Dar es Salaam — Seven board members and four top officials of the National Environment Management Council (Nemc) have been reinstated, days after the Minister of State Vice President's Office, Mr January Makamba, announced he had removed them from office.
The Citizen has impeccably established that the seven members of the Nemc board, which Mr Makamba dissolved two weeks ago and four directors of the environment agency are back in office reportedly "on directive from higher authorities."
Their reinstatement will likely raise hard questions over why Mr Makamba's order was ignored and further erode the minister's authority over his own docket.
Mr Makamba declined to be drawn into discussing this development but reliable sources within the ministry told The Citizen the youthful minister had been taken by surprise and was disheartened.
When The Citizen reached him on the phone, Mr Makamba curtly said: "We are just okay and we are implementing government policies as usual. No more comment."
Mr Makamba's changes remained effective only for a week before what insider sources described as "higher authorities" directed that status quo be maintained.
Other than the seven Nemc board members, the four directors who have been reinstated are Manchare Heche, Deus Katwale, Andrew Kalua and Benjamin Dotto. They had all been removed over poor performance and corruption allegations.
Also back in his former office is Nemc's director of finance and administration, Mr Charles Wangwe, who had already received a letter to report to the finance ministry.
It is no yet clear exactly who ordered that the sacked officials be reinstated and the reasons thereof but it is obvious that the move will curtail administrative powers of the minister and affect operations within Nemc.
Our sources revealed that the order to reverse Mr Makamba's decision was passed through his Permanent Secretary. The affected board members and all director are back in their respective roles at Nemc.
A highly placed source within Nemc confided that it was going to be challenging for the minister to implement his earlier declared plan to bring sweeping changes at the environment agency. Independent analysts also feel there is more than meet the eye in the manner in which the whole affair was handled.
"The minister will have to be so courageous to raise his voice at Nemc and start working with the same people he had lost faith in. "I don't know who took that decision but it is not in doubt that the reversal has partially taken away his powers and the will to push through his plans to overhaul Nemc," a highly placed source in Nemc told The Citizen.
"The issue is that these people had become the law unto themselves and Mr Makamba was pushing very hard to have them perform as required under the law. We should therefore not expect any progress if Nemc is not overhauled," added the insider. "Nemc has turned into an empire. Business has stagnated here and we are receiving too many complaints from the business community and industrialists. It is no longer a secret that corruption is rampant particular when it comes to issuing EIA certificates," said the Nemc official on condition of anonymity.
Analysts also agree the slap on Mr Makamba's face is likely to generate tensions and impede the minister. His moral authority over the officials has been diminished.
"This doesn't give a good impression. In other countries a minister would resign because his authority has been questioned or undermined. It is possible that he (Makamba) took the decision without first making sufficient consultations. I don't think they gave him a go ahead and all over sudden turned against him," said Prof Gaudence Mpangala of Ruaha Catholic University (Rucu).
He added: "You know the administrative system we have today is that people under the president take actions by thinking they would impress the president by being seen they are performing but that doesn't work always.
Dr Benson Bana of the Department of Political Science and Public Administration at the University of Dar es Salaam agrees.
"I think the problem is possibly consultation. Mr Makamba is under the Vice-President and basically the Vice President is the one with authority. The minister doesn't have the instruments. Now, to dissolve a board is under the authority of the VP. The important question we need to ask ourselves here is: was the Vice President privy to and approved Mr Makamba's plan?
A fortnight ago, Mr Makamba announced at a press conference that he had dissolved Nemc board and suspended Mr Heche, Mr Katwale, Mr Kalua and Mr Dotto. The minister said then several other officials were placed under investigation.
"We have decided to dissolve the board and suspend some senior officials of Nemc to pave the way for investigation over various allegations they face. Nemc is facing serious administrative challenges that impede implementation of the government's industrialisation agenda. They never come with solutions but unfulfilled promises,"said Mr Makamba.
He cited unnecessary delays in issuance of the EIA certificates to investors as one of the council's serious weaknesses.
The ministry of Industry and Trade had in various occasions cited such as one of their main problems.
Recently President John Magufuli separately expressed concern about the same delays while addressing two public rallies in the Coast Region last month.
High-level corruption is also mentioned as a plague at the agency, with some of its officials accused of illegally and maliciously imposing environmental fees on industries and sometimes using threats to solicit bribes.
A stand-out case that is well known within Nemc and at the ministry is the one involving a Sh240 million fee charged on a Chinese investor in Dodoma, and whose payment was questionably reduced to Sh20 million and is now a subject of investigations by the Prevention and Combating of Corruption Bureau (PCCB).
Our inquiries show the issue of the Donkey meat abattoir in Dodoma landed in Mr Makamba's desk for investigation and was one of the reasons citing in his decision to remove the officers.
Sources said receipts and other documentary evidence gathered revealed how the Chinese firm only paid Sh20 million in fee after negotiating for "soft landing" with Nemc officials.
Reports have it that the Nemc officials later forged minutes of a negotiation meeting purporting to show that the investor had written to ask for reduction of the fee.
Investigations found that all Nemc officials who were mentioned in the minute sheet to have attended a meeting that lowered the fees disowned them. Under the law, only environment minister has powers to reduce environmental fees or fines.
According to our sources, when the matter was taken to the board, it was reluctant to punish the Nemc officials implicated and instead said they should be warned. World at the ministry was that money had changed hands to get the Chinese off the hook. The donkey meat abattoir has since been closed over a government ban on slaughter of donkeys.
It was owing to the deep rot at the environment agency that Mr Makamba convened a meeting of top officials in his ministry and drew up strategies to address the deficiencies.
Part of the plan was how to tackle interest groups with deep pockets who are blamed for stalling any meaningful policy and actions in the docket, including by past ministers.
The lobbyists are fore example blamed for Nemc's persistent failure to enforce a total ban on the use of restricted plastic bags and environment pollution caused by big factories.