Tanzania: Draft Constitution Targets Public Graft

Dar es Salaam — Tanzania is considering a draft constitution that includes strict measures to restore ethical behaviour among public servants in a country where government corruption is widespread.

It would ban public officials from engaging in private business while they hold high office, bar them from owning foreign bank accounts, and forbid them from soliciting bank loans in a manner that degrades the reputation of the office they represent.

President Jakaya Kikwete, who steps down in 2015, has repeatedly said that he would like to leave a legacy where business and politics are separated to prevent corruption and conflict of interest.

The provisions on ethics take direct aim at behaviour that has outraged many people in a country where 36 percent live in poverty. Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda, for instance, recently said that while his salary is not large, he is an adept borrower from commercial banks; and the parliamentary opposition has raised questions about Tanzanians holding money in offshore bank accounts.

Joseph Warioba, chairman of the Constitutional Review Commission, said a person in public leadership has the responsibility to act in the best interest of the state.

"A public servant must treat people with due respect in the course of his duties, so that they can uphold the reputation of the public office," he said.

HIDING MONEY

Banning public servants from holding foreign bank accounts unless otherwise specified under the law is proving particularly controversial.

The opposition party accused prominent Tanzanians of hiding illegal monies in Switzerland and other offshore tax havens after Thomson Reuters Foundation published a story citing data from the Swiss central bank that showed the amount of money that Tanzanians held in savings and deposit accounts in Swiss banks grew to $5.41 billion in 2012 from $3.6 billion in 2011,lthough the annual amounts have varied considerably over the past decade.

Advocates say the ban would prevent politicians from bleeding the country of funds that are badly needed for investment and development in Tanzania. Critics called the proposal "wild" and against the workings of the modern world.

"It is backward thinking to regulate people having a foreign bank account while the country has no restrictions on the amount of foreign currency that can enter the country," said Freeman Mbowe, the leader of the parliamentary opposition.

Zitto Kabwe, the chairman of a parliamentary committee on public accounts, supports the ban but wants it combined with full public disclosure of all assets, domestic and foreign.

"Asset disclosures are the only sustainable solution to uncover ill-gotten wealth, it is through this transparency the country can avoid people who loot with impunity," he said.

According to Transparency International's 2013 Global Corruption Barometer, Tanzania is one of the 14 most corrupt countries in the world, with 56 percent of people interviewed admitting to have paid a bribe both in the public and private sectors.

Tanzania's constituent Assembly is scheduled to discuss the draft constitution in February before it goes for referendum with the goal of taking effect in 2015. It proposes a three-tier government and separate governance systems for the mainland and Zanzibar within a strong union.

Other provisions would:

- Require public servants to declare their assets and debts, as well as those of their spouses and children less than 18 years old, to the Ethics Secretariat, an independent government agency, within 30 days after assuming office and the same period after leaving office. Current law only requires a public official to declare assets held in his or her name.

- Prohibit use of one's public position for private or family gain. Anyone accused of violating the leadership code would be suspended, pending a legal procedure.

- Make any gifts that a public servant receives in the course of his or her duties the property of the state. The public servant would surrender such gifts to the Chief Secretary and declare their type, value, source and reason for receiving them.

Semkae Kilonzo, the Coordinator with Policy Forum, a network of over 100 civil society organizations, said these leadership ethics provisions are simply "promises on paper" unless there is an ethics infrastructure to enforce them. This should include codes of ethical conduct, a coordinating body, an effective legal framework and efficient accountability mechanisms, he said. It also requires political commitment to implement and enforce the measures.

"These mechanism have to work with one another, publishing a code of ethics by itself will achieve little," Semkae said. - Thomson Reuters Foundation

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