Dar es Salaam — The government yesterday admitted that its new commercial aircraft Bombardier Q400, which was expected to arrive in the country last month, has been seized in Canada but shifted the blame on the opposition accusing it of sabotaging delivery of the plane.
According to the acting director of Information Department Services, Ms Zamaradi Kawawa, the whole 'Bombardier fiasco' was part of what she termed as 'dirty games' engineered by some members of the opposition who "are cooperating with foreigners to sabotage the implementation of several development projects initiated by President John Magufuli."
The delay of the plane went almost unnoticed until Wednesday when it was raised for the first time by Kigoma Urban MP on ACT Wazalendo ticket Mr Zitto Kabwe on his Twitter page asking the minister of Works, Transport and Communications, Prof Makame Mbarawa, to state when the third plane would arrive and why the July deadline wasn't met.
Prof Mbarawa was quick to respond stating that the delivery of the plane was in final stages. When Mr Kabwe pressed him further asking him about the cause of the delay and whether the country was facing any debts that might have caused the seizure of the plane, the minister never replied.
But it was the Friday's press conference by the opposition chief whip Tundu Lissu that really brought to the attention of Tanzanians and which prompted yesterday's government reaction. Mr Lissu (Singida East-Chadema) claimed that he had evidence showing that the plane has been seized due to the government's failure to pay compensation of $38.7 million (Sh83 billion) to the Canadian firm Stirling Civil Engineering.
The firm was tendered to construct the Wazo Hill-Bagamoyo Road in the 2000s but, according to Lissu, the government terminated the deal illegally, and the contractor filed a case at the International Court of Arbitration which the government lost in 2010 and ordered to pay the compensation of $25 million with an interest rate of 8 per cent.
According to Mr Lissu, the debt wasn't paid in time hence it increased to $38 million by end of June this year, when the order to seize government properties was issued. According to Bombardier website, such a plane is worth $32.2 million (about Sh70 billion).
Addressing a press conference yesterday, Ms Kawawa said the government was saddened by the acts of some "unpatriotic" opposition figures who sabotage the country's development and that already investigations are underway so that they would be arrested.
"The government is aware that some of the opposition leaders are behind this. They hold malicious intentions towards efforts done by President Magufuli on bringing development in the country, but their days are numbered, their betrayal is intolerable," she said.
Ms Kawawa, however, did not divulge any details on the government's take on the court case apart from accusing some lawyers whom she said had petitioned for the plane to be seized after being pushed by politicians harbouring ill intentions to the country.
Ms Kawawa assured the public that already legal and diplomatic steps are already in place to ensure that the standoff is resolved and the plane is delivered as soon as possible.
The government's acting chief spokesperson also appealed to Tanzanians not to listen to the opposition politicians who have made it clear that they will not support the Magufuli government in bringing about people's development.
"Some of them, not so long ago, went public and called on international community to cut aid and other development support to Tanzania. The sad reality here is, if the support is to be cut, it is the poor who will suffer the most, these people (opposition figures) are just selfish," she said.
Reached for comment Mr Lissu, who is also the president of the bar association of Mainland Tanzania, the Tanganyika Law society said; "Who is patriotic between me and the government that didn't want to tell its people about the court case and subsequent seizure of the plane? Who is sullying the image of the country internationally between me and the government which is failing to adhere to international standards and clear the debt since 2010?"
Mr Lissu said the government was supposed to tell Tanzanians the complete truth and "not waiting until the opposition breaks the silence only for it to shift all the blame for their failure on us."
For his part Mr Kabwe said his duty as an opposition lawmaker was to raise issues and seek the government response. "I have done my part, I asked Prof Mbarawa and he failed to provide concrete answers. Now what is happening is dirty propaganda and character assassination and I don't want to get myself involved in it," Mr Kabwe, who is the ACT Party Leader, said.