EARLY this past month, Saturday April 10, 2010 Samwel Sitta, Speaker of the National Assembly, was the guest of honour at the launching of the Public Integrity Restoration Initiative (PIRI), at the University of Dar es Salaam. This is the initiative of the Institute of Development Studies and supported by Secretariat on the Code of Ethics for Public Leaders. It is aimed at instilling in new generation of Tanzanians (the future leaders?) on what it means to be a good citizen and the implications for national development, especially in fighting the three national scourges: poverty, diseases and ignorance.
For some of us it was the first time we came to rub shoulders with such very important person in our national politics as the leader in one of the three pillars of government. In fact, most of us never regretted having attended the gathering considering what transpired as reflected in the wide coverage by both electronic and print media. Listening to the Speaker at such close range there is no mistake that he is a good orator and can be quite entertaining at times. His speech was often punctuated by rapturous cheers from the audience, perhaps reflecting agreement of some sort with the message he was trying to convey.
The message delivered on that particular day was quite clear and simple: unethical behaviours among public leaders are not only unacceptable but detrimental to the national interests. That our national leaders must lead by examples that tell the rest of society of the need to observe laws, rules and regulations. Perhaps, Speaker Sitta was echoing the sentiments that of late have emerged in the country especially considering the fact that this is an election year. In other words, reclaiming public integrity is emerging as top political and/or policy agenda for the 2010.
Indeed, listening to the clerics during the past Easter festivities and other similar religious gatherings it is very clear that as a nation we are grappling with a very serious problem that is threatening to tear apart our social fabrics. It comes in different forms: ‘ufisadi’, ‘rushwa’, ‘kuporomoka kwa maadili’