Field Notes #2

About twenty prominent villagers waiting for us since morning. We arrive in the evaning and they are asked to tell us of their problems. In return they get an allowance of 6,000 Tanzanian Shillings.  This may not seem like much, but is equivalent to more than 50 percent of the salary, by day, of a government social worker……

The car stops outside the Royal Park Resort – a bar and cheap restaurant. The local government official accompanying us jumps out and comes back with a bundle of blank receipts. She leans across me and hands them to one of the NGO officials who is with us……

“We have to meet the expectations of the villagers”, says one NGO official in a meeting the following day – referring to meeting allowances……

Spending some days with NGO and government officials is revealing. The snapshots above give a depressing picture of venality and petty fraud. Yet that would not be entirely fair. The NGO I was with gave the impression of being hard working, committed and careful in how it uses its funds. The government official who accompanied us was a serious, thoughtful and respected woman.

The hard work involves long miles on overloaded public transport to get to project sites. They seem genuinely committed to making local government more transparent and responsive. Their office is very basic, with work spaces that are necessarily shared due to its cramped nature. But it seems impossible to get away from the practice of faking receipts and paying allowances to people to attend meetings.

Is it any wonder that MPs were able to force the abandonment of an inquiry into their allowances by our toothless corruption Czar? Is it any wonder that they accepted the accusations, and could explain them away “as hospitality to MPs in accordance with African cultures and values”

One hesitates to use the word ‘culture’, but dishing out allowances and faking paperwork are certainly the norm. Do you try to roll with it as best you can or do you refuse to yield?


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