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Friday, December 5, 2008

Sad Tale of Two Ex-Ministers

Last week Tanzania witnessed the bringing before a Dar es Salaam resident magistrate’s court of two ex-ministers charged with the crime of misusing public office. The tale of the two ex-ministers being arraigned before a court for 13 counts of alleged abuse of public office resulting in the state allegedly loosing TSh 11.7 billion has become the subject of most people’s small talk.

These are ex-ministers of finance as well as of minerals and energy, which are powerful government posts that carry with them the possibility of making friends as well as many enemies. Presumably, their being brought to court resulted from a just process of crime investigation and they will be given a fair trial.

It is sad, however, that the ex-ministers are being subjected to trial by media and mob censure. Their trial reminds me of the usual sad scenes in poor neighbourhoods in Dar es Salaam such as Kariakoo, Manzese and Buguruni where it is not uncommon to see a mob whose membership includes a significant number of well known pickpockets descending on an hapless mugger who had had the misfortune of being caught red handed. Often, if a Good Samaritan or conscientious police constable does not happen to be passing by and quickly intervenes, the poor mugger is dead by the winkle of an eye, through mob (in)justice.

The death of the bad thief, at the hands of equally bad fellow thieves, causes the mob to disperse laughing with exaggerated glee, not realizing that acts of violent mugging are symptoms and not the essence of the failed socio-economic system called capitalism, which concentrates wealth in the hands of the few, leaving the majority abysmally poor, even if they have worked hard.

In the tale of the two ex-ministers one notices that the scene containing their being brought before the court seems to have been choreographed to take place just when the public was increasing its clamour for the state to bring to court some of the alleged bigger fish associated with the daylight robbery surrounding the Bank of Tanzania (BOT)’s External Payment Arrears (EPA) account as well as the equally big fish alleged to have engaged in some Richmond saga monkey business whose bill the public was forced to foot.

In what appears to be a carefully scripted public drama, the bail conditions of the ex-ministers were initially made near to impossible to meet. With equal drama, the sad faces of these ministers have been passed in front of mass media cameras for more than once as they went through the legal paces required before their bail application ever got a hearing. In the meantime, sections of the media were daily informing the public that the Fourth Phase Presidency was gaining in popularity ratings on account of having shown no show fear or favour to whoever deserve(d) to be brought before the law.

Critical thinking takes the view that since the ex-ministers have families and friends, as well as political and business competitors, it is important that they continue to be treated with respect. They are innocent till proved guilty by a court of law. Perhaps, the families of these ex-ministers, and they themselves, should from now on be activists in the human rights fight for the treatment of all suspects of all crimes as suspects till proved guilty or otherwise.

The tendency for the police or prison guards to treat suspects in remand prison inhumanely ought to be frown upon by all. Peace in our land demands that we desist from giving succour to perpetrators of mob (in)justice or those who may be persuaded to use fellow human beings as baits in cultivating popular appeal. We should condemn acts of corruption and fraud but still treat fellow human beings, whatever they have been accused of, with respect and dignity.

A comprehensive approach is required in dealing with the issue of abuse of office by senior government officials and leading politicians. It will eventually cause more political harm than good if an impression was allowed to be created to the effect that these ex-ministers are being fingered out as sacrificial lambs to assuage public clamour for the prosecution of all ex-ministers, and even incumbent ones, who have been investigated and found to have cases to answer before courts of law, with regard to allegations of abuse of office, grand corruption and fraud.

Everyone is equal before the law. Our constitution says so. Justice must be seen to take place.

© Dr. Azaveli Feza Lwaitama

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