DAR ES SALAAM (TrustLaw) – A senior official in Tanzania’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been sacked after being implicated in a botched attempt to steal 3.5 billion Tanzanian shillings (US$2.3 million) from a special fund for financing presidential trips.
Anthony Itatiro, the ministry’s former chief of protocol, has been stripped of his title as ambassador and assigned to other duties within government, although no charges have been brought against him.
The country’s anti-corruption watchdog, the Prevention and Combating of Corruption Bureau (PCCB), has said there is insufficient evidence to build a case against Itatiro and four other officials from his department also implicated in the scam.
Critics say the failure to charge Itatiro is the latest example of the PCCB’s reluctance to take action against high-level officials suspected of corruption - even when there is strong evidence against them - because of their links to the presidency or their political power.
President Jakaya Kikwete has appointed Ambassador Mohamed Maharage to replace Itatiro, said a statement from the presidency.
Briefing a parliamentary oversight committee last month, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs Mahadhi Maalim said PCCB investigations had implicated five officials, including Itatiro, who ignored procedures with the aim of stealing money in March 2012, under the guise of financing presidential trips to Geneva, Brazil, Addis Ababa and Arusha.
“We managed to intercept the funds before they were withdrawn,” Maalim said. “The officials took advantage of the absence of the minister, the deputy minister and the permanent secretary to flout procedures with the intent to steal,” he added.
Sources familiar with the investigation told Trustlaw that when John Haule, the permanent secretary, returned from an official trip he realised money had been transferred from the Ministry of Finance to a special account normally used by the protocol department when preparing expenses for presidential travel.
According to the source, the suspects were intending to take the money out in batches. But before they were able to do so, the permanent secretary realised standard procedures for withdrawing money had not been followed and he ordered an immediate audit of the transaction involving PCCB investigators.
AUDIT PROVES THEFT
The audit proved that the officials had intended to steal, but no more information was made public. This is because the scam touched the very fibre of presidential power, the sources said.
“I tell you everything was crystal clear, but to our surprise the probe report recommended disciplinary measures against those officials,” said a source, who asked not to be named.
Critics including opposition politicians and commentators argue the full force of the law was not applied in this case. If it had been, the PCCB would have brought criminal charges against the officials.
Maalim, however, said disciplinary measures had been taken, including demoting or suspending the officials, except for Itatiro, who could only be punished or suspended by the president by virtue of his position.
“As a ministry, we didn’t have the authority to punish him, since he is a presidential appointee. We had to leave it to the president to decide,” he added.
But government spokesperson Assah Mwambene, speaking at a news conference, said Itatiro had been stripped of his duties as chief of protocol, his ambassadorial title had been revoked and he would be assigned other duties.
“The matter was handled by the office of the chief secretary in the president’s office and relevant disciplinary action has been taken against Mr. Itatiro, which includes his demotion to a subordinate position," Mwambene said.
According to Maalim, the officials who conspired to access the ministry’s accounts with intent to steal included Shamim Khalfa (protocol officer), Kassim Laizer (acting chief accountant), Deltha Mafie (accountant) and Shabani Kesi (cashier).
WATCHDOG HAS FAILED TO CHARGE IN PAST
The PCCB has failed to charge officials suspected of corruption on a number of occasions in the past.
In April 2008, Andrew Chenge, Tanzania’s then Attorney General, was implicated by the British Serious Fraud Office in a scam involving the receiving of kickbacks in a $40 million radar deal involving BAE systems, but the PCCB failed to prosecute him citing lack of evidence against him.
Furthermore, the former managing director of the state-run utility firm TANESCO, William Mhando, who was sacked in October last year for embezzlement of public funds and abuse of office, remains a free man despite evidence of corruption.
But the head of PCCB Edward Hosea, in a telephone interview, dismissed suggestions his watchdog was not doing its duty, blaming the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Eliezer Feleshi for not taking action on a number of corruption cases that had been forwarded to his office for prosecution.
When asked why his office had not filed criminal charges against protocol officials, Eliezer told Trustlaw that it would be wrong to carry out his duties in response to media pressure.
According to Tanzania’s penal code, an intent or conspiracy to commit a crime is an offence and the DPP has constitutional powers to institute, prosecute and supervise all criminal prosecutions without interference from any person or authority.