Magufuli’s one year in office: Unwavering war against graft
- I, therefore, do not expect to satisfy even the most forgiving of readers as I try to do my utmost best to focus only on what I consider to be the two most important observations I have made of the Magufuli presidency thus far, namely, the fulfilment of some of his most ambitious election promises and the impact of his rule on the economy.
When I accepted the invitation by the editors of The Citizen on Sunday newspaper to pen an op-ed on the first anniversary of the JPM presidency, little did I know how much I would struggle to compress the many thoughts I have on events that occurred over the last 12 months into the small space reserved for op-ed contributors.
I, therefore, do not expect to satisfy even the most forgiving of readers as I try to do my utmost best to focus only on what I consider to be the two most important observations I have made of the Magufuli presidency thus far, namely, the fulfilment of some of his most ambitious election promises and the impact of his rule on the economy.
Twelve months on, JPM has kept an important election campaign promise
This time last year, we had just ended the elections that saw John Joseph Pombe Magufuli, baptised by the media as JPM, emerge as the fifth President of the United Republic of Tanzania. The nation was still reeling in the aftermath of what was a bitterly contested and at times contentious campaign. JPM had surprised many by campaigning as a change candidate, easily snatching the (CHANGE) mantra from an insurgent opposition and defying tradition by being openly critical of corrupt practices in his own political party CCM, a move that was at once audacious and politically risky. Not surprisingly however, his campaign tactics unnerved CCM party bigwigs but endeared him to the electorate across the country. In the end, the electoral outcome, though not as overwhelming as that of his two predecessors in office, came as no surprise to the nation and the world at large.
Now, like all election campaigns, last year’s had no shortage of promises from those who were seeking office at all levels. JPM for his part made many promises ranging from setting up a special court to deal with economic crimes cases to free secondary education for all, to turning Tanzania into a modern industrialised nation in the next ten years, and many more.
Of all the promises he made however, it was the one on fighting corruption, abuse of power and cutting waste in public offices that not only captured the imagination of the electorate but also was met with equal measures of enthusiasm and scepticism. There are those who having watched helplessly for many years as corruption soared and the judicial institutions seemed incapable of dealing with the vice, agreed with JPM that the system was too rotten to be fixed from within and therefore establishment of a dedicated court to deal with the problem would be exactly what is needed. But there are others who felt equally strongly that because establishment of such a court would require a law to be enacted by Parliament, the forces of corruption would conspire to defeat or weaken that law, not least because the likely victims of an effective anti-corruption effort would be the very same people who continue to dominate the political space particularly the very same Parliament that would have to pass such a law. Another potent threat to the fight against corruption resides outside the government and political systems. It goes without saying that criminal networks, racketeers and private sector beneficiaries of corruption will no doubt work in alliance with their friends in government to ensure that anti-corruption institutions do not gain strength. Finally, there was the cynicism that comes with seeing countless failed attempts by JPM’s predecessors to fight corruption. They all came into office promising to slay the corruption monster only to leave office ten years later with corruption stronger than they found it. Cynical was the best way to describe the attitude of the majority of Tanzanians this time last year and cynicism formed the backdrop against which JPM’s promise to fight corruption was being viewed by the people of Tanzania and interested observers. All agreed it was not going to be easy.
Now as I look back at the first twelve months of the JPM presidency, I am keenly aware that one year is too short a time to give a fair and conclusive assessment of the overall performance of a president of any nation. However, one year is long enough to judge a president’s commitment to delivering on his single most ambitious election promise. As history has taught us, although JPM’s predecessors made similar promises to fight corruption during election campaigns, their commitment to deliver on that promise was faltering by the end of their first year in office. I will therefore dedicate this part of my commentary today to the issue of election promises and political follow through, because I believe that the extent to which a politician commits to keeping election promises, especially the difficult ones of the kind that JPM made last year, provides us with a better measure of the quality of leader we have in him or her.
