Govt now targets 180bn/- CIS scam -New initiative underway to nail high-profile debtors THISDAY REPORTER Dar es Salaam AFTER a much-publicised crackdown on corruption at the Bank of Tanzania, the government appears ready to shift its focus onto the long-standing import support scheme scandal, where around 16.6 billion Japanese yen (approx. 180bn/-) mysteriously disappeared. The Ministry of Finance has decided to hire private debt collection agencies to get a total of 916 debtors countrywide, comprising mainly prominent members of the local business community plus politicians, to return the outstanding funds to the government, and it is understood that a public tender document inviting private collection agencies to bid for the contract is already in circulation. The Government of Tanzania, through the Ministry of Finance, intends to engage debt collectors during the financial year 2007/08 to collect all outstanding debts owing to the Commodity Import Support Fund (CIS) under the Japanese Non-Project Grant and Debt Relief Grant availed to various beneficiaries countrywide, says the tender document. It sets a February 20 deadline for submission of all bids. The finance ministry is seeking private debt collectors with both the lowest bids and demonstrated manpower and experience for the job. Well-placed sources have told THISDAY that the Prevention and Combating of Corruption Bureau (PCCB), the office of the Director of Criminal Investigations (DCI), and other law enforcement agencies have long been trailing the import support scam. They say the names of various prominent members of parliament and cabinet ministers - both past and present - are among those featured in the list of 916 debtors. Also strongly linked to the scam is the chief executive officer of Quality Group Limited, Yusuf Manji, who according to THISDAY investigations is believed to have pocketed billions of shillings out of the CIS scheme. Our investigations have verified that the list of high-profile debtors includes a good number of influential MPs, retired or current cabinet ministers, and senior government officials. The wives of some prominent politicians are also mentioned in the list, our sources say. Under the CIS scheme, beneficiaries were supposed to provide 30 per cent of the requested funds known as cash cover. In this light, it is understood that the listed debtors were basically duped into borrowing CIS funds they thought they would never have to repay. The scheme was initially administered by the Ministry of Finance, but from September 2002 it was moved to the Tanzania Investment Bank (TIB), ostensibly for better management. It is understood that all attempts by TIB officials ever since to recover the money from the debtors have proved futile. It is also understood that during a parliamentary session last year, the bank even sent debt collectors to Dodoma to discuss payment schedules with the defaulting MPs. Government sources say much of the outstanding 180bn/- is now considered uncollectible because the delinquent debtors have either disappeared or do not have the money to pay, among other factors. But it is also estimated that at least 50bn/- of the unpaid CIS funds is readily collectible from companies registered in the names of some of the well-known debtors.