25 July 2012

Tanzania: That's Good, Mr Hamad but What About Others?

THE decision by the Zanzibar Minister for Infrastructure and Communications, Mr Hamad Masoud Hamad, to resign following the tragic marine accident last week involving a ferry boat, MV Skagit, is commendable much as it is a pleasing show of political responsibility - and maturity.

Mr Hamad, whose ministry is responsible for marine transportation - and by extension - marine safety, was, of course, not directly responsible for the accident that happened near Zanzibar, leaving more than 70 people dead and more than 60 still missing.

In fact the last thing, frankly speaking, the minister would have wanted is to see innocent souls perishing in the sea. The presence of vessels that are not seaworthy and unfit to operate is another last thing the minister would have wanted.

Resignations on political responsibility grounds are a rarity in Tanzania's political scene. It only happened about three decades ago when several ministers, one of whom later became president, resigned after some people were killed and maimed while undergoing interrogation and torture by overzealous state security personnel.

Those ministers had nothing to do with the beatings and maiming neither did they order them. In fact they were not even aware of when and how it happened. Yet political responsibility had to take its course, leading to their graceful exit from the Cabinet. They had to go however sad it was.

Yet there is every reason to believe that more heads other than Mr Hamad's should roll. Marine transportation in Zanzibar has a long chain behind it and somewhere along that chain are officials who are directly responsible for marine transportation - and safety.

Although not officially confirmed, there is every reason to believe that the ill-fated MV Skagit was unfit to provide marine transport services while overloading, of both passengers and goods, could not be ruled out.

The authorities responsible for the licensing of marine vessels both in Zanzibar and on the Mainland owe Tanzanians an explanation on the 'finer points', if at there were any, that led to the granting of permission to MV Skagit to ply the territorial waters.

Such an explanation should appropriately be accompanied by a statement and assurance on remedial measures that will be taken to ensure that such accidents do not happen on our waters again.

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