Make the most of your assets

Mengi’s Guardian newspaper was impressed by Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda’s revelation of his assets last week. In the Alice in Funderland world that is contemporary Tanzania three houses (“and one in the offing”) a car and $25,000  in the bank (again, that’s US not Hong Kong) is regarded as modest. And maybe it is.

The Citizen agrees regarding the PM’s probity. Though its reported tally includes “a farm in Dar es Salaam” rather than one further house “in the offing”. Given that Mengi recently suspended all junior reporters, I’ll go with The Citizen on this one. [h/t Serengeti Advisers]

Donors too were pleased. Reported in The Citizen, the Irish Ambassador noted that “there are very few leaders who declare their wealth. It is very encouraging to have such kind of a prime minister in the government.” The Citizen further reported that “according to Ms Barrington, Mr Pinda had emerged to be an icon by practically showing the meaning of good governance.” This is maybe over-egging things and one hopes the use of the term ‘icon’ was a little embroidery on the hack’s part and not the envoy’s word of choice.

So do Pinda’s revelations actually mean anything? Asset declaration by public officials and elected representatives is widely thought to be a useful tool in ensuring public integrity.  But asset declaration is governed by legislation not whim. And Tanzania’s legislation in this regard is weak. Relevant legislation is the Public Leadership Code of Ethics Act, 1995 and its 2001 amendment. The original act allowed for public access to the register of asset declarations. The amendment, (passed under ‘Mr Clean’ Benjamin Mkapa: also famous for making a stage managed declaration à la Pinda) changed all that, with access being at the whim of the responsible Minister. If lucky, you will get access only if you state why you want to see the records and swear not to reveal the contents to anyone.

“Leaders” themselves don’t seem particularly bothered by the requirements; why would they when the uppermost fine is just TZS 5m? By December 28 last – two days before the deadline for annual submission – only 1,600 out of 7,000 leaders had returned their declaration forms.

Maybe Pinda was trying to send a message to his fellow leaders. But I very much doubt it. Less grandstanding by politicians and their backers and an honest dialogue about these things would be a start.

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