Dar es Salaam. Speaker of Parliament Job Ndugai was on Monday forced to apologise to Tanzanians over his remarks that Tanzania risks being auctioned off if the government continues with its current pace of borrowing from international lenders.
The head of the lawmaking body made the remarks on December 26, 2021, in the capital Dodoma where he cautioned that a ballooning national debt is not in the best national interests and instead of keeping on borrowing it is important that the government devices methods that will increase internal revenue collection capacity to fund its development initiatives.
“Is it healthy in having an Sh70 trillion national debt for a country like Tanzania,” asked Mr Ndugai who doubles as Kongwa MP (Chama cha Mapinduzi – CCM). The government’s figures put the national debt at Sh82.3 trillion by October 2021. “Is that an appropriate way of running a country? One day this country will be auctioned off [for failing to pay back the loans].”
But the remarks generated a strong and heated reaction from various quarters including from the State House, the Bank of Tanzania, within CCM, from members of the opposition as well as members of the general public. Most of the reaction has however been negative.
Not only did people remind Ndugai that, as a developing country, Tanzania cannot sustain its development trajectory without borrowing. They also told him he does not have the moral authority of criticising President Samia Suluhu Hassan for borrowing while he kept quiet when the late John Magufuli was doing the same thing.
The government’s records show that the national debt became enormous during the fifth phase of government under Magufuli, something which has been attributed to the increase of non-concessional loans that Magufuli took from lenders. While Jakaya Kikwete’s ten-year rule added just Sh29 trillion to the national debt, making it Sh40.7 trillion by June 2015, during Magufuli’s less than five-year rule the national debt soared by Sh31.6 trillion, pushing it to Sh72.3 trillion by March 2021.
“We will continue to implement projects despite efforts to discourage us from borrowing,” President Samia, one among many people who responded to Mr Ndugai’s remarks, shot back on the same day during a function to sign the contract for the construction of the 368-kilometre SGR section between Makutupora and Tabora. “Even developed countries have debts. We will borrow to complete the development projects we have initiated.”
Critics accused Mr Ndugai that his concerns might not be on the growing national debt per se but the person behind the borrowing. Facing criticisms from both within his party CCM and the opposition, Mr Ndugai came out on Monday to do what he thought was imperative.
“I have decided to take full responsibility for what I said,” Mr Ndugai told journalists in the capital Dodoma today, January 3, 2022, after claiming that not only what he said was taken out of context but also twisted. “I have wronged. I’ve seriously wronged. May God forgive me. Forgive me, Tanzanians.”
He said that the debate generated by his remarks on national debt “caused inconveniences of here and there” without delving into further details and thus he thought it was important to come out and clarify some things.
“There was nothing [in my remarks] that constituted defamation or belittling any of the government’s efforts [in building the country],” Mr Ndugai said in a calm, composed voice, adding:
“The government is both our father and mother. We need the government and we support it and in my remarks, among other things, I urged my colleagues [within the government] to improve our economy [and that Tanzanians] need to pay taxes and related levies. This is what I insisted in my remarks.”
Jackline Kuwanda is The Chanzo correspondent based in Dodoma. She’s available at firstname.lastname@example.org