The Tanzania government debt total stock has reached $9.1 billion (Sh12.7 trillion) more than Sh11.6 trillion allocated for the national budget in the financial year 2010/11. The debt has been rising steadily from $6 billion in 2007 when the country received debt relief amounting to $3 billion thorough the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative.
But we need to question what the cause of the high debt is. One major explanation is the inflated size of the government and the inflated budget that goes along with it; and the kind of expenditures that this government makes, often in conflict with the priorities of the majority of Tanzanians, and marginalised women in particular.
After the last October elections, the newly elected President had the opportunity with his advisors to take immediate measures to reduce the size of the cabinet, as many activists and other concerned citizens continually recommended during the first five years of his leadership. Instead, the size of the cabinet was increased, thereby increasing unwarranted expenditures for central government. Tanzanian delegations to international meetings are among the largest worldwide; the cars keep rolling in; workshops abound ... the list is long -- and grand corruption is the most serious in the list.
As shown by the current public debate on whether or not the government should pay Dowans, the government continues to squander national funds on questionable if not outright corrupt expenditures. The list of so-called scandals is there for all to see. A growing number of citizens are demanding that the government be accountable for the misuse and embezzlement of public funds, which after all belong to the people.
The government does not own the money which it raises as taxes and through donor support and other sources of revenue. The government has only received power to allocate funds on behalf of the people. Unfortunately, the present Constitution does not provide citizens with effective mechanisms to remove a government which abuses this power. This is one of the many reasons why many activist groups like TGNP and members of FemAct are calling for a Constitutional Assembly to produce a new Constitution.
Another major cause of the budget deficit which leads to debt is the lopsided and dependent nature of our economy. The present export oriented neo-liberal macro economic framework does not provide the strategies necessary to support the development of a strong industrial base with rural and urban linkages, full employment and livelihoods for all women and men, and clear linkages between the domestic and export markets.
Instead, the current macro economic framework provides an ‘enabling environment’ for multinational corporations, largely foreign owned, to plunder our resources and ship their products and their profits outside. The result is jobless growth which benefits a small sector of Tanzanian society, but not the majority.
This is visible in the downward trend when it comes to ‘traditional’ agriculture as compared to horticulture; the disregard for small-scale peasants in the Agriculture First strategy; the resulting shift of young women and men from farming to non-farm economic activities in both rural and urban areas; the steady rural-urban migration and the dependence of most women and men on highly exploitative work -- often unpaid or underpaid -- in the so-called informal economy.
The growing gap between the rich and the poor in terms of employment and incomes, quality of life and welfare is one result of neo-liberal globalisation of Tanzania. However, the lesson of Tunisia is that the poor will not tolerate this gap much longer, and are bound to rise up in protest. Indeed, Tanzanians are already protesting in multiple ways, as students, workers, pastoralists, farmers, women, teachers, and voters.
Is the government listening and does it understand the root of the problem, which cannot be wished away by shallow reforms here and there?