Butiama Bed & Breakfast

Butiama Bed & Breakfast

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Public offices in Tanzania

I have been moving to and from Mwanza for the past few years to visit a public office to sort out a land issue. On my most recent visit to Mwanza, one of the land officers informed me that I should make a request to the head of his department to formalize my request. He told me the application that I previously thought had to go through the ministry in Dar es Salaam would be processed in Mwanza.

Having missed the department head in his office, I made a call from Butiama a week ago and told him what his junior had advised me. The department head then asked me to call his junior and tell him to report the matter to his boss "on Thursday." There is distance of 190 kilometres between Mwanza and Butiama; there is a distance of about 20 metres between the boss and his junior in that lands office. Fortunately we have a telephone communication system that works and I saw no problem in carrying out a task for which the the department head receives a salary.

A telephone system that works is one matter; to guarantee that a subscriber switches on his phone is another matter altogether.

Had it not been for the fact that I have been unable to reach the junior officer by phone, despite repeated attempts, I would have no reason to complain. But, even before complaining, I tried what I thought would conclusively resolve the matter. I called the department head and told him his junior officer could not be reached by phone.

I thought it was not even necessary to suggest one possible solution: that he could summon the junior officer by shouting at the top of his voice and have the junior officer scramble to the boss's office in less than 15 seconds.

His response left me with a loss for words, literally. First he asked: "Where are you?" When I responded I was calling from Musoma, he said: "How do you expect to solve your problems from Musoma? And then he recounted a Swahili proverb: nilikwambia fimbo ya mbali haiuwi nyoka. [I told you a stick that is at a distance cannot kill a snake]. He left me with little doubt that he believed he had made a profound philosphical statement.

The practical meaning to me was just as clear: if you want to get results, you won't get them from Butiama, or Musoma, or wherever else you might be. You have to be in Mwanza.

His response would make sense only if he is senile. That he does not remember that he had requested me to ask his junior to go to his office "on Thursday." Any other scenario would make little sense; it would mean he expected me to travel 380 kilometres (roundtrip) to go to the office next to his and tell his junior: "Your boss wants to see you on Thursday."

My fear is that there are thousands of workers in public offices who make similar demands on citizens every day.

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