After only 12 months, we are living in a vastly transformed country
The most striking image of the JPM presidency for me was watching him on TV walking from State House to the Treasury on the first day he reported to work after being sworn in, with seemingly confused senior government officials trying to keep up with his pace. This surprise visit was followed by another unannounced visit to Muhimbili National Hospital, and then a curt speech in Dodoma where he snubbed a party hosted by parliamentarians in his honour and ordered the money to be spent on hospital beds. This was followed by an order to government officials to indefinitely suspend foreign trips, public holidays were cancelled and the nation was asked to engage in civic activities instead of celebrations and many more; all the while JPM was signalling to the nation that there was a new leader in State House and life was about to change for all of us.
Within days, high profile dismissals and arrests of senior public officials suspected of engaging in corrupt practices as well as arrests of big numbers of tax evaders, embezzlers, drug dealers, poachers, cyber criminals etc., were dominating newspaper headlines. Many people and offices considered being untouchable for many years were soon out of work or sitting in jail waiting for their day in court. TV and radio broadcasts were frequently interrupted to announce raids on government offices linked to big losses of government revenues, warehouses filled with contraband were being discovered in all corners of the country, government officials sleeping on the job were shamed on television, tens of thousands of ghost workers were purged from government payrolls, academic credentials of tens of thousands of public employees were verified, thousands of cargo containers taken out of the port without paying due fees were discovered, suspicious contracts were terminated, rogue companies were impounded and shut down, to mention only a few of the actions taken by the JPM government during its first 100 days.
It was clear that JPM had no sacred cows in this fight as some people known to be close confidants of his were among the early casualties of the purge. Nothing and nobody was above the law. The purge had begun in earnest. It was breath-taking to say the least and I must add, it was amazing to watch a whole nation being transformed right before our eyes by the actions of one determined individual.
The shock and disbelief that met this purge was soon followed by a realisation that we are living in a vastly changed country now and a certain amount of adjustment was needed if one was to survive in the unfolding JPM world.
People’s behaviours started to change. The traffic police became the most public face of the reality of life under JPM. Gone are the days when a traffic police officer stopped you and you automatically reached for your wallet, not to take out your driving licence but a small bribe to buy your way out of whatever kind of trouble you were in. I was pleasantly surprised when a traffic police officer stopped me for over-speeding in July this year. He politely showed me the photograph of my vehicle taken by his colleague five kilometres earlier with my speed displayed on the screen, then he summoned his colleague and directed him to issue me with a ticket; quite clearly showing no intention to engage in the kind of negotiations we had become accustomed to over the years. I paid the fine by a mobile money transaction and immediately received an electronic receipt. And all this happened not on a crowded Dar es Salaam street, but on a deserted road in Bukoba District.
Now, I am not so naïve as to believe that corruption can be completely defeated in such a short time no matter how dramatic the effort is, but sitting in my car as I completed the transaction with the police officer that day in Bukoba, there was no doubt in my mind that change had indeed come to Tanzania. To watch a politician walk the talk in a manner that made even his own political allies most uncomfortable was both unprecedented and refreshing. The question on many people’s mind however was how long he could keep going at this level of intensity and pace.
Many predicted JPM would settle down into the usual routine of as that of his predecessors within three months. Others said he could sustain that pace no longer than six months.
This became the subject of conversation at almost every dinner table in the country, at weddings, at funeral wakes, in offices, at conferences both here and abroad. Whenever I travelled outside the country during the early days of the JPM presidency, I would be stopped by total strangers who wanted to know how our president was doing and if he was still as fiery as he was when he first came to office. As the months rolled by, I have found myself having to tell these people that not only was JPM doing well, but he was still fighting as fiercely as he did on the first day of his presidency.
I must say that if there is one word that can best describe JPM’s style, it is consistency. He has demonstrated a unique kind of consistency, an undiminishing stamina and an unswerving steadiness in his fight against the vices of corruption, abuse of office and waste of public resources.
Interestingly, he has done so without taking time to enact new laws, but instead relying primarily on the sheer force of his personality backed up by a clear and well articulated vision as well as a strong determination not to compromise on what he believes is a good and necessary fight.
