TANZANIA and most African ex-colonies inherited a four tier governmental system: the territorial administration, provinces, Districts and Native Authorities, the later manned essentially by Chiefs. It is this system that Mwalimu Nyerere's administration set out to remodel upon independence to measure up to the challenge of nation-building.
The first to go in 1962 were the traditional authorities. In Zanzibar the Sultanate was overthrown through the 12 January 1964 Revolution. At independence Tanganyika had eight provinces.
These were renamed Regions and administered by Regional Commissioners (RCs) who unlike their predecessors were political appointees rather than civil servants.
However the colonial model of appointment RCs and their subordinates by the centre, perhaps necessary at the time, has remained intact. The urge to increase the regions came especially after the 1967 Arusha Declaration with its massive expansion of the public sector following the decision to bring the "commanding heights" of the economy under public control.
The regional authorities had therefore more on their plate. As years passed political and other pressures led to further costly sub-division of the country into regions of which there are now 26.
Each of the eight regions has been sub-divided. As a minimum we have a region that has produced two regions and another that has produced a maximum of six regions; and there are cries for creation of more regions! What will the common mwananchi gain from the influx of more bureaucrats, more "wa-Prado" , more Land-cruisers into their areas ? Would it not have been better to direct these resources into productive activities in agriculture, forestry, fisheries and livestock?
This is at the core of the President's reminder about the opportunity cost of capital. If financial resources are used for creation and running of new regions they will not for instance be available for basic education and health for the population.
Two opportunities were missed to address the issues of "district-ization" of the regions i.e. sub-dividing the regions until they look like districts? Following the decision to put the private sector at the steering wheel of the economy in the late 1980s and early 1990s it would have been opportune to reduce the Regional Secretariats given the scaling down of their activities. There were/are no longer numerous state-owned enterprises (industries, businesses, state farms, ranches) to oversee; and no ujamaa villages to promote.
The second occasion for hard thinking on the role of the regions was the 1999 introduction of the "Decentralization through Devolution Policy" that concentrated governance activities at the Council level with District Executive Directors (DED) as the focal point for development activities and service delivery and the attendant resource mobilization and utilization at the expense of Regional and District Secretariats.
Increasingly more powers and activities from the management of elections to the running of bus stations or markets are at the Council level.
How have other countries in similar circumstances approached the issue? Tanzania is not an island. The challenges are somewhat similar. In Malawi, Uganda and Kenya which at independence had three, four and nine provinces (regions) respectively have been abolished.
From the central government in Kampala you go straight to the Districts where there is an elected Chairman in-charge of development activities.
There is a Resident District Commissioner representing the Presidency and overseeing issues of peace and security and national cohesion. In Malawi from Lilongwe you go straight to Districts, there are no regions.
In Mozambique despite decades of civil war it still has the same number of provinces it inherited at independence. At the height of the Renamo insurgency in the 1980s rather than create more regions it sent top leaders including such historical figures like President Samora Machel's Deputy Marcelino Dos Santos and Armando Guebuza, a future President to manage the most difficult provinces of Sofala and Cabo Delgado respectively.
Even with the current terrorist insurgency in Cabo Delgado province they have not increased provinces. In Zambia it remained with the nine provinces until President Sata carved out Muchinga province from the Northern province in 2015. Hitherto the latter bordered the DRC, Tanzania and Malawi.
In Tanzania's case it bordered four regions! The geographical area covered and the population of these regions is more or less the same as Tanzania's although in the other countries the provincial/regional administration has more work.
In Zambia for example the regions are run like Ministries with a Minister and Permanent Secretary. It is clear where the buck stops. Its less so in Tanzania.
Our RCs and DCs have little control of financial and other resources which are by and large a preserve of Councils. Hopefully President Samia Hassan will follow the footsteps of President Magufuli who never planned, talked or actuated the increased of regions. It can be understood if Councils are increased for there is where they hit the ground running.
To be fair we need to examine whether present day Tanzania needs all these regions. Given the large size of the country it is understandable if we do not do away with all the regions. But reverting to the eight provinces in Mainland Tanzania would be cost-effective and create economically more viable economic entities.
There is no reason having several regions bordering Lake Victoria or Nyasa were the issues (fishing, water transport, tourism, etc) are more or less the same. In some cases Tanzania is dealing with provinces or states of other countries such as China.
A region with seven to eight million people would be a big economic entity, which could if empowered, be able to engage other countries.
The Regional Secretariats have a lot of seasoned skilled personnel. On an evaluation mission to four regions on behalf of the former Planning Commission in 2014 I witnessed staff who were able to map out Medium Term Expenditure Frameworks (MTEFs) for their regions - some complicated undertaking even for Treasury officials.
Unfortunately some of this work ends gathering dust in the book shelves. In some Regions some of the sharper sectoral experts had moved to Councils where their knowledge and experience could practically be used. I came across sector specialists in Regional Secretariats who were rarely used because their work was at Council level and only when the Council asked for their input and were ready to backstop them were they deployed on the ground.
I was therefore surprised that the 2012-2015 effort to have a new constitution had very little to say on governance bottlenecks at the sub-national level such as the multiplicity of organs doing the same thing on the ground, with accountability issues hard to nail down. This makes the life of the DED and his/her staff very complicated.
DEDs have to answer to different "bosses"- RCs, DCs, MPs, Councilors not to mention TAMISEMI. The need to streamline the role of these entities cannot be overemphasized.
Given the information and communication technologies (ICTs) revolution allowing easy transfer of information even to the remotest corners of the Republic, given the move of the central government to the centre of the country at Dodoma bringing national leadership closer to the regions not to mention easy means of transport (railways, roads, airports, etc) it is time we stopped increasing regions.
We should perhaps be thinking of scaling down the existing ones.
*Prof NGILA MWASE is a student of public administration. (E-mail: email@example.com)