Date: November 23th, 2010
Dear Nd. Blogger,
Thanks for your email of Nov. 17th and reservations raised about the capability, credibility and integrity of Ms. Zakia Meghji. I couldn’t respond earlier as promised because I wasn’t able to summon the cool attention I wanted to accord the answer to your questions. As for your observations, well, I don’t know in which context Ms. Zakia Meghji gave such an answer, but I do remember the hard times she had answering accusations against her Ministry regarding the supposed poor oversight of the EPA scheme and the performance of Benki Kuu and Gavana Balali. The much I know from what I read, she came to know of the fraud a bit late after her ascendance to the post of the Minister of Finance and it seems the crooks took advantage of her newness to the pull a fast one on her. Even though in any case she was supposed to be smart and alert, but as a senior government official with the rank of a minister, and in a new place for that matter, of course she was apt to summon the services of her subordinates including the Permanent Secretary Mr. Gray Mgonja who at that time was considered to be clean and quite able in the workings of the finance ministry. And also you have to bear in mind that Ms. Meghji, having already been a minister before in two ministries – Health and Tourism – was used to certain bureaucratic ethics prevailing in government business at that time which called on ministers to rely and delegate orders to their subordinates and assistants as well as listen to and heed to their advice especially when one is new to the post. But as you also well know, after realizing that there might be problems in the papers she signed, she was quick enough (within 2 days – 48 hours) to rescind her signature and cancel endorsement of the decisions she made based on the now-known poor advice and recommendations of her subordinates and advisers and then she went on to call for a thorough international audit of not only the payments in question, but the whole EPA affair and workings of the BoT in that matter, she also immediately reported the case to the president who supported her – a highly commendable and professional decision talking highly of her integrity. It was at this time, before the public knew about the fraud and Ms. Meghji’s actions and the president’s order to carry out a thorough investigation on the matter, that the opposition came to know about it and blew it up in the media and present it as if it were they (the opposition) who blew the whistle first, a thing which is not true at all! It is here where the govt. including Ms. Meghji and the president failed in the information war due to the opaque-nature of government business then prevailing in Tanzania, a situation which has somehow changed after that when the govt. found it necessary to inform the public in time of any problems and misgivings on its duties the public has. Even though it is still a problem for the govt. to timely explain its policies and decisions including problems encountered, but I have to say that I notice a tremendous improvement of late in the way the government informs the public about its duties and decisions. So, one can somehow say that the problems encountered by Ms. Meghji and other senior govt. officials, ministers and even the president himself in the huge scandals which rocked the country in the last few years, were a blessing in disguise because since thereafter, the govt. started to be more attentive to people’s complaints as well as tried hard to inform the public in a timely manner on most of the major problems it encounters in executing its duties. And we also have to agree, despite all accusations waged against Ms. Meghji and her supposed poor oversight of public finances (by the way, constitutionally, BoT is an independent organ and doesn’t answer directly to the Ministry of Finance), no one has proven so far that she has stolen or robbed the State. Most people are sympathetic with her, myself included, that she was taken for a joyride and crafty people who have been robbing the country since before Kikwete came to power, used her inexperience in the new finance ministry to pull a fast one on her and the country - this is on top of setting her on the fraud case just because she is a woman – I don’t want to be seen sexist here, but we have to agree that there are still many prejudices against women in our society and people like to take advantage of them – Zakia Meghji in this case was not an exception!
As for the expression you quoted as to have been uttered by her that she would have been rich if she wanted being a finance minister, but she just didn’t want to, saying instead that she was just comfortable with her job, I think when put in English the expression sounds quite frightening and had to be taken seriously as misjudgment on her side, but when spoken in Swahili, I think it has more of that uswahili connotation of joking than a threatening meaning you want to convey in your arguments. I think it has to be read this way. In any case, most public figures, and this is not only in Tanzania, but the world over, are not well-conversant with implications of public speech and their utterances. We can see that in the recent resignation of the Japanese Justice Minister who was quoted as to have said, I quote - "Being justice minister is easy because I only ever have to remember two phrases, which I can use whenever I am stuck for an answer to a question in parliament." – unquote. Read more about this case here: Japan's justice minister resigns over two-phrases job gaffe; Japan minister resigns over joke about 'easy job' and here: Japanese justice minister resigns over 'my job is easy' gaffe. So the gaffe which Ms. Zakia Meghji made when commenting on the false allegations that she is rich by answering instead that she would have been rich if she wanted to since it was easier for her as a finance minister, should be looked at in light of the juicy Swahili language which at times one can answer serious questions in a jokingly manner even though I have to agree with you that when it comes to govt. business, govt. officials should be cautious in their answers lest they be perceived wrongly, i.e. in the opposite, seriously, while what they meant was a joke. By the way, I’m sending a copy of this letter to Ms. Zakia Meghji with the express intention of letting her know that she needs to be careful next time when answering serious questions especially in public.
