Freeman Mbowe Has a Valid Point to be Heard, But Where Is the Truth?


Mwenyekiti wa Taifa wa Chama cha Demokrasia na Maendeleo (CHADEMA), Freeman Mbowe. I Image: CHADEMA

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The take-home of a Member of Parliament (MP) in Tanzania has never been such a volatile issue. Still, after Parliament quietly passed her emoluments package, the opposition leader Freeman Mbowe claimed that a Member of Parliament’s salary was¬†TZS 18 million. A day or so after Mbowe roadside revelation, the Parliament defended herself by saying that no MP is earning a salary of that amount but divulged nothing useful beyond urging the members of the public to ignore misinformation from the opposition.

Contrary to parliamentary instructions and advice, we now feel the urgency to know how much an MP really earns as a total package, which may or may not reach or even pass the TZS 18 million Mbowe had surmised.

Mbowe broadsided in one of his meetings to show how self-serving the Parliament has become obsessed with personal enrichment schemes that have nothing to do with alleviating the poverty the majority of Tanzanians are suffering. Mbowe also chided the former First Lady, Salma Kikwete, for agitating for spousal emoluments.

He alleged that spousal benefits were approved at 60% of the incumbent’s current salary. If she is a president, her husband will get 60% of what she is getting, ending up with 160% of what the putative national leader gets. The national leaders’ list is long and exhaustive, covering active and retired leaders and their spouses in positions of President, Deputy President, Prime Minister, Speaker, Deputy Speaker, Chief Justice and Deputy Chief Justice, Attorney General (AG) and Deputy Attorney General, the Chief of Defence Force, the ¬†Inspector-general of police force (IGP) where applicable.

Mbowe reminded voters that the elections of 2024 and 2025 should offer unique opportunities to reject self-serving politicians who are apportioning a huge cut of the national cake to themselves. Having felt hit by a low blow, the Parliament pedalled back Mbowe’s claims as misleading and inciting. Still, it did not provide any data to quell the public’s quest to gauge whether or not the MP salary plus sitting allowances and other packages total TZS 18 million.

Also, read The African Court is The Last Hope for The Embattled PSPF Pensioners.

The parliamentary riposte amounted to no answer. When public authorities dispute information, they are duty-bound to provide real information to satisfy public curiosity. It is insufficient for the Parliament to claim that no MP is earning TZS 18 million and keep quiet about the real controversy: how much is an MP monthly package? That was a fair question, but they went unresponsive.

The Parliament would have done itself big-time justice by reprimanding the opposition leader, correcting him, and putting the correct information in the public gallery. By sidestepping the actual salary an MP collects every month, the Parliament has reignited the firestorm. If Mbowe’s claim is false, why is Parliament too ashamed to reveal the real figures unless she is insinuating that the real figures are too high than even what was alleged by Mbowe once every cash has been placed in one bucket?

The Parliament’s reaction was general denials without attaching specificities, which alone shows the Parliament has a reason to hide the truth from the general public. The opposition now is smelling blood. Emolument packages of national leaders, including Parliament, will now be a legitimate campaign issue. The backbone of this country has always been a “tapering” system where the least-earning civil servant and the highest-earning public servant ratio is less than 17.

But now, the salaries of top politicians are a guarded secret because the widening gap between the least paid and the highest paid is astronomical, preventing leaders from understanding what the average person is undergoing. The more national leaders cushion themselves from the challenges an average person faces every day, the more those leaders become insensitive and insular to the plight of the weak members of society.

During Nyerere’s era we knew his salary was TZS 5,000/= per month and he had no spousal salary to reboot!. The Lowest earner received TZS 380/=. That was a ratio of an amazing lowest figure of 13.15! The highest-paid person was believed to be Athuman Janguo, who was the Chief Executive Officer of Tanzania Railway Corporation (TRC). At no time Nyerere compared his salary with Janguo, he was content. Those days of contentment seem to have gone with Nyerere. Now, we are in an era where public service is not voluntary work but better remunerated than professional work!

It is surprising that poor countries like Tanzania tend to overpay their politicians and their professionals. In industrial countries, those in the productivity sector are better rewarded than those in the service sector. Politics produces nothing, so it befits the service sector.

Since independence, the challenge of weaning away from the Parliament’s powers to set her salaries has never been raised. Even the latest constitutional effort refused to clip those parliamentary wings. It looks like national leaders are afraid to put the Parliament under a leash because of politics of affection. How our governance system is designed MPs are everywhere, holding positions in the political parties. National leaders solicit their support to get elected and retain their positions. So, turning against MPs may have grave consequences for national leaders.

Read A Call for Change: Tweaking Women’s Special Seats in Tanzanian Parliament.

In order to weaken the parliamentary chokehold against national leaders, we need the doctrine of separation of powers in the constitution to be enacted as ordinary laws. Such legislative efforts ought to spell out that MPs cannot hold positions in political parties or government. Similarly, cabinet ministers cannot be MPs, and judicial officers cannot hold positions in the government or in Parliament.

Given that the three arms of government blend, the executive deploys that leeway to sway all arms of government to her inclinations. The executive can arraign upon the excesses of the Parliament, like apportioning a large component of the recurrent budget to cater for their personal effects. Still, regrettably, the executive is also captured by avarice!

After the parliament had raised their emoluments, the executive tabled spousal support for national leaders. Still smarting from taking a huge chunk of the recurrent budget to meet her filthy wages, the Parliament was in no mood to challenge executive requests to hike her salaries and privileges. The two organs became a bird of a feather flying together. Extortion, collusion and conspiracy glue the Parliament and the executive against the populace. No wonder the recurrent budget keeps ballooning while the development budget is handed over to loans, aid and uncertainty.

Mbowe’s solution was to get a new constitution, which was laughable. All the problems he raised had nothing to do with the Constitution but human greed for personal gain, and no principles of man-made laws would chill out that get-rich mentality. Since we have rejected God’s laws, our laws are worse no matter who writes them down.

What is happening is collusion and conspiracy to loot our national cake through legislation. Nowhere in the constitution is it said national leaders should be paid these filthy packages they are now doling themselves out. Nowhere in the constitution is it said spouses of national leaders should also be public servants. We never employed them; they just employed themselves.

Even in the simmering election laws, the office of Chief Justice to pick our NEC commissioners is illegal, but we have a Parliament that will consistently hammer laws that are unconstitutional, knowing legal challenges will be thrown out by our compromised judiciary. The constitution says the NEC will manage our elections, but ordinary elections laws revoke that and hand over that authority to presidential appointees named DEDs.

Read Related: An Inquest of What Went Wrong in The Last Constitutional Reforms.

So, whereof we have leaders who ran the nation upon personal whims, the contextualization of the constitution will not solve the problems of legislating unconstitutional laws. We are now witnessing a national moral compass needling towards a wrong destination.

The author is a Development Administration specialist in Tanzania with over 30 years of practical experience, and has been penning down a number of articles in local printing and digital newspapers for some time now.

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