A public outcry has greeted reports that MPs will pocket Sh160 million each in a send-off package after the expiry of their five-year parliamentary term next year.
A sense of disbelief and denial characterised a heated debate that followed the revelation that the National Assembly may have proposed the huge golden handshake for the MPs, who are already well paid.
The amount is a 272 per cent rise in gratuity from the Sh43 million that was approved three years ago. Gratuity is a lump sum paid to each member at the end of every full term served and stood at Sh20 million for many years.
The Citizen broke the news on Thursday based on interviews with a number of legislators who spoke on condition that they were not named, and a follow-up confirmation by Finance Minister Saada Mkuya.
Ms Mkuya, who was recently promoted to the docket, told The Citizen that the gratuity was indeed raised last year. She also admitted that some legislators had collected part of their share in loans from designated banks.
Ms Mkuya would not give more details, saying only that the treasury had set aside the cash. “I know this matter was approved by the Prime Minister’s Office during my predecessor’s time as I was dealing with policy issues,” Ms Mkuya said.
Independent commentators and ordinary Tanzanians have since been seething with anger at the audacity of the leaders. They have demanded that the government and Parliament come clean on the matter and, if possible, reverse the decision–which has been widely described as immoral and against the tenets of good governance and the public interest.
The MPs themselves, some surprised and others even cynical about the report, extended the debate to Twitter and Facebook, giving varied accounts of the development. They did not categorically say whether or not Parliament granted them the dream send-off pay.
On Thursday, Deputy Speaker Job Ndugai denied that MPs would receive Sh160 million as send-off. Gratuity is determined by the last salary of any employee, he said, and it is only the president who has the discretion to determine any other payment. The deputy speaker added: “The last time I checked, there was no meeting that had been convened in my office to raise the MPs’ send-off package. This is mere speculation. Whatever is done is made public.”
Efforts to establish from State House whether President Jakaya Kikwete was in the know were rebuffed by his spokesperson, Mr Salva Rweyemamu. “I will ask that you leave the President out of this MPs’ pay saga,” he said on the phone. “Didn’t you already say the finance minister has confirmed what you wanted to know?”
Opposition MPs Zitto Kabwe and John Mnyika weighed in on the debate on Twitter. According to Mr Kabwe, there was no transparency and accountability in addressing the MPs’ pay. “The state corrupts the political class…millions to MPs, billions to political parties without audit. What do the people get? Noise,” he wrote on Twitter.
Mr Mnyika said he doubted the stated figure, saying he had not received any communication to indicate that the gratuity (of up to Sh60 million) had changed.
But University of Dar es Salaam (UDSM) Senior Lecturer Benson Bana accused the MPs of being unrealistic, pointing out that it would be immoral for them to walk away with such a hefty amount when the majority of Tanzanians were going without food. “If true, the amount does not correspond with their performance in the House,” he said, adding that the move would mean that they saw Parliament as an investment tool.
Another UDSM lecturer, Richard Mbunda, said it was disappointing to see MPs, who were trusted and appointed to represent their people, become “greedy.” He asked: “Our students in higher learning institutions cannot access loans, we have poor healthcare infrastructure, yet the MPs want to take all this money home just like that?”
Sikika Executive Director Irenei Kiria said: “This is not far from corruption. We need to form a special commission to deal with salaries and the remuneration of MPs and other public workers to stop some institutions from taking advantage of the poor.”
Mr Onesmo Olengurumwa of Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition said the MPs should be stopped in their tracks. “Most of them are happy because they know re-election will be almost impossible in 2015,” he said.