LAST Friday, President Jakaya Kikwete endorsed the termination of services of four cabinet ministers following revelations by a parliamentary committee of horrendous incidents of human rights abuse by security forces during the execution of an anti-poaching drive dubbed 'Operation Tokomeza'.
These included army soldiers, police offices and other security operatatives. The horrific incidents were laid bare in a probe report tabled in the National Assembly by Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Lands, Natural Resources and Environment, Mr James Lembeli.
The hullabaloo that ensued in the debating chamber of the House by irate MPs was enough to send a clear message to all and sundry that heads would have to roll. And roll they did though no one had expected it to be as expeditious as it turned out to be.
The first one to do the right thing, that of accepting political responsibility for the horrific violations by implementers of the operation, was Natural Resources and Tourism Minister, Mr Khamis Kagasheki.
Maybe his colleagues, for whose blood the MPs were in unison baying for, hoped that the appointing authority would not see the issue as they (MPs) perceived it and thus retain them in the cabinet.
But this was not to be. The bombshell was finally dropped by the Prime Minister, Mr Mizengo Pinda, who told the agitated lawmakers in the evening that President Kikwete, who was then outside the country, had terminated the appointments of fours ministers over the matter.
The ministers are Mr Kagasheki, Dr Emmanuel Nchimbi (Home Affairs), Mr Shamsi Vuai Nahodha (Defence and National Service) and Mr Mathayo David Mathayo (Livestock Development and Fisheries).
Mr Pinda pointed out in his statement that the president took the action because ministers are supposed to supervise their respective ministries - and must, therefore, accept political responsibility when things go wrong as it happened in this particular case.
So, when ministers have to accept political responsibility for the misdeeds of those under them, which may have been done contrary to their instructions or they may never even have known about, why should the administrative bosses who supervise the day-to-day operations of the respective ministries or departments go scot-free as if nothing happened? Let us take Operation Tokomeza as a case in point.
The operation was conceived by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism after it realized that poaching, particularly elephant poaching, was posing a very serious threat to the country's wildlife. It was a well-meant and wise decision by Mr Kagasheki to come up with the initiative.
Owing to the enormity of the poaching scourge, coupled with the desire to have the operation carried out to its logical end, the government deemed it desirable to bring the army and the police force on board. It must have been apparent that game wardens under the Tanzania National Parks (TANAPA), on their own, would not have been up to the job -- hence the involvement of the army and the police.
While the minister's role is to give the overall policy (the big picture) on a particular issue, it is in practice the chiefs of security organs who supervise the nitty-gritty of operations on the ground.
It is inconceivable that the Inspector- General of Police, the Chief of Defence Forces and the Director of Security and Intelligence were completely ignorant of acts of human rights violations that were being committed against innocent citizens during Operation Tokomeza by personnel directly under their command.
Such Operation Tokomeza-related 'horrors' were being narrated in the media even before MPs brought the matter up in Parliament in October, following which the government suspended the operation.
The mere fact that security chiefs seem to have been caught unawares on this matter until it cropped up in the National Assembly would seem to indicate failure on their part. Indeed, hands-on security chiefs would have been the first to take corrective measures in the way the operation was being carried out and then warned the government in advance to save it from embarrassment in Parliament.
In the US, there have been instances when Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) directors resigned following bungled operations. Although they may not themselves have been directly responsible for the bungling, they had accepted administrative responsibility simply because the matter occurred on their watch.
This is the culture which Tanzania should instill in its bureaucratic bosses -- to realise that, while political responsibility when things go awry rests with ministers, administrative responsibility, as in the case of Operation Tokomeza, rests with administrative bosses -- in this case the IGP, CDF and DSI.
It would be the right thing to do to own up that they let the government completely down and face the consequences.