It's not oil prices but corruption that's keeping us poor By KARL LYIMO email@example.com THE EAST AFRICAN Speaking to the mass media fraternity in Dar es Salaam last December, President Jakaya Kikwete made a sweeping statement to the effect that he spent the first two years of his 5-year term laying the foundation for the economy to take off. Not only did this contradict former premier Edward Lowassas equally sweeping statement to parliament that the economy had soared, and was cruising, but in retrospect, one could ask: If it has taken Kikwete who came on the scene in 2005 two years to lay the foundation for the economy to take off, what were the past governments doing in the 44 years of their rule? LAST DECEMBER, IN HIS ADDRESS TO the nation, President Kikwete set the tone for 2008 vis-à-vis 2007. The bread-and-butter of the matter is: how will ordinary Tanzanians fare in the obtaining circumstances? Look at it this way. Kikwete said Tanzanias socio-economic problems are rooted in high oil prices. Indeed, this is the cause of problems in many oil-less countries and, surprisingly, oil-rich Nigeria too! What he didnt mention was that these countries invariably cushion their populations against the effects of high oil prices by, among other things, subsidising the cost of living and empowering their citizenry to generate income at the micro/household level. Tanzanians on the other hand, fend for themselves in very hostile economic circumstances. This, however, is not the case with a few elite in positions of power and privilege, including the affluent and certain public officials. The former have invariably become wealthy through smuggling/tax evasion, drug-dealing, money-laundering, counterfeiting/peddling substandard goods, public contract-padding , etc. The latter become rich through malfeasance, grand corruption, embezzlement or outright theft of public resources. COMMON TO BOTH IS THE ILLEGALITY of the means they use to achieve their nefarious ends. In the event, Tanzania comprises a few haves and millions-upon-millions of have-notswith the former living obscenely affluent lives, while the latter wallow in abject poverty. The injustice of it all is that the across-the-board cost of living is the same regardless. The point here is that Tanzanias biggest problem is really not high fuel costs; it is the grand corruption that reduces the governments ability to cushion its people against the ill-effects of an inordinately high cost of living. Corruption is institutionalised. The nations daily life is heavily tainted with corruption, impinging adversely upon hapless communitiesfrom the motorist to the petty trader. The affluent and high public officials are spared this ignominy, doing their shopping in the high street locally and abroad. Their salaries and perks are a state secretas are their so-called declarations of assets/liabilities. Taxpayer money takes care of their everyday needs, with ministers and other principal officials defaulting on their utility bills, while the downtrodden have even the little they thought they owned taken from them by the taxman. Is this an egalitarian society? If ufisadi or grand corruption were significantly reduced, we could keep abject poverty at bay, high oil prices notwithstanding. Unfortunately, successive governments have failed to acknowledge this. Consequently, most Tanzanians will suffer another year of deprivation even as a few elite wallow in their ill-gotten affluence. Karl Lyimo is a freelance journalist based in Dar.