Butiama Bed & Breakfast

Butiama Bed & Breakfast

Monday, 28 October 2013

Tanzania's president should earn no more than $US 700 annually. Period.

Kigoma North legislator Zitto Kabwe’s revelation of the salaries of the president, prime minister, (and ministers?) is extremely useful in some aspects. When these top leaders donate millions of shillings at fundraising events we at least can say it is income derived from legitimate sources.

Another important aspect is the right of citizens to know how their taxes are spent. It is apparently illegal for anyone to disclose the salary of a government employee. This is an archaic piece of law and it should be scrapped immediately. Elected officials get their mandate from the citizens and it is the right of citizens to know how much their government is spending including how much its leaders are earning because the amounts apportioned to specific expenditure items is an important criteria for assessing government performance.

If Zitto Kabwe (MP) is not prosecuted for breaking the law by revealing these salaries than we can safely make one or two conclusions: that – as I have already mentioned – this provision in law is politically untenable and, two, there is something hugely wrong with paying such outrageously inflated salaries. Both two remain valid, in my opinion, even if he is eventually prosecuted.

When President Kikwete so eloquently argued against accepting the demands by striking doctors for a pay rise, he publicly declared how much the doctors were earning. I supported his arguments because I felt then that the doctors were demanding too much while other government employees earned relatively less. Had I know then that the president’s salary was more than 30 million shillings ($US 18,750) per month would it have changed my view on the doctors’ demands? No it would not, but I would have questioned the sincerity of a president who was arguing that the 7 million shillings ($US 4,375) salary per month demanded by the medics was excessive. I would have placed both the president and the medics – and now the prime minister, who Zitto Kabwe says earns 26 millions shillings ($US 16,250) a month and was actively engaged in negotiations with the striking doctors – in the same basket: elected officials who earn too much and who ought to be ashamed they earn so much in such a poor country.

And that – the shame – is the issue here. It is none of any Tanzanian’s business to know how much Tanzania’s millionaires are paying themselves every month, but any politician should be aware that it is rather difficult to justify these colossal salaries. The shame is not a personal matter that is leveled at President Jakaya Kikwete, or Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda and other excessively paid public servants (including Honourable Zitto Kabwe’s colleagues in parliament who he says earn Shs.11.2 million shillings - $US 7,000 - a month) but at the institutions they lead and the pay and perks that are associated with these public offices. When you earn that much money how can you relate to a poor mother whose son has been bitten by a rabid dog and has not been able to afford Shs.7,000/- ($US 4.4) to pay for an anti-rabies injection?

The president of the United States is paid an annual salary of $US 400,000. Ours is paid the equivalent of $US 237,500. According to the InternationalMonetary Fund (IMF) the GDP of the United States in 2012, the largest economy in the world, was $US 16,244,575 million; Tanzania’s was $US 28,247 million. Tanzania’s economy was ranked 92nd in size. If we accept that an American president’s salary is modest and use the salary as a guide relative to the size of its economy, our president should earn no more than $US 700 – in a year!

I hear a huge roar of laughter at such a suggestion, but I believe if that was, indeed, the salary of the president of Tanzania, it might produce a much smaller but rather committed number of individuals who present themselves as candidates for the presidency. We are told that all personal expenses for the president are paid by the government so no president will starve in office even with a $US 700 annual salary.