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Tanzania’s New President Battles Waste, Corruption

FILE - Tanzanian President-elect John Magufuli takes the oath of office during his inauguration ceremony at the Uhuru Stadium in Dar es Salaam, Nov. 5, 2015.

Barely a month in office, Tanzania’s new president, John Magufuli, is going full throttle in the fight against waste and corruption.

Tanzanians say they like his take-charge approach, though it is not new for him. Magufuli was nicknamed "The Bulldozer” for similar efforts during his 15 years as minister of works.

“I’m very happy about it, because he’s a kind of guy who wants to take initiative himself and he wants to show people this is how things should be done," said Gibbons Mwavukusi, an accountant in Dar es Salaam. "I think that’s a fantastic way to show all Tanzanians what they need to do, and he’s leading the way for all of them to follow him as an example.”

On his first day in office this November, Magufuli made a surprise visit to the Finance Ministry, where he castigated civil servants who were not at their desks.

Magufuli has banned foreign travel for most government officials. He cut a bloated delegation for the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Malta from 50 to just four.

Tanzanians have gleefully backed his efforts, posting their own cost-saving ideas under the Twitter hashtag #WhatWouldMagufuliDo.

President John Magufuli joins a clean-up event outside the State House in Dar es Salaam, Dec. 9, 2015.
President John Magufuli joins a clean-up event outside the State House in Dar es Salaam, Dec. 9, 2015.

Photos of Magufuli cleaning up garbage in the streets Wednesday were all over social media. He had canceled lavish Independence Day celebrations that day and instead ordered that the funds be used to fight a cholera outbreak that had killed dozens of people and sickened nearly 5,000 more.

Alleged theft by officials

Evidence of official corruption had been on the rise. In 2014, a scandal broke revealing that government ministers using escrow accounts had allegedly stolen approximately $180 million from the Central Bank.

This month, Magufuli suspended the commissioner general of the Tanzania Revenue Authority on suspicion of abetting corruption and tax evasion at the Dar es Salaam port. That official is now under arrest along with five others.

The secretary general for the ruling party, Chama Cha Mapinduzi Abdulrahman Kinana, praised the move, saying that "this will regulate the various sources of income to ensure that all loopholes are sealed and everyone pays tax to the government so as to enable us meet our targets.”

Senkai Kilonzo of the Tanzanian NGO Policy Forum, which deals with governance issues, noted that Magufuli was drawing from his past experience.

“The president has been a minister for about 20 years. He would have seen what the issues are, and he would have been very concerned about wastages, outright corruption, outright theft of the public coffers," Kilonzo said. "He would have been very uncomfortable in all those years, and I assume perhaps he’s now been given the opportunity to make amends and that’s what he’s trying to do.”

But Kilonzo said real change would take more.

“One man cannot do it on his own, so I think it’s all about the entire community as a nation, saying we have had enough about this," Kilonzo said. "It’s impacting all our lives, you know. When there’s less money around, it means poor social services including health and education.”

Analysts say challenges await, and issues such as low pay within the civil service, which encourages graft, will have to be addressed.

Dina Chahali of VOA’s Swahili service contributed to this report from Dar es Salaam.