FREE ENTERPRISE, PRIVATIZATION, CORRUPTION, ALL THAT


Sam Mchombo

On

October 29, the people of the East African nation of Tanzania went to the polls

to elect a new government. The elections returned the incumbent, Benjamin Mkapa,

of the ruling party of Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) to a second term in office. The

elections proceeded peacefully, with problems confined to the islands of

Zanzibar and Pemba, where the supporters of CCM and of the Civic United Front,

apparently predominated by Muslim and Arab supporters, have had and did have

some clashes. In some districts in the islands polling had to be postponed to

the following weekend.

The

success of Benjamin Mkapa was anticipated and the results did not bring in any

real surprises. In itself, this should be something of a surprise in that

Tanzania, like many other African countries, has had to shift to democratic

practice, loosely translated as the acceptance of multi-party politics. Chama

cha Mapinduzi is the party that has ruled Tanzania since independence when the

late Mwalimu Julius Nyerere was president. It was the only party throughout the

period that Mwalimu Julius Nyerere experimented with a socialist political

economy, and has remained the dominant party even after liberalization,

practically overshadowing the opposition parties that have emerged. It would

thus be expected to foster the impression that nothing had changed in Tanzania.

However, its continued dominance shows that it is a party that has adapted to

the times, converting the alleged failures of the socialist ideology to what The

Economist of October 21st, 2000, has termed "a modest success story."

The

success of Tanzania is claimed by The Economist to derive from Benjamin Mkapas

maintenance of "tight fiscal and monetary policies." In this, the

current president’s toughness has "helped Tanzania to wake up from the

socialist torpor into which the late President Julius Nyerere lulled it."

The Economist goes on to criticize Nyerere’s political and economic program,

stating that "Nyerere, who ruled the country from independence in 1961 to

1985, was a good man but a bad economist." The success of Mkapa, who was

elected in 1995, rests on the fact that, unlike his predecessors, Nyerere and,

later, Ali Hassan Mwinyi, he "has privatised and liberalised with

gusto."

In

brief, Mkapa has accepted the prescriptions of the capitalist ideology of free

enterprise, privatization, and so on. However, the "modest success

story" that is Tanzania is not entirely rosy because, according to The

Economist again, "corruption is widespread and blatant." If such

widespread and blatant corruption had been as rife and been the order of the day

during the period that Nyerere experimented with his brand of African socialism,

known by the Kiswahili word of Ujamaa, critics would have most likely linked

that to socialist practice. Its prevalence under current economic and political

practice is, according to conventional wisdom, an independent development,

merely detracting from the virtues of the system that is the basis of the

economic success, however modest. Still, corruption has become more pronounced

in this era of global capitalism.

Across

the southern border of Tanzania, in Malawi, corruption has been so rampant that,

as Tanzania was holding general elections, the president of Malawi, Bakili

Muluzi, was sacking his ministers and dissolving his cabinet. This was in the

wake of reports from the Anti-Corruption Bureau, which highlighted the

involvement of high-ranking officials or government ministers in corruption. In

Malawi corruption has, over the past few years, worked itself into the fabric of

general living. In August, a former college-mate, now a medical doctor, Dr.

Chakakala Chaziya, remarked, during a chance meeting in a Bank, that while the

country had made strides in the restoration of freedom of speech as well as

accommodation of other political parties, in other words, restoration of

democratic practice, impossible during our college years under the dictatorial

regime of Kamuzu Banda, the downside came by way of incredible rise of

corruption. "Corruption is just too much; things are not done according to

merit," remarked Dr. Chaziya.

Malawi

has certainly witnessed politicians being influenced by bribes to award

lucrative contracts to specific individuals and/or companies. The nadir,

however, was attained recently when high school examinations had to be

cancelled. High school examinations, used for admission into university

colleges, are prepared and distributed by the Malawi Certificate Examinations

and Testing Board (MCETB). Kept confidential until when they have to be taken,

they have traditionally been viewed as a reliable index of the candidates

academic suitability for college admission. Recently there was a leakage in the

MCETB, resulting in copies of the exams landing in public hands long before the

examination dates. "Such practice has, in recent years become widespread

and, virtually, commonplace, in countries such as Kenya, a country whose history

has significant parallels with that of Malawi," noted Wanjala Khisa, a

Kenyan citizen resident in California. According to Ms. Esnath Phiri of Blantyre,

Malawi, one local paper, The Malawi News, was able to publish an examination

paper a week before it was to be taken, triggering widespread rumors, apparently

exaggerations, that even street vendors were selling them alongside their wares

of wood carvings, bananas, cutlery, etc. The exam schedule was instantly

postponed, rescheduled for January 2001, but the president demanded that the

exams be ready by December.

As

the scandal unfolded it led to the revelation of other corrupt practices, such

as individuals collecting revenue for running non-existent private schools,

again not unheard of in Kenya. Al Mtenje of Zomba, remarked that the most

creative had to be the official who had funds released to him to hold an

international conference at a lake resort. No conference was held, none had been

planned, and the international delegates listed were pure fiction. Amidst all

these revelations of corruption the government had to run into yet another

embarrassment, that of having ordered, and received, a fleet of the latest and

top of the line model of Mercedes Benz limousines, for use by the government

ministers. With a price tag of around US$2.5m, the 13 limos constituted nothing

short of unconscionable expenditure in a country whose per capita, as noted by

Mark Weisbrot in a recent commentary, is less than $200 per year, where 60% of

the population, estimated at 10 million, lives below the poverty line, where

health services require massive support where they exist, more so in the wake of

the strain placed on them by the AIDS pandemic, and where the country’s

university has had to operate on periodic subventions from the government.

This

is even more pronounced given that the government of President Muluzi has made

"poverty alleviation" its catch-phrase or central doctrine. This

clearly belies or undermines any pretension to commitment to that agenda. Even

the British High Commissioner to Malawi, George Finlayson, could not desist from

expressing his (governments) disapproval of such expenditure on luxuries for the

privileged few. President Muluzi immediately reacted to the criticism of the

purchase with the order that the limos be sold to re-coup the expenses, and get

them re-directed to the poverty alleviation program. But, noted Kunjilika Chaima

of Montreal, Canada, the individuals who may purchase them will, most likely, be

the same ones for whom the vehicles were ordered in the first place.

In

the aftermath of these revelations, exacerbated by a report from the

Anti-Corruption Bureau, President Muluzi dissolved his cabinet during the final

week of October. It has since been reconstituted, with some ministers who, by

implication, may have been at the center of some of those allegations about

corruption, dropped from the new cabinet. Notable omissions from the new cabinet

were Chilumpha, Minister of Education, Chupa, Minister of Labor, and Mpinganjira,

Minister of Transport. This may ward off new headlines focusing on corruption

and try to appease donors but it does not tackle the root of the problem. What

does merit consideration, probably imprudent given current political realities,

is critical evaluation of the political economy that appears to sustain the

steady growth and development of corruption in such countries as, inter alia,

Malawi, Kenya and Tanzania.               

 

 

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