THE Ministry of Infrastructure Development has formally reprimanded the chief executive officer of the Tanzania National Roads Agency (TANROADS), Ephraim Mrema, in an apparent escalation of the row over the CEO's alleged unacceptable professional conduct.
According to latest THISDAY findings, the ministry's Permanent Secretary, Omar Chambo, censured the TANROADS chief for insubordination and breaches of contract.
In a letter also copied to State House, the PS formally reprimanded Mrema last December for making changes in top leadership positions at TANROADS contrary to procedure.
Mrema is accused of overstepping his authority and ignoring official instructions from the ministry not to appoint directors and regional managers at TANROADS without prior approval.
The TANROADS CEO is understood to have appointed senior officers late last year, just days after receiving written instructions from the ministry to halt such a move.
"Implementing these changes contrary to my instructions amounts to insubordination," says part of Chambo's letter to Mrema, which was also copied to the Prime Minister's Office, Civil Service Department and Chief Secretary at State House.
In his defence, Mrema claimed that he was personally authorised by President Jakaya Kikwete to appoint new directors and regional managers at TANROADS.
"Mrema claims that he was summoned by the President himself and given a go ahead to make the leadership changes at TANROADS. However, his version of events turned out to be not true," said a government official familiar with the row.
"The position of TANROADS's incumbent chief executive officer is now increasingly becoming untenable."
In one case, he was accused of conflict of interest following his decision to appoint an official from the Ministry of Infrastructure Development, Isaack Kamwela, as TANROADS' new manager of government-funded road projects.
"Kamwela participated in the process that led to Mrema's controversial selection as CEO of TANROADS. He was an evaluating and interviewing member in the search committee, hence his subsequent appointment to a senior position in TANROADS by Mrema comes as rather suspicious," said another official.
This is not the first time that Mrema has faced serious insubordination charges.
In 2008, TANROADS's CEO similarly clashed with the state-run Public Procurement Regulatory Authority (PPRA) over the manner in which he handled a tender for consultancy services.
PPRA accused Mrema of "ignoring advice and lawful directives" from the government's procurement watchdog.
This is in relation to a lucrative tender for consultancy services for upgrading of the Bagamoyo-Makurunge-Saadani-Pangani-Tanga road to bitumen standard.
A formal investigation by PPRA on a complaint against TANROADS' handling of the tender faulted Mrema's conduct.
Mrema was summoned by PPRA's monitoring and compliance committee in April 2008 to explain why he had ignored government procurement procedures in the flawed tender process.
"Through interrogations, the committee observed that the (TANROADS) chief executive was not ready to accept that he mad mistakes to ignore directives from PPRA," says part of PPRA's letter to the Ministry of Infrastructure Development.
"The committee took this attitude of the executive officer as insubordination of the committee and in particular, PPRA and PPAA (Public Procurement Appeals Authority), as competent authorities operating within the legal mandates."
In the letter, PPRA officially complained to the Ministry of Infrastructure Development about Mrema's alleged arrogant behaviour and asked the government to take "disciplinary actions" against him.
TANROADS, an executive agency under the infrastructure ministry, is tasked with managing a network of around 30,000 kilometres of trunk and regional roads in mainland Tanzania.
However, questions have long been asked about the process that led to the initial hiring of the TANROADS CEO.
Mrema signed up for a five-year renewable contract on June 4, 2007, contrary to the maximum three-year period specified in his appointment letter and in newspaper advertisements for the post.
The contract was signed between Mrema and the then PS in the Ministry of Infrastructure Development, Enos Bukuku, and is set to end on June 3, 2012.
However, the appointment letter dated June 2, 2007 and signed by Bukuku, puts the term of office for the TANROADS chief at three years.
A special committee formed by the Minister for Infrastructure Development, Dr Shukuru Kawambwa, in April last year asserted that the current TANROADS boss was appointed to the position irregularly.
The formation of the committee was triggered by a contribution from Kasulu West (CCM) legislator Kilontsi Mporogomyi during the reading of the 2008/2009 budget speech for the ministry in parliament, in which he said Mrema was not competent for the job and his appointment had been improper.
According to the committee findings report obtained by THISDAY, Mrema was appointed after being vetted by a “search committee” in a secretive manner after the recruiting exercise had been hijacked from PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC), which was initially commissioned to conduct the search.
The CEO did not meet any of the four selection criteria as advertised in local newspapers in 2006, including the requirement that applicants should be post-graduate degree holders in civil engineering, transport economics, or highway engineering, as well as having undergone training in management, said the report.
In addition, the committee also found that Mrema had neither the minimum 20 years experience in road sector operations nor ten years of successful performance at management level, as stipulated in the advert. Mrema is a quantity surveyor by profession.
It remains unclear how he was appointed to the key post in the first place and why the government has thus far apparently failed to take any action against him despite mounting concerns about his professional conduct.