Membe’s outbursts over BAE: How serious is the govt. in tackling corruption?
Tanzania’s Foreign Affairs minister, Bernard Membe is up in arms over the decision by BAE Systems to pay 74bn/- (29.5m sterling pounds) in settlement out of the controversial sale of a radar through a charity organization instead of the government.
He told a press conference in Dar es Salaam on Tuesday (May 17th 2011) that apart from the decision being unfair, the British company’s move was aimed at tarnishing the image of the Tanzania government before the international community.
Said the minister: “the decision is unfair and an irreverent gesture in the eyes of the international community.”
He warned that if BAE Systems went ahead and paid the money to a charity organization, such an organization would not be allowed to operate in Tanzania.
Payment of the money to Tanzania by Britain’s biggest arms manufacturing company is part of its settlement with Britain’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO).
Although BAE Systems say its policy does not allow her to give the money to the government, it is important for Mr Membe to bear in mind that, that is precisely what the British company wants to do, namely to expose Tanzania government’s hypocrisy to the international community.
The BAE Systems wants to show that much as it had earlier erred by involving itself in corruption, it has learnt her lesson the hard way and now wants to operate in accordance with her existing policy which spells out that it should only deal with charity organizations.
Tanzania government’s fight for the money is inexplicable if one considers the various stages the government went through when the scandal was first reported by the local print media.
Through its investigations, the SFO discovered that the sale of the radar to the Tanzanian government was conducted through corruption that benefited a few government officials and businessmen.
Tanzanian readers first read about the biggest scandal in their country’s history from the local media which had obtained the story from British newspapers through the internet.
Initially, the government denied any knowledge about the scandal.
But when the local print media continued to print radar scandal stories they had obtained from the internet, the government discouraged readers by saying that apart from not being reliable, stories from the internet could not stand the rigors of a court of law.
However, the claim about internet evidence being inadmissible in court was later quashed by the Director General of the Prevention and Combating of Corruption Bureau (PCCB), Dr Edward Hosea when he told the CTS (corruption tracker system) during an interview that a precedent on the admissibility in court of evidence obtained through internet had recently been made in India.
It is important for Mr Membe to recall the numerous occasion Development Partners (donors), that include Britain, have been bringing pressure to bear on his government to deal with corrupt elements in the country.
Apart from Mr Chenge, other names mentioned by the media included that of the former Director General of the Tanzania National Electric Company, TANESCO, Dr Rashid Idriss and a Dar es Salaam based businessman currently on the run, Mr Shailesh Vithlani.
Dr Idris is alleged to have committed the crime when he was the Governor of the Bank of Tanzania, BoT.
Mr Vithlani was named by the SFO as the middleman who received 12m sterling pounds (27bn/) as kickback to influence Tanzanian government officials in buying the controversial radar.
According to the SFO, the payout was 30 percent of the total contract sum.
When the name of Mr Chenge was mentioned, the then Minister for Infrastructure Development was accompanying President Jakaya Kikwete in a trip a trip in China.
No sooner had he arrived in Tanzania from the Chinese trip than the minister was forced to resign from his post after uttering to the local media the infamous vijisenti (small money)words in reference to the over one million US dollars stashed in a foreign bank.
Other developments that followed included the PCCB’s attempt to make some serious follow up on the case.
It was during this time that the Swiss Ambasador to Tanzania, Mr Adrian Schlaepfer made an impassioned appeal to the Tanzania government to seek the assistance of his office in case she wanted extradition of fugitives hiding in his country.
The Swiss ambassador made the call in his keynote address at the New African Hotel during the launch of Agenda Participation’s (2000) corruption tracker, a web based system on May 26th 2009.
He said his government had helped the Nigerian government recover over 400 million US dollars that had been banked in his country by the former dictator, General Sani Abacha.
When the Swiss ambassador was calling on Tanzanian to get in touch with his embassy in case it required assistance, Mr Vithlani was holed up in Switzerland.
However, when the CTS contacted the PCCB on the Swiss ambassador’s challenge a few months later, it failed to provide a satisfactory answer on the issue.
In the meantime, international media reported that Mr Vithlani had left Switzerland and moved on to Britain.
