Events keep unfolding that give a glimpse of what kind of a leader President Samia Suluhu Hassan is. The budget speech tabled in the parliament on June 14, 2022, by the Minister of Finance and Planning Dr Mwigulu Nchemba is such an event.
Since she took power on March 19, 2022, President Samia has repeatedly assured Tanzanians that she is a president that listens to their concerns and cries about the rising cost of living. She has had opportunities to show that she cares and she grabbed most of them, the latest being intervening to reduce the record fuel prices by dishing out Sh100 billion fuel subsidy.
The budget speech has given her another golden opportunity to show that she cares. And she did not disappoint. The budget for the 2022/23 financial year might turn out to be one of the daring fiscal plans in the history of Tanzania.
This is a budget in which the government has tried harder than before to look inside itself systematically to cut down on what the French call ‘gaspillage,’ which is equivalent to ‘wastage’ in English.
The real challenge will be in its execution. As it stands, the budget is still a fiscal plan. It would need a dutiful implementation to deliver the targeted results. It has, however, raised people’s hopes and expectations for a better life ahead. A couple of measures are worthy noting here.
Controlling the use of vehicles
In his speech, Dr Nchemba said the government plans to control the procurement and use of government vehicles. Only a limited number of senior government officials will be given access to government vehicles while the rest will have to use their own vehicles provided to them through loans.
Furthermore, upcountry trips of those entitled to government vehicles will be restricted as the use of video conferences will be given prominence. This is a revolutionary measure. The government has not tried to curtail wastage in the use of government vehicles for a long time. The best the government did in recent years was to limit the loitering of government vehicles after work hours.
Although this is a good move as will save the government up to Sh500 billion annually according to estimates by Dr Nchemba, it is very difficult to implement. The people who will be affected by the move are those who are obliged to implement it.
There are a lot of vested interests here. Misuse of government vehicles constitute one of the largest haemorrhages of public funds. It is not a secret, for example, that government drivers are some of the richest individuals in the country, owning property all over the place beyond their salaries and allowances.
The implementation of this measure could provide a lot of room for abuse. It is also clear that the government will have to sell some of the 15,742 vehicles currently in its possession, although Dr Nchemba didn’t say this in his speech. How is the government prepared to ensure the exercise will be transparent and will bring value for money?
In the past, the selling of government properties and assets has been marred with corruption. The selling of government houses is one example. It was a scandal. Not only were houses sold at throw-away prices, but payments for some of them have not been completed to date. How has the government positioned itself not to repeat mistakes?
Reduction of mobile money payment fees
The government has reduced mobile money transaction charges by 43 per cent. This, in my opinion, is a significant move by the government in the budget. The introduction of the fees in the 2021/22 budget was a major strategic mistake by the government.
It was set to deny Tanzanians a place in the global digital economy bonanza. But then it has shown clearly that President Samia’s administration can listen.
Scrapping of A’ Level school fees
The government’s move to scrap school fees for A’ Level students has been received with exhilaration. Reading the budget speech on June 14, 2022, Dr Nchemba recommended fee-free education for form five and six students.
“In this regard, fee-free education will be from primary to high-level secondary schools,” Dr Nchemba noted.
The popular move must have come as a surprise to many. In the issue of school fees, however, the government has missed the point. As far as public primary and secondary education is concerned the issue has never been about school fees, with the exception of nuisance contributions. It has always been about quality.
Quality in public education in Tanzania is lacking. People take note, however, and if the ruling party, CCM, thinks scrapping school fees gives it political mileage it should think twice. The ward secondary schools have such a shortage of teachers and a poor learning environment that it is a surprise when students get Division One or Two in Form Four exams.
Instead of foregoing the Sh10.3 billion annually in school fees the government should have redirected the amount to recruit more teachers and purchase more books and learning materials.
For a country with very limited financial resources, Sh10 billion is something. In any case, the fees, which amount to Sh70,000 per student per year, have not been a very big burden to parents.
Will they listen?
However revolutionary this budget may be the real test is in its implementation. And it will be a very bad thing, both politically and morally, for a government to table a very good budget only to fail in its execution.
If the wananchi have not received the budget with deserved accolades and excitement it is because they are cautious optimistic. They are probably not sure of its proper execution.
Tanzania has inadequate budget implementation mechanisms at its disposal; right from the inadequacy of the constitutional checks and balance, weak budget execution institutions, low skills and low morale in the civil service and the prevalence of corruption, to mention just a few
As noted above, President Samia has spoken loudly and clearly in this budget. The message that she has sent to her assistants is that she wants to lead a government that listens to the people, works for the people and addresses their concerns.
But will her advisers, assistants and the civil service listen? Will they understand the message? Will they change their attitudes and adopt the servant-leadership approach to serving the people.
Various measures, especially those on the use and purchase of government vehicles, as well as reforms of the procurement process are meant to seal the leakage of public funds into the pockets of powerful overlords in the civil service.
How will this affect their cooperation in the execution of the budget? Will they seek to perforate the public purse to create other leakages? Only time will tell.
Damas Kanyabwoya is a journalist and a political analyst based in Dar es Salaam. He’s available at email@example.com. He is also on Twitter as @DKanyabwoya. These are the writer’s own opinions and it does not necessarily reflect the viewpoint of The Chanzo Initiative. Want to publish in this space? Contact our editors at firstname.lastname@example.org for further inquiries.