Corruption: Tanzania on the Road to Recovery?

Tanzania, like many other nations, understands the harmful impact of corruption on its economy, governance, and society. The state has already taken measures to encourage transparency and accountability, and it appears that nation is now on the path to improvement. How long will this last?

Corruption has been a long-standing problem in Tanzania, causing hindrance to its economic growth, damaging public confidence in the state and impeding social development. Nonetheless, the Tanzanian government has recently demonstrated a fresh dedication to fight corruption proactively and encourage transparency and accountability within the system.

“The fight against corruption will continue to be fought with full force and without favor or fear,” said George Mkuchika, the Minister of State in the President’s Office responsible for Good Governance and Public Service Management, back in 2019. At that time the country was governed by John Joseph Pombe Magufuli, a man with a clear record, a reputation for getting things done and the “bulldozer” moniker for his authoritarian style.

Having taken office in 2015, Magufuli assumed a tough and impressive stance. This resulted in some notable accomplishments, including the highly-publicized firing of 10,000 officials and the creation of a court for prosecuting corruption and economic sabotage. Back then, Tanzania was one of the twenty most corrupt countries in Africa, and ranked 117th out of 168 countries in Transparency International’s 2015 Corruption Index. Three years past, the country climbed to the 99th place out of 180 countries in the 2018 Transparency International corruption index. However, even with the advancements achieved, President Samia Suluhu Hassan, who succeeded Magufuli, discovered that showy actions do not always bring forth expected results.

Magufuli’s fight against corruption, much like everything else he did during his presidency, was influenced by his authoritarian style. His anti-corruption approach, labelled as “mainly vertical” by University of London analyst Antonio Andreoni, failed to eliminate the plague completely. President Samia discovered this when she requested more transparency in government expenditure. Following the order, 2021/2022 audit of the country’s independent Parliamentary body Controller and Auditor-General (CAG) included projects that were previously exempt from audit by the Magufuli administration. This brought rather unpleasant results.

“I learnt that payments [of the Local Government Authorities] totaling [TZS] 11.78bn/- were not adequately supported with fiscal receipts,” told CAG Chief Charles Kichere after the report was published. The funds were sent to medium and small vendors, resulting in the discovery of a misuse of public funds and non-payment of the related taxes.

Apart from these instances, Kichere’s report revealed significant misappropriation in large government projects that date back from Magufuli’s era. Apart from corrupt officials, the paper exposed the involvement of notable multinational companies such as Boeing. In the latter’s case, the CAG found substantial overpricing in an $86 million final invoice relating a Boeing 767-300 freighter purchased by the government. The original contract amount was $37 million, which was just over half of the final payment. The increase didn’t faze officials at all: “When you look at it critically, you will notice that the price hike is something that started internally,” commented President Samia, and immediately dismissed all those involved in the case.

Paradoxically, another round of uncovered corruption scandals has not yet earned Ms Hassan a reputation of a fierce corruption fighter. There is no doubt that her efforts have been recognized, but Kichere’s report spanned the period of her presidency as well. Moreover, Magufuli’s legacy keeps haunting her: “This rot [internal corruption] happened under past leaders, but these factions are trying to lay the blame on my government,” said Hassan commenting on the opposition’s attempts to smear her leadership.

Nor do the public’s expectations make it any easier: anti-corruption efforts are gaining momentum, and this is raising public expectations for transparent and accountable governance. This means that public officials in Tanzania are increasingly expected to display integrity, honesty, and ethical behavior in their roles. Any indication or proof of further corruption could result in public anger, decreased confidence, and harm to the reputation of those implicated, and the entire situation is literally placing the cabined under a magnifying glass of the public watch.

This is not an easy task: even a complete reshuffle does not guarantee a clean start, as the Magufuli example showed. With this in mind, Tanzania is now focusing on closing all possible loopholes and applying real down-to-earth measures, such as a new e-procurement system. “The NeST system [National e-Procurement System of Tanzania] will eliminate discretion decision-making and instead all decisions will be based on the processing of the system based on relevant tender criteria,” stated Eliakim Maswi, Chief Executive Officer of the Public Procurement Regulatory Authority (PPRA). Corruption starts at the human hand, and innovations like this one offer hope for redressing the situation.

That said, it is too early for the government to relax. Even electronic systems cannot guarantee crystal clear transparency. Humans are still more resourceful than machines, and certainly have much more opportunities. The ways of the unscrupulous corrupt include not just human-to-human interaction, but also use of quasi-legal avenues to get their way. Dressed as completely legitimate, they often fly under the radar of watchdogs. Turn back to the Boeing example: the inflated invoice was issued within a perfectly legal contract. A case like this should make officials think to check everything relating to public procurement at least twice, even if a tender and bidding process are secured by an electronic system.

Double-checks would be useful anywhere where the process of distributing the state money takes a curious path. Recently, a British security printer De La Rue challenged pre-qualification decisions in an discrete but highly profitable tender for printing Tanzanian banknotes. The company claimed that they were a leading printer of banknotes in Africa and elsewhere (strangely similar to Boeing in their industry) and lodged a number of complaints due to its disqualification. After several proceedings, De La Rue was finally able to enter the tender.

Previously, the Bank of Tanzania’s note printing bids were quite transparent, and there are no reports of irregularities; the reputation of its newly appointed governor, Emmanuel Tutuba, is also untainted. In theory, the first disputed process in procurement history should at least have put regulatory authorities on high alert – moreover the review was initiated by a third-party business, De La Rue, that ultimately presented more than double rates compared to other international contenders. If Tanzania really wants to combat corruption, each similar case should serve as a warning sign. Only time will tell if the state takes notice of this and other instances, and whether it can shift from a punishment-based approach to a preventative one – so that their supporters will not have to make excuses for the mistakes of their predecessors. 

Bad habits have a way of coming back, especially if they are not completely rooted out, says Michaella Collord of the University of Oxford: “Even though Magufuli did bring major changes, there was also continuity with the past”, and urges caution in perceiving the Hassan presidency as a new chapter for Tanzania. Now, the main challenge faced by the current government is to amend errors and prevent the country from reverting to actions that harm the economy and democracy. Tanzania seems to be making progress in this regard, but only time will tell if it can continue on this course.

A former civil servant with experience serving two Tanzanian ministries, now embarking on a new journey as an independent consultant.

[Photo (cropped) by TUBS, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons]

John Juma is a former civil servant with experience of serving in two Tanzanian ministries, now embarking on a new journey as an independent consultant. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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