This consistency and steadiness is not common in our part of the world and should therefore not be taken for granted. For him to have kept it up for twelve months, it is fair to say that not only has JPM delivered on his most ambitious election promise, but he has also demonstrated what kind of a man and what kind of a leader he is. For this reason alone I am very hopeful about the future of our country.
How the economy has changed in twelve short months of JPM Presidency
Tanzania’s economy under JPM has been impacted very strongly by two forces, namely his fight against corruption and waste on the one hand and the austerity measures that he introduced soon after he assumed office, on the other. While there is no doubt that the long term effects of these interventions on the economy will be generally positive, there are worrying signs that there will be a significant cost to contend with in the short term.
As an example, earlier this week, many banks published quarterly reports that contained shocking numbers of the kind of losses we have not seen in many years. News of a small government-owned bank being put under statutory management by the BoT earlier this week did not help to calm the market, on the contrary, it heightened fears of an impending implosion of our financial system.
The ghost worker racket has hit commercial banks and microfinance outfits particularly hard, leaving several banks with losses running into billions of shillings the moment the government shut down the scam. In addition to this, defaults by commercial bank clients have been on the rise due to many factors but the main one being reduced liquidity in the market as the effects of government austerity began to take effect.
Fears that many more banks are going to come under stress and ultimately fail if urgent measures are not taken to stabilise the financial system are not unfounded because our financial system is not as robust as it seems. A majority of the 49 registered commercial banks in the country (down from 50 after the collapse of Twiga) are operating off very narrow capital bases, meaning that their ability to absorb shocks of this kind is almost nonexistent. Some experts are predicting that a Nigeria-style consolidation of the banking system fifteen years ago could offer a way out the crisis, but whether that happens or not, the collateral damage suffered by the little guy on the street will be considerable and if it is not properly explained, it is bound to have an adverse effect on the public’s support for JPM’s good policies.
The manifestation of the effects of well-intentioned policies on the lives of ordinary citizens may be difficult to read for government policy makers who view the world from the convenience of their desks, but they are very easy to explain in layman’s language.
• Take for example the case of a barbershop owner, who campaigned and voted for JPM but is now struggling to keep his shop open because of a sharp decline in business in recent months.
• Take the case of a landlord in Manzese, a CCM supporter who worked hard for JPM’s election but is now faced with delinquency by his tenants who claim their businesses are struggling.
• Take the case of the owner of a construction company who having been out muscled by bigger competitors (who could pay bigger bribes) for many years, had hoped JPM’s fight against corruption would level the playing field for his business; only to find himself with his back against the wall because he is not being paid by his customers.
• Take the case of a banker who was happy with JPM’s crackdown against cybercriminals only to see his loan book go toxic after many of his borrowers failed to settle their obligations due to the reduced liquidity in the market.
• Take the case of a roadside fish vendor with a capital base of half a million shillings who is now being told by authorities she can only resume trading after paying a licence fee of Sh800,000.
• Take the case of a private school owner whose classrooms are suddenly empty because parents are no longer able to pay school fees. The list is endless.
In spite of all the hardships and economic uncertainties these policies have caused, many Tanzanians remain optimistic about the future as a recent poll by Twaweza demonstrated.
People across the country believe that JPM’s intentions are pure and they acknowledge that we cannot afford to go back to the old ways of running our economy. However, public confidence in the government’s ability to steer the economy will erode very quickly if the government does not show that it appreciates the short term collateral damage caused by its austerity and anti-graft policies. In addition, the government must show very soon that it intends to assist in mitigating the risks facing the real economy, especially in cases where they threaten the livelihoods of ordinary people and the survival of businesses that have previously not been engaged in corruption, tax evasion or any other unethical practices as explained above.
In conclusion, my take on JPM’s first year in office is that it has been a success of historic proportions. He has managed to demonstrate that his tenure will be marked by transformative change. This of course will be so if the emerging risks are identified and addressed in a timely manner.
I wish our President a very happy first anniversary and wish him all the best for the future.
Mungu ibariki Tanzania.
Mr Mufuruki is chairman and CEO at Infotech Investment Group Ltd, and co-founder and chairman of the CEO Roundtable of Tanzania