TANZANIA: Sitta defends House `don`t touch` order

National Assembly Speaker Samuel Sitta yesterday stood by his recent barring of legislators from discussing sensitive issues still being investigated.

The issues include reports that Home Affairs minister Lawrence Masha
improperly interfered with the tendering process in respect of the
multi-billion-shilling National Identity Cards project and the
controversial purchase of civilian and military air traffic control
(radar) equipment from the UK.

The Speaker dwelt mainly on the furor over the ID project, saying
allowing the issue to be brought up for debate in the House as demanded
by some legislators could have caused needless delays in proceedings as
well as several other avoidable inconveniencies.

“The delays, such as would have related to the ID project tendering
process, would have caused the nation huge losses,“ he explained,
noting that safeguarding national interests was always his main

He was being interviewed by The Guardian on the sidelines of the
official launch of CHAMPION project, an initiative aimed at addressing
harmful gender norms fuelling HIV/Aids infections.

“The decision to put the matter on hold was based on the fact that the
issue of national identity cards was highly sensitive. What`s more, at
the material time (when the National Assembly was in routine session in
Dodoma earlier this month), the matter was being discussed by the House
Defence, Security and Foreign Affairs Committee,“ he pointed out.

Sitta further stated that he arrived at the decision to put the
discussions on hold on the advice of the committee chairman Wilson
Masilingi, “who said that was the right step to take to ensure a
smooth flow of the tendering process since any move that would delay
the process would have made the nation incur huge losses“.

“My decision had completely nothing to do with making attempts to
defending the minister (Masha). I just bought parliamentary committee
chairman Masilingi`s argument that the whole thing was too small to
deserve emergency discussion,“ elaborated the Speaker.

He said Masilingi`s opinion was that allowing legislators to discuss
the issue would have meant putting on hold the tendering process,
“when the work had reached an advanced stage“.

Sitta also specifically responded to accusations by the opposition
Chama cha Demokrasia na Maendeleo (Chadema) on Sunday that he barred
the discussion merely to protect a beleaguered minister Masha.

He said that, even if he had not received Masilingi`s advice, the 12
days which the National Assembly was left with was too short a period
to have accommodated debate on the raging controversy over the ID
project tendering process.

He added: “Every business (discussion) in the House is conducted in
line with a laid-down timeframe. The 12 days left were definitely too
few to allow for meaningful discussions but, impartial as I am supposed
to be throughout, I could not just allow anything to be discussed
because I am under obligation to put national interests before any

In a more conciliatory note apparently meant to appease those who found
his decision unfair or improper, the Speaker said there was still the
possibility of the issue

being discussed in forthcoming House sessions “and there is no need to
concentrate too much on Chadema`s baseless claims that I shielded
minister Masha“.

Chadema Information and Publicity director Erasto Tumbo told
journalists on Sunday that Speaker Sitta was protecting the minister,
for whose immediate resignation they called “or we will take up the
matter with wananchi“.

However, a defiant Masha said he would not resign and challenged people
accusing him of interfering with the ID project tendering process to
bring forward evidence of his alleged wrongdoing.

A section of local media reported recently allegations that Masha
interfered with the process of obtaining a company to implement the
project, contrary to the rules and regulations governing public sector
tendering procedures.

Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda confirmed in the National Assembly that
the minister had sent him a letter complaining about being interfered
with by Chief Secretary Philemon Luhanjo in connection with the
tendering process.

But authoritative sources say it is in fact the minister who interfered
with the process after indications that Sagem Securite, the firm he
deemed most appropriate for the job, was likely to lose the tender.

On Sunday, the Home Affairs ministry announced six companies to meet in
the final round that will see the emergence of the bidder to execute
the project. Sagem Securite does not appear on the list.

Tanzanian and UK`s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) agents are meanwhile
understood to have been working on claims that former Attorney General
and Infrastructure Development minister Andrew Chenge and a number of
other senior officials and businesspersons received bribes in
connection with the purchase of the civilian and military equipment.

Chenge resigned from President Jakaya Kikwete`s cabinet in April last
year after preliminary investigations by SFO agents linked him to
illegal payments related to the scam, part of the amount having
reportedly been deposited in an overseas bank account.


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