Dar and Dodoma. Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda’s efforts to get the government out of the Tegeta Escrow Account mess flopped yesterday, with his impromptu Cabinet meetings bearing no fruit.
In what appears to be another blow to the government, the Parliament Steering Committee instead agreed to MPs’ request for an extension of time to debate the report. It will now be tabled next Thursday by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).
An earlier timetable provided only a day for the debate but yesterday’s meeting agreed on two days–Thursday and Friday–instead. The move came after MPs appealed to the Steering Committee to give them enough time to discuss the report.
Mr Pinda and other top executives have reportedly resorted to restraining vocal party legislators, warning them that they risk being disciplined should they continue with public condemnation of their party and leaders.
On Friday, Mr Pinda convened a Cabinet meeting at which outspoken MPs were warned to stop attacking the government on the Escrow deal in public. Sources at the meeting told The Citizen on Sunday that Special Seats MP Esther Bulaya and Kahama MP James Lembeli were among those censured.
Last week, the two MPs joined the opposition in an attack on the government and the judiciary for attempting to block the debate. Sources at the meeting said all CCM MPs who have attacked senior government officials implicated in the scandal in public were warned that they risked being reprimanded by their party. Deputy Speaker Job Ndugai was apparently ordered to ensure that MPs did not humiliate the government but he reportedly refused to co-operate.
The Cabinet then decided to recall the Speaker of the National Assembly, Ms Anne Makinda, to preside over the debate. Ms Makinda is expected to arrive in Dodoma today.
Last week, MPs asked the House Steering Committee to extend the time for debating the CAG’s report that is expected to be tabled in Parliament on Wednesday by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).
Yesterday, the Steering Committee members finally extended the time for debate on the escrow money by one more day, but only after a heated debate. The meeting was chaired by the deputy speaker.
The director of parliamentary affairs, Mr John Joel, confirmed that the matter would be debated for two days and that the committee was looking into accommodating the new timetable to be released tomorrow. “The chairpersons of various committees have requested more time and we have agreed,” he said. “We are currently working on how we can fix the timetable.”
Sources from Friday’s Cabinet meeting told this paper that Deputy Minister for Finance and Economic Affairs Mwigulu Nchemba ordered the Tanzania Revenue Authority (TRA) Commissioner to sack a senior official who was implicated in the loss of some Sh1.6 billion.
A source who preferred to remain anonymous said the deputy minister reacted bitterly at the Cabinet meeting and suggested that the time for suspending corrupt officials was over. “When you suspend them, you automatically give them temporary leave to spend the money that they squandered,” he quoted him as saying.