Among the more challenging slogans which former President Benjamin Mkapa is identified with was his pledge to establish a forthright and transparent Government ‘Serikali ya Ukweli na Uwazi.’ Mkapa intoned at every opportunity, every political twist and turn. Frankly speaking, to what degree that pledge was implemented is debatable.
Was the Mkapa Administration that much forthright: straightforward and straight to the point without ambiguity or hesitation? Was it that much transparent: frank, pellucid, free from pretence or deceit and readily understood? If nothing else, a recent development by a long-serving organization would tend to demonstrate that there, indeed, is a measure of transparency and forthrightness in Tanzania.
I do have in mind here the National Social Security Fund (NSSF). Specifically, the Fund’s Director- General, Dr Ramadhani Dau, who responded forthrightly and transparently to claims against the organization in a popular Swahili Weekly. The claims by a columnist were released for public consumption in the ‘MwanaHalisi’ on January 26, 2012, under the title ‘NSSF na karata tatu kwa fedha za wafanyakazi.’
Simply put, the title (and the article) was about NSSF a national pension funds scheme —dicing with funds raised through monthly contributions by its members, channeling same into dubious investment projects. At the end of the day, the statutory contributions — as well as funds accruing to the Scheme in its day-to-day operations — rightly belong to the organization’s members in particular, and their dependents in general. This is to say nothing of the country and its people at large, who are natural stakeholders in parastatals.
The columnist cited nine ‘examples’ in an effort to illustrate his point that NSSF has been dicing away its contributors’ money through ‘chancy investments’ whose benefits cannot be guaranteed. Among the examples are NSSF’s loans to the controversial Kiwira Coal & Power Ltd (US$7m), and Kagera Sugar Company Ltd (72bn/-, in joint financing with other creditors); investments made in Katani Ltd (US$6.7m), the construction of 252 houses in Dodoma (2.5bn/-), and the proposed Kigamboni Bridge.
Others are the alleged sale of the Fund’s building in Mwanga District (250m/-) and another building in the TaZaRa area of Dar es Salaam (reportedly sold to Tanzania Standard Newspapers), as well as the alleged abandonment of NSSF building in Ilala District. Then there’s the rather vague allegation to the general effect that NSSF is being used by the Governemnt as a cat’s paw in promoting development projects that are more often than not illusory.
This is tantamount to a comic-opera state which shouldn’t be taken seriously where the regime lulls gullible Tanzanians into believing that their Government and its institutions are at the forefront of bringing about socio-economic progress! At first glance, the allegations must be taken seriously by all who have the welfare of the country and Tanzanians at heart and in mind.
The ‘projects’ referred to cost billions of shillings, some of that in foreign currency. Perhaps that’s what prompted NSSF Director-General to respond to them just as promptly.
I’m in no definitive position to tell with certitude who’s right between the two protagonists: the columnist and the NSSF chief. But, that’s beside the point in this lucubration, whose underlying principle and overriding objective is to laud the virtues of forthrightness and transparency in public affairs... Dr Dau has been exemplary by the manner and style in which he responded to the claims. Whether or not he’s succeeded in satisfying NSSF critics is beside the point; that can be debated down the ages.
My point here’s that other institutions — starting with the utility parastatals, perhaps? — should take a leaf out of the NSSF book, likewise responding promptly and as fully as it’s humanly possible to criticisms as they arise. They should leave no room for speculation, anxiety, void and other negativisms in the communities they were created to serve and service.