Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Think British MPs get a free ride? Ever been to Tanzania?

Each day Tanzanian MPs receive one and a half times a school teacher's monthly salary, just for turning up. And this year, they've been demanding even more.

Tanzanian Parliament building

Tanzania is an East African member of the Commonwealth. It's just south of Kenya, its main city is Dar es Salaam, and its administrative capital is Dodoma in the centre of the country.

Until this Saturday I had spent three months volunteering for the Hoja Project in Songea, way down in the nation's southwest corner, and far from the main centres of development.

Although most of its population is very poor, Tanzania is considered by many to be one of the more successful (or rather, less unsuccessful) countries on the continent.

This is probably because they have very successfully steered clear of any significant civil unrest since their independence in the 1960s (something you could have also said about their neighbours in Kenya up until last year). That's why you never see them on the news.

Tanzania also have ticked a number of boxes designed by more developed countries to arbitrarily decide whether African Governments are doing a good job. For example, Tanzania provide free primary school education to all. And no, that's not as good as it sounds, and nor am I in favour of such tick-box measurement. (But more on that later.)

As far as African countries go, Tanzania is one of the world media's "good guys". If you ever see Gordon Brown (or later, presumably, David Cameron) on the news meeting the Tanzanian President, it will be all smiles and handshakes and slaps on the back for a good job well done.

But MPs are not really under any pressure to do a good job. The ruling party, CCM, holds 264 out of 324 of Parliamentary seats. Only in Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar (which is semi-autonomous) is there any serious opposition, from the Civic United Front (CUF).

So is it a good job well done? Well, no. I'll look at the education system as an example, which I believe is key to development, and for which Tanzania are often cited as relatively progressive.

Primary school class

As I have already mentioned, Tanzania meet UNICEF's criterion of "universal primary education". There is at least one primary school in every village. Attendance is high - you won't find many parents refusing to send their child to school and putting them to work on the shambas (farms) instead.

So far, so good for the man with the spreadsheet in the UN's headquarters in New York.

But there aren't enough teachers to send everyone to school. Class sizes are over 50 students in almost all cases.

Teachers aren't well trained. Many of them are only primary school leavers themselves, with no secondary education and only a basic teacher training, which is not continued throughout their career.

Determination to forge a strong sense of national identity has combined with hangovers from British rule to make secondary education as difficult as possible, for those students who can afford the fees.

Upon independence, Father of the Nation, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere declared Swahili to be the official language of the new nation. All primary school lessons are taught in this language.

Secondary education and beyond, however, is based upon the old British system of O-Levels and A-Levels, and so is taught in English. Students suddenly have to adjust to learning in a language which is not their own, the basics of which have been taught to them badly in primary school.

Secondary school pupils fail in droves. In the Hoja Project, we are very concerned about the secondary students we sponsor, and how they are performing in the local Government schools. As a result, we pay for extra out of hours tuition to give our students the best possible chance.

The Government are concerned about the number of failing pupils. So concerned, in fact, that they are taking the easiest route to try to avoid losing any votes over it. Students take national exams after Form Two (two years before O-Levels).

Previously, if they failed, students would be held back in Form Two for another year. So many students fail, that rather than deal with the route of the problem, that this year Government have simply scrapped the rule about holding students back.

Students will continue to fail, but will progress to Form Three anyway. Easier for the Government, easier for parents who have to pay fees every year, more difficult for all pupils, even those who pass Form Two anyway (as their teachers will have a bigger range of abilities to deal with).

The Tanzanian Government are very good at making grand-sounding gestures and taking credit for any educational development that happens on their soil. But they can take rather a long time to follow through with promises.

Lupunga Secondary School in Songea took 9 years to build from start to finish, finally opening in 2006. When I visited in September 2007, they had numerous unfinished buildings which were imminently needed for the arrival of another year group in the coming January.

In each case it was money that was supposed to come from the Government that had simply stopped arriving. Whenever a school is built in Tanzania, the local community are expected to volunteer their time and money to contribute a certain proportion of the mud bricks.

In 2007 the community had made enough bricks to build the walls to a girls' dormitory, and there was another large stack of bricks nearby waiting to be used. It would be the Government's responsibility to stump up for the roof.

Girls' accommodation is so important to a school in Tanzania. Girls who live far from school and do not have safe transport or accommodation are vulnerable to being forced to use their bodies as rent. They risk getting pregnant and kicked out of school, and secondary-school-age girls are the most at-risk group to HIV.

