By Sylivester Ernest The Citizen Reporter
Dar es Salaam. Tanzania would have been a different country had the hundreds of billions of shillings stashed away in Swiss bank accounts been used to solve some of the problems the country is facing. According to the Anti-Corruption Tracker System, the $196 million (Sh303 billion) hidden by Tanzanians in Switzerland could be used to build 44,857 classrooms at the cost of Sh7 million each.
The money is also enough to buy 122 million doses of malaria drugs.
Alternatively, 15,000 primary school pupils could each receive a capitation grant of Sh200,000, or 84,000 primary school teachers paid their salaries for a whole year. The money could also be used to pay about 27,500 doctors a monthly salary of Sh950,000 for a year.
The sum is also enough to pay over 26,000 police officers a monthly salary of Sh1 million each for 12 months. The analysis also shows that more than half of the benefit claims by 15,000 former East African Community employees could be settled.
The Anti-Corruption Tracker System is hosted and managed by Agenda Participation 2000, a non-governmental organisation working to promote good governance and democracy in Tanzania. Agenda Participation 2000 Executive Director Moses Kulaba said the government was making half-hearted attempts to establish who owned the money and how they obtained it.
“There are options. The government can write to the Swiss government and request for more information on the issue, but I doubt whether this has been done,” he said.
Mr Kulaba said the government could also direct Tanzania’s ambassador to Switzerland to obtain relevant information from the Swiss government.
But Attorney General Frederick Werema told The Citizen on Sunday in a telephone interview that there was correspondence between the Swiss and Tanzanian governments on the matter.
“We have made some progress…we have written to the Swiss government and they have replied. We are doing very well on this,” he said.
He said Parliament had resolved that the matter be investigated thoroughly, adding that this was what the government was doing.
“There is a team working on this issue…I can’t say more since I’m on leave, but we will tell Tanzanians where we have reached later.”
The Citizen, quoting a report by the Swiss central bank, reported exclusively last June that Tanzanians had deposited a total of $196 million in Swiss bank accounts. The “Swiss billions” saga took a new twist in November when Kigoma North MP Zitto Kabwe tabled a private motion in Parliament that sought to compel the government to investigate the matter and establish those behind the money, most of which is believed to have been obtained through corrupt means.
The firebrand opposition politician said the money in Swiss banks was just a tiny portion of the billions of dollars hidden abroad. Mr Kabwe said there was evidence some top government officials and businesspeople had hidden ill-gotten cash in Switzerland, Jersey Islands, Cayman Islands and Mauritius.
He said the Global Financial Integrity (GFI) report of 2008 showed that Tanzanians stashed abroad $8 billion between 1970 and 2008. The sum is enough to offset 80 per cent of the public debt.
However, it is not known exactly how much money is in countries other than Switzerland.
Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda said the government would do all in its power to establish and reveal the truth following Parliament’s resolution.
One of the terms of reference requires the government to report back to Parliament in April. If MPs would not be satisfied with the findings, a parliamentary select committee would be formed to carry out the task.
The government has agreed to use private investigators and diplomatic means to achieve the desired results. The use of private investigators was proposed by Mr Kabwe, who said Kenya, France and Senegal had recovered illegally obtained cash hidden elsewhere through such assistance. Mr Kabwe said the billions hidden in Switzerland were mostly proceeds of crime.
Part of the money was obtained through corruption and tax evasion.
The MP said between 2003 and 2005, the Bank of Tanzania paid a total of Sh155 billion to Nedbank Bank of South Africa to offset a loan the government had guaranteed to enable Meremeta Company to mine gold.
The sum was 15 times the money put up as loan guarantee.
Mr Kabwe said investigations had established that 70 per cent of the borrowed money was diverted to Swiss banks via Mauritius.
“Meremeta Company, which as later transformed into TanGold, was established by top government officials as a conduit for siphoning money out of public coffers,” he said.
Other dubious projects through which billions were stolen included Buhemba Gold Mine, which purportedly belonged to the Ministry of Defence and National Service.