Questions for the Minister of Finance

FORMER Presidential Economic Affairs adviser and, later, chairman of the Civic United Front (CUF), Prof. Ibrahim Lipumba, is a respected name in the field of economic discussions. He has lately put up a much publicised query on the suitability of Ms Saada Salum Mkuya as the latest Union Minister for Finance.  His premise was that the parliamentary website does not show that she has the right qualifications.

Subsequently, the minister responded via the newspapers that she has two ‘Master’s’ degrees, and is pursuing a doctorate qualification. Excellent.

Still, glancing at the same parliamentary webside, it is unclear where the degrees or diplomas that the minister obtained were earned! For instance as late as 1995, she was just finishing high school… In 1999, she earned an Advanced Diploma in Business Studies… And then, apparently, she earned a Master’s degree in 2010.

Both titles are not identified from which colleges they were obtained, and it is not surprising that some knowledgeable voices query the minister’s actual qualifications for the job – that is, expertise in finance. Perhaps since then she has a second master’s degree.

If that is the case, it could be said that she has been hardworking since she started working in the Zanzibar Treasury as an officer in 2003, rising to administrative officer in 2006 and then becoming the Commissioner of Finance later in 2011. This position then catapulted her to Union Deputy Minister for Finance a year later… And, with the misfortune that visited Finance Minister William Mgimwa recently, she was appointed full cabinet minister. She thus has had sufficient exposure to ‘desk work’ in areas that the former economics professor, Dr Lipumba, noted – although, indeed, her governmental experience is rather limited.

For one thing, the CUF chairman had first to make a position on what he thinks of the usual tendency of President Jakaya Kikwete in picking his ministers: does he make an effort to establish quality and initiative, or is there a lack of it?

At the same time, there is need for constant reminders that pushing youthful but talented people to positions of authority has always been an aspect of organisation, so that public institutions are constantly having experimented and capable people. Otherwise, public offices would wait until a fellow retires to put another person to similar post!

Perhaps as a reminder, there is something in presidential style that Mwalimu Nyerere once confided in a question-and-answer session at the University of Dar es Salaam which educated individuals like Prof. Lipumba must be familiar with.

In 1981 (when Prof. Lipumba was away on his doctoral programme), Mwalimu told a meeting of UDSM staff and students that, when he appoints individuals for posts of minister, regional commissioner or ambassador, he usually knows them personally. But when he appoints persons to other posts – from district commissioners to regional administrative officials (or earlier, regional development directors), he was usually just signing on the dotted line!

In other words, it is true as the CUF chairman appears to be worried that there are appointments in Government where the president just signs; and there are those where the president is supposed to know the person, and evidently that includes who becomes Minister for Finance.

For one thing, it is evident that the president appoints an individual to such a position so that he or she assists him in one way or another, in which case there is something like harmonisation work to be done, in one way or another. When Zanzibar sees one of theirs at the Union Treasury, it eases the task!

Some criticism has also been raised in the direction of Prof. Lipumba that he was pursuing ‘gender discrimination’ in his query, which most reasonable people would reject as unfounded. There is nothing new in a lady at the helm at the Treasury, as Zakia Meghji was there before, an experienced cabinet minister up to that point… In which case, the issue comes back to background and qualification as a pointer to competence.

Given the sort of disputes that have occurred in Parliament – and even within the ruling party CcM – on cabinet performance, casting an eagle’s eye on a minister is right.

All said and done, however, Ms Mkuya is without doubt a bit of a newcomer… But she’s not exactly a novice, as she has learned a few things since mid-2012 as deputy Finance minister.

At the same time, analysts should take note of the fact that ministers are presidential advisers on the one hand, and representatives of major interest groups on the other… In which case, these are roles which she is ready to fulfill in one way or another. There is a strategic reason for her appointment, not just ‘godfathers’ and suchlike.