When I visited, the walls to the dormitory had been complete for some time. They were a little weathered, but by no means written off. When I returned two weeks ago, the walls of the dormitory, and the stack of bricks nearby, were not salvageable. They are completely ruined.

The good news is, however, that nearby, the Government have gone ahead and spent a lot more money on building a girls' dormitory of their own from scratch. It's even been completed with some very attractive paint.

And it's been sitting empty for four months.

This vital accommodation has not been used because the Government haven't bought the 24 bunk beds that would sleep 48 girls. Never mind that these girls will have their own mattresses anyway, so they could at least fit 24 girls on the floor for the time-being - far preferable to the zero girls who are currently sleeping there.

Empty girls' dormitory at Lupunga Secondary School

For one and a half weeks after the recent holidays in June and July, no food was provided to Lupunga's students. This is despite the fact that all students have paid for this in their school fees, and that Lupunga are only employing five teachers for eleven classes. They should have plenty of money left over.

Perhaps it is the fault of the school, perhaps the fault of the Government. Fees pass to the Government, before money is given to the school to spend.

It would not be surprising if the Government have not given the school their money - they're not much good at paying teachers on time either. Yesterday I read about a school where ten teachers have not been paid for seven months.

And so, what is the pay for teachers? Well, in most cases it is a little over 100,000 shillings (about £50) a month. It sounds very little in the UK, and it's not very good in Tanzania either, but you could certainly live off it.

The routinely-ignored minimum wage is 80,000Tsh (£40), and there is talk of putting it up to 100,000Tsh, so that should give you an idea of how little Tanzanian teachers are valued by their Government.

I'll be honest with you at this point. I'm a little confused about how much Tanzanian MPs are paid. But it's a lot more than teachers get. No matter which of the following figures are correct, you might feel a little sick after reading this.

I'll start with the numbers I was told by my friend Oswin, who set up the Hoja Project in his home community in Songea.

He told me that the latest figures he had heard (which I now think is a bit out of date), included a basic salary of 2.6million Tsh (£1300) per month, 150,000Tsh (£75) per day sitting allowance, expenses of 1million Tsh (£500) per month for accommodation, cooking and cleaning, and another 1million Tsh (£500) for paying for transport of and feeding constituents with whom they have important meetings.

In fact, that last million shillings apparently usually goes straight into their pockets, as they usually expect their hosts (who are paid considerably less) to pay for a car and food for them, and not the other way around.

This adds up to about 80million Tsh (£40,000) per year. He had heard that MPs were campaigning to have their basic monthly salaries increased to around 15million Tsh (£7500), which would bump their total annual salary to around 240million Tsh (£120,000).

This would constitute not only an astronomic rise, but would be an obscenely self-indulgent pay packet even in the UK.

However, I've read articles that suggest different, although still shocking, figures. The Daily News, for example, informs me that the monthly salary is already 7million Tsh (£3500), and that the proposal is to increase it to 12million Tsh (£6000).

Although the journalist then seems to get her annual figure wrong (see the third comment down), this is still a staggering pay packet and pay rise. Just the basic salary of 12million Tsh would be 150 times larger than the state minimum wage.

I do not know whether President Kikwete has approved the MPs' requests. I think, however, that you can learn a lot about the last two Tanzanian Presidents by reading this article from 2006, and comparing the numbers to those in this blog post. Kikwete clearly didn't refuse for very long.

This greed however, is not confined to Tanzanian politics. In fact, from reading a number of articles, I have learned that MPs have used Kenya as a benchmark in their quest for ever more generous packages.

I have also been starting to look into the British Conservative Party's policies on International Development, as I have heard some rather unsettling rumours about them, given they are likely to form the new Government next year.

But to some extent, at least, I find myself agreeing that the UK should think again about considering how to decide how much help we should be giving to foreign Governments.

Another day I'll tell you why I find myself disagreeing about exactly how this should be done. I'll give you a clue: it's got something to do with tick-boxes.


  1. Puts the "A Levels are getting easier" annual debate into perspective, certainly. Great post - you should consider getting this into a national newspaper (particularly a Tory one) if you haven't already.

  2. How would you normally go about doing that?

    Actually starting to take all this blogging business quite seriously.


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