Is Tanzania's Parliament really independent? By Christopher Kidanka THE CITIZEN In mid 2003, a tug of war erupted with Parliament and the public on one side and President Benjamin Mkapa and his government on the other, over the privatisation of the National Micro-finance Bank (NMB). Earlier, the government had tabled a motion in the National Assembly to sell majority shares in NMB to a foreign bank, but Members of Parliament rejected the proposal. At this stage, President Mkapa piped up, saying NMB was operating on huge state subsidies. The Bank of Tanzania, too, said it had not given NMB an operating licence because it had not completed all prudential guidelines. Despite Mkapa's claims to the contrary, bank workers said NMB was making huge profits, a point reinforced by an expatriate manager of the bank who later testified to a parliamentary committee that the firm wasn't receiving any subsidies. Having heard statements from the bank's employees, Chama Cha Mapinduzi and opposition MPs united to reject the Government's motion to sell NMB, which with 104 branches has the largest banking network in the country. Though prevailing public opinion was sceptical of putting another aspect of Tanzania's economy in the hands of foreigners, when MPs said no in unison, CCM summoned its MPs to convince them otherwise. After a filmed meeting on the matter, CCM MPs emerged to ''bless'' the decision, and NMB was privatised. At the time, the National Assembly was led by Speaker Pius Msekwa, a longtime member of CCM who now holds the second highest office in the party as Deputy Chairman (Mainland). This February, five years after the NMB decision, Tanzanians witnessed a 'born-again' Parliament when Prime Minister Edward Lowassa and two cabinet ministers were forced to resign after being implicated in a mega scandal that was investigated by a parliamentary committee. Just as it was during the NMB motion, CCM and opposition MPs spoke in unison for what they called 'national interest'. But this time, the State did not interfere. The Parliamentary Select Committee on the multi-billion-shilling Richmond scandal called for the company's deregistration and the arrest and prosecution of all senior government officials implicated in the shady power-generating tender. The committee said in its final recommendations to the National Assembly in Dodoma that the Government should take action against the culprits within three months. In the discussion that followed the report's presentation, sugar coated language and formalities were set aside as fiery MPs debated bitterly on the findings of the select committee. MPs criticised the dubious deal that top government officials imposed on Tanesco, which forged an agreement with Richmond, a briefcase company that had been contracted to provide energy to the drought-stricken country but never did. The MPs put aside political and ideological differences, and pressed for detailed and analytical investigations on other major contracts the government had signed with foreign investors. ''It's time we joined hands,'' Anna Komu, Civic United Front MP, said at the time. ''It is time we worked together, regardless of our political differences. In matters of public interest we have to protect the welfare of millions of Tanzanians who are dying simply because of problems caused by these dubious contracts.'' MP Christopher Ole Sendeka (Simanjiro) proposed the immediate exclusion of the Prevention and Combating of Corruption Bureau director general and the Attorney General from the Bank of Tanzania (BOT) probe committee, following their implication in the Richmond scandal. ''PCCB cleared the Richmond deal as free from corruption, while the Attorney General was directly involved in the Richmond contract-awarding exercise,'' he said. ''The wananchi will not trust us if we leave these people in the same positions.'' The CCM MP proposed an extensive review of other dubious contracts and freezing the accounts of those involved in the Richmond scam. ''We should go further to the extent of sweeping these corrupt people out of our party,'' Mr Sendeka said. Opposition legislator Wilbrod Slaa said the cabinet must be dissolved in the spirit of collective responsibility following Prime Minister Edward Lowassa's resignation. ''There are other government officials who, according to the committee, refused to cooperate with the probe team,'' Mr Slaa said. ''A senior government official, Mary Kejo, was a key person in these transactions and should also be held accountable.'' Kibakwe MP George Simbachewene said the scandal belittled the integrity and dignity of the PCCB and its entire management, and warned that the time for obfuscating the truth was up. ''We cannot afford hiding things of public importance while millions of Tanzanians are dying and crying because of politician-triggered poverty,'' the legislator said. MP Philemon Ndesamburo (Chadema) also asked the President to drop the PCCB head and Attorney General from the BoT investigation committee, and for those behind the Richmond contract to be taken to court and have their property confiscated by the state. The Government has said it is working on all the recommendations of the Bunge Select Committee.