Minister for Trade and Industries, Hassan Khamis Hafidh, admits that such grievances exit but insists measures are being taken to eliminate non-tariff barriers to trade between Zanzibar Island and Mainland Tanzania.
Mr Hafidh says that excessive nontariff barriers must be removed in order to improve business environment between the two sides, and urges Zanzibar traders seeking to export goods to Mainland to follow right procedures, including securing permits from the ministry.
According to the Deputy Minister, his ministry conducted a study on the existing nontariff barriers to trade and establishes the unnecessary shackles in doing business between Zanzibar and Mainland Tanzania with a view to removing them.
Jaku Ayoub Hashim, a House Representative and Member of Parliament, says the governments must work on grievances from Zanzibar traders over restrictions that impact negatively on their business. Mr Jaku argues that existing regulations and procedures must be able to promote, not hinder, trade between the two parts of the Union.