19 August 2013

Tanzania Probes Alleged Embezzlement of U.S.$5 Million From World Summit

Dar es Salaam — The Tanzanian government is investigating allegations public officials embezzled 8 billion shillings (US$5 million) of taxpayers' money from a global summit it hosted earlier this year for Asian and African leaders.

The Global Smart Partnership Dialogue, held in Dar es Salaam from June 28 to July 1, brought together presidents and heads of government from across Africa and Asia to discuss sustainable development. The meeting coincided with President Barack Obama's state visit to Tanzania.

Samuel Sitta, a senior cabinet minister, claimed public servants in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation colluded to siphon off millions of dollars by fabricating ghost companies to win lucrative government tenders for conference supplies, equipment, decorations, souvenirs, flags and other items.

"Eight billion shillings have been stolen by greedy public officials who formed fictitious companies and awarded themselves tenders to supply publications for the conference," Sitta, who holds the East African Cooperation portfolio, said at an event in the capital last month. "The investigations are ongoing."

Contacted by Thomson Reuters Foundation, Tanzania's Controller and Auditor General Ludovick Utouh said his office would investigate the allegations and report back to the government.

"We will carry out a comprehensive audit with effect from October this year to find out how 8 billion Tanzanian shillings were spent in preparation for the conference," Utouh said.

Sitta, however, said he was concerned the investigation's findings would not be made public.

"We are tired of these probe teams, because every time theft happens we are told a probe team has been formed to investigate the scandals and the outcome is always kept secret."

The latest scandal comes barely two months after the Tanzanian government sacked Anthony Itatiro, a senior official in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and stripped him of diplomatic status after he was implicated in a botched attempt to steal 3.5 billion Tanzania shillings ($2.3million) from a fund for financing presidential trips.

The Itatiro case and the latest embezzlement claims tarnish Tanzania's image at a time foreign donors are looking for evidence the country is committed to fighting graft.

Sitta said he learned of the alleged scam when Ambassador Ombeni Sefue, State House chief secretary, expressed dismay that huge payments had been made to what he said were three ghost companies, which were not registered with Tanzania's Business Registration and Licensing authority.

However, Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation Permanent Secretary John Haule dismissed the charges. In an interview with local newspaper The Citizen, he said the claims were false and accused Sitta of seeking cheap popularity.

"I can assure you that there is not even a single cent that was misused. The Prevention of Corruption Bureau and the police have gone far to inquire into the matter," he said, according to the paper.

Contacted by Thomson Reuters Foundation after the controller confirmed the audit, Haule declined to discuss the matter further.

"I am in a meeting. I cannot comment on anything," he said by telephone.

The Prevention and Combating of Corruption Bureau's spokesperson Doreen Kapwani said it was too early to comment since the matter is in the hands of the government inspector.

Local newspaper Jamhuri, which first reported the latest embezzlement claims, alleged government officials awarded themselves tenders contrary to the Public Procurement Law of 2004, which calls for transparency in public tendering processes.

Some of the equipment and materials listed in the tender included a huge consignment of Tanzanian flags, which were either not delivered or were delivered after the conference had ended, the newspaper said.

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