Scrap Sitting Allowances, Create Jobs
By Zitto Kabwe
For the last two weeks there has been a fierce debate on allowances given to members of parliament fuelled by recent revelations by two leading dailies Mwananchi and The Citizen. The revelations were first denied by the Clerk of the National Assembly but later in a swift move confirmed by the Speaker.
Members of Parliament herein referred as MPs are entitled to various allowances in conducting their affairs. According to the National Assembly administration act these are subsistence allowance, travel allowances, constituency allowance and for those holding parliamentary portfolios a responsibility allowance. Sitting allowance is paid to MPs everyday he or she attends a committee meeting or parliamentary debate. However this allowance is not mentioned in the law. Currently an MP receives TZS 70,000 ($40) a day as sitting allowance.
A member of Parliament in Tanzania receives a monthly salary as a renumeration for the legislative, representative and oversight role he or she does. On top of that he or she is paid for sitting! Sounds ridiculous for sure.
During the 5th session of Parliament which ended in November 2011, MPs lobbied for an increase in allowances claiming that costs of living have skyrocketed. MPs are paid per diem to cover costs of living, but in an interesting move the Parliamentary service commission passed a resolution to increase a sitting allowance to TZS 200,000 ($130) a day.
Sitting allowance doesn’t address the challenge of cost of living, it is subsistence allowance that is pegged to costs of living. I asked one of my colleague who serves in the Parliamenatary Service Commission about this and she said, per diem applies to all civil servants so an increment to it would mean an increment to all civil servants so it must be avoided. And they did avoid and went ahead directing The Clerk to effect new rates. The Clerk refused as the law requires that the President of the United Republic approve the new increment in writing. Hence the divided stand between the Clerk and the Speaker. When the news reached investigative and news hungry editors of the media the difference between them was all out and the public outcry was huge.
The President hasnt approved the new increment so far, some credible sources say that Speaker didn’t even attempt to send the requests to the President. The Parliamentary Service Commission met over the weekend and revoked their proposal. Media has played its role and the public won. A senior parliamentary staff told me the other day, that the whole matter was a hoax. MPs pressured the Speaker to increase allowances and even threatened her that she will be relieved from her post. Speaker in turn pressured the Clerk to pay new rates contrary to the laws and regulations. Public through media pressured both of them and the President did not dare increase the sitting allowances rate. So far the public has won.
Is it a temporary victory? Definitely yes.
The highest prize is scrapping sitting allowances regime altogether. Paying an MP for sitting isn’t justified. The public, NGOs/civil society organisations and the media should campaign towards this to the very end. The allowances culture is killing our Nation as it misdirect public funds from public investments to current spending. It kills our working culture as public office holders keep attending meeting after meeting to earn sitting allowances instead of working.
Our country faces mountain of challenges, it requires us to work and create an enabling environment for economic activities that create jobs, add value to our produce, increase our exports, produce more food and generate more electricity. Otherwise no one will call us a nation.
Scrap sitting allowances, create jobs to the people.