As for your point that what we need in public office are good and clear-cut procedures in place to be strictly followed and not just the mere integrity of govt. officials, I fully agree with you and I believe the government, after experiencing a lot of scandals in the last five years, will now be more careful and set strict rules to be followed by its officials in executing govt. duties and we hope the president will select good-performing and competent ministers as he so promised in his first major speech to the parliament after this year’s general elections as you may read here: Kikwete: The Cabinet I plan. I believe Ms. Meghji is one of those highly competent and able ministers, having been in the govt. and party in different highly responsible positions. She is well educated, having Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees in Economic History, has wide public service experience and, very importantly, international exposure and the perspicacity to understand the modern challenges of our country in this globalized world. I have known her for many years, over three decades now, I also knew her deceased husband Mr. Ramadhan Meghji (we served together in JKT at Oljoro, Arusha in 1978-79 and I spent my winter holidays with him in Canada at York University in Toronto in 1981, having flown from the then Soviet Union. He was there in Canada in an exchange program between the Moshi Cooperative College where he was a lecturer, and York University. He, just like Zakia Meghji, was having Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree, but in Political Economy – good learned family, very forward-looking, open-minded and progressive, open to alternative ideas and criticism, liberal, and strong Tanzanian patriots!). I believe Ms. Zakia Meghiji is a great asset to our country not only as a capable and hardworking person, but also as a person who can push for more women’s rights and representation in govt., public office and society at large. As someone hailing from Z’bar, but with strong roots, both family as well as govt. and party service on the Mainland and in the Union, she could be, and indeed she is, an embodiment of the binding union between the two parts of our country. I sincerely hope the president will entrust her with adequate responsibilities meeting her credentials. As for what happened with her at the Ministry of Finance, I believe it could even turn out to be one of her advantages since now she well knows what machinations are possible in such places and what procedures and controls the govt. needs to put in place to make sure that such fraud cases never happen in Tanzania again. As the wise say – “Even Negative Experience is Positive Experience.”
Winding up this letter, I would like to re-visit the Letter to President Kikwete I wrote in Feb. 2008, but touching only on the issue of the need to change the structure of our government if at all we want to succeed in seeing our natural resources especially minerals contributing positively into our development. In that letter, I recommended that the president introduce the post of Vice-Premier with powers cutting across several ministries and also institute an office of a Sherpa in the office of the president at Ikulu to have a wider overview and oversight of the Tanzanian economy, with the president being inform regularly, on a weekly basis (even daily basis if needed), on the performance of the main capital-generating sectors like minerals, oil and gas exploration and production. Please read the relevant excerpt from that letter herein below:
2. Since the role and place of mineral resources is central to the economy of the country, as such this was supposed to be the case in Tanzania, and because the sector’s performance and proceeds affect a wide array of interests in the society, a supra-ministerial body needs to be formed to have total oversight and control as well as coordinate all aspects relating to the mineral sector. Such an organ should be formed in the cabinet of ministers with its head holding a Vice-Prime Ministerial post as he would oversee several ministries and government organs entrusted with the smooth functioning of this sector. The Vice-Prime Minister to have supra-ministerial powers over the Ministry of Energy & Minerals, BOT, Ministry of Finance & Economic Affairs, The Treasury, TRA and The Customs Service in matters related to the mineral sector. For this to happen, the President needs to change the structure of the government to incorporate the recommended suggestions as the current government structure with most of the duties entrusted with the Ministry of Energy and Minerals is not capable of ensuring a proper oversight and effective performance of the whole mining sector in the manner as to carry out a wholesome approach enabling to monitor performance and effectiveness of the mining sphere starting from exploration, mining, exploitation of the mineral fields till collection and distribution of proceeds from the sale of minerals and utilization of the appraised mineral resource assets, and farther on seeing contribution of this sector to the economy by channeling the financial resources earned into the economy via financial, banking and insurance channels down to the stock-market and other relevant avenues. We need to make changes not only to the Mining and Petroleum Acts, but change the structure of the government to accommodate and reflect the new realities encompassing all stages of wealth creation to be brought about by production and utilization of mineral assets as described herein.
3. The President to nominate a sherpa/viceroy for this sector and institute an organ sitting in the State House to report directly to him on the performance of the sector on a weekly basis. The duty of this appointee /organ, apart from overseeing the work of Vice-Prime Minister described above, is to exercise oversight of how the mineral assets could be turned into wealth by:
Even though I’ve heard of the possibility to choose other persons for the post of the vice-premier, read here: JK to offer cabinet job to Sitta - source, but in my view, Ms. Zakia Meghji could be the perfect candidate for this position. The much I know, it has already been announced today that the president will tomorrow, on Wednesday Nov. 24th, 2010, announce the members of his new cabinet. I do hope we shall see the name of Ms. Meghji among the ones holding strong and highly responsible positions.
Would appreciate your views as we wait anxiously for the president’s announcement tomorrow. Till then, bye and best regards.