Magufuli strikes again - cancels celebrations marking Tanzania's key Union Day to 'save money for road project'

He canned Independence Day and ordered the $2m set aside for the festivities be used to construct a 4.3 km road section in Dar es Salaam.

TANZANIAN President John Magufuli cancelled Union Day celebrations in the country, saying one million U.S. dollars could be saved for a road project.   

The president said in a statement Monday that the money would be used to expand a road stretch from Mwanza Airport in northern Tanzania to the city centre. The project is aimed at easing traffic jams in Mwanza, a city on the shores of Lake Victoria.

“The money was earmarked to buy food, drinks as well as paying allowances to those who will be involved in the celebrations including parades and mass plays,” said the statement.

Tanzania will mark its Union Day on April 26 to mark the union of Tanganyika and Zanzibar in 1964 to form the United Republic of Tanzania.

Days after he took office last year, Magufuli cancelled celebrations marking Independence Day on Dec. 9, and ordered the $2 million set aside for the festivities be used to construct a 4.3 km road section in the commercial capital, Dar es Salaam.

He also cancelled celebrations marking World AIDS Day on Dec. 1 to cut what he termed as “unnecessary government spending”, ordering the money saved be used to purchase drugs.

There were jokes in Tanzania at the end of last year that he might cancel Christmas. He didn’t, but came close, barring the printing of Christmas cards at government expense.

The money-saving measures generated a meme on Twitter that asked #WhatWouldMagufuliDo? Sceptics suggested he was a lone ranger, and would soon tire. He is still going.

Efficiency drive pays off

On his first day at work, the president conducted an impromptu tour of the Finance Ministry’s offices, where he demanded to know the whereabouts of officials whose desks were unoccupied. 

While Magufuli is soft-spoken, he earned a reputation as a hard-driving boss and was nicknamed “tingatinga,” Swahili for bulldozer, in his previous position as the country’s minister of works. “Who sits here? What is his name?” Magufuli asked officials at the ministry in Swahili, footage aired on the Tanzania Broadcasting Corp., the state-owned broadcaster. “You’re the boss here, where are the others? They’ve gone to drink tea?” 

Magufuli has fired at least seven government agency heads since coming to office Nov. 5, including the head of the country’s anti-corruption body, the chief of Tanzania Railways and a top immigration official. 

Magufuli’s efficiency drive has also focused on tax collection. 

Takings exceeded 1.4 trillion shillings ($643 million) in December, beating the government’s target by 12%, according to Finance Minister Philip Mpango. In November, the president suspended the head of the Tanzania Revenue Authority and ordered a probe into hundreds of shipping containers with goods worth 80 billion shillings that went missing at Dar es Salaam’s port. 

About two dozen port employees were fired or suspended. Revenue boost Improved tax collection means Magufuli can deliver on campaign pledges to the nation’s 49 million people, Finance Ministry Permanent Secretary Servacius Likwelile told reporters early in the year. 

The Treasury had spent 37.5 billion shillings on school grants, 46.3 billion shillings on water projects and another 80 billion shillings on an electricity plant in Dar es Salaam over in the three months to March—money that wasn’t previously available. 

Worst cholera outbreak since 1978

The latest holiday cancellation, came as the Health minister said Monday that cholera has killed 320 people and infected over 20,000 in Tanzania since the outbreak erupted in August last year.

Ummy Mwalimu expressed concern over the increasing number of cholera cases, describing the outbreak as “the worst since 1978”.”

As government, we’ve tried to sensitise the public on how to become free from the epidemic, but things are not encouraging,” Mwalimu said in a statement.

Rains have helped spread the waterborne disease as safe drinking water and sanitary facilities remain scarce in many areas.

Across the Tanzanian mainland, 23 out of the 25 administrative regions have recorded cholera cases.“Between January and March, this year, there are 624 new cases reported. These figures tell us that urgent measures are needed to fight the disease,” Mwalimu said, adding more cases were expected.

In October last year, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said Tanzania was facing a major cholera outbreak, with its largest city Dar es Salaam being most affected.

-Reporting by Xinhua and Bloomberg

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