The government’s apparent lukewarm over the case is best illustrated by its handling of Mr Chenge and other suspects in the radar scandal.
From the outset, the government did not appear enthusiastic in prosecuting the culprits despite donors’ repeated call on the government to take grand corruption suspects to court.
The former Swedish Ambassador to Tanzania, Staffan Herrstroem told the Tanzanian government in his keynote address during a civic organization’s (Agenda Participation 2000) workshop in Dar es Salaam that it was important it sent the culprits to court.
“We are not interested in what comes out after that…that is the court’s business. But the point is, these people (culprits) should be sent to court and let them (courts) decide.”
Interestingly, late last year (2010), the PCCB came up with a statement that appeared to absolve Mr Chenge of any wrong doing!
In fact, Dr Hosea is quoted by a member of the CTS as saying: “personally, I believe Mr Chenge is clean…whoever thinks otherwise, let him bring evidence…”.
Taking a cue from the PCCB, the following day Mr Chenge told the media that he had been cleared of any wrong doing.
Mr Chenge’s statement was quickly parried by the British High Commission which said it was too early for Mr Chenge to make the statement he had just made.
Thus despite being presented by by voluminous air-tight evidence against Mr Chenge and others, the Tanzanian government has remained mum over the case!
It has not even expressed what its intentions are now that the BAE Systems has admitted shelling out funds to Tanzanian government officials and businessmen during the sale of the highly inflated antiquated radar.
Had the government gone ahead and prosecuted the culprits, there is no way the British arms company would have spoken about giving the money to some charity organization for use in Tanzania with policy or no policy.
Unfortunately for the minister, his government has from the first time the radar scandal was reported continued to insulate and shield Mr Chenge and his friends who were involved in the radar scandal.
Although President Kikwete dropped Mr Chenge in the new Cabinet he announced after his re-election early this year (2011), however, the man has not only continued to hold a seat in parliament, but both the House and the government have continued to make use of his services!
A question that is perhaps worthy posing is, can a government that has conducted itself in a manner the Tanzania has done viz a viz handling of the radar suspects still have the moral authority to seek payment of the 74bn/- it never fought for?
During his press conference, Mr Membe rightly accused the British arms manufacturing company of having stolen money from Tanzanians.
Yet it is an open secret that it would not have been possible for the British company to do so without the assistance of Tanzanian government officials.
Mr Membe’s accusations against the British company would have only made sense if his government had dealt with Tanzanians alleged to be linked to the radar scandal.
The government’s prompt action against the suspects would have convinced the British government about its Tanzania counterpart’s seriousness in dealing with grand corruption.
Otherwise how can the government seek the 74bn/- while it simultaneously continues to insulate and shield the very people who had caused the nation to lose two things, money and a value for money radar for the nation?
Many observers interviewed by the CTS said instead of issuing threats, it was time the foreign minister convinced his government to deal with grand corruption suspects now.
During the 2009/2010 budget, Development Partners withheld 220m US dollars (330bn/-) in budget support precisely because of Tanzania government’s failure to deal with corruption, and in particular, grand corruption.
During the time, Development Partners noted that once the government convinced them over its handling of grand corruption, they would release the funds.
Instead of acting, the fourth phase administration of President Jakaya Kikwete sought to fill the void in its budget by borrowing not 220m US dollars, but 250m US dollars!
Apart from one high profile grand corruption case in which the High Court in Dar es Salaam convicted and sentenced to a three year imprisonment in May last year (2010), the former Director of Personnel and Administration in the Bank of Tanzania, Mr Amatus Liyumba, bigger grand corruption suspects are still free!
The government is presently working on its next budget, 2010/2011 scheduled to be presented in Parliament in mid June, this year (2011) and Development Partners have not yet said how much in budget support they intend to give the government.
But one thing is certain. The government has done nothing as far as dealing with grand corruption in the country is concerned apart from the announcement made by the ruling party, Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM) about its decision to kick out grand corruption suspects.
However, as always, the announcement is short on action.
Although it has given the suspects in the party three months, political observers strongly believe that the party is incapable of implementing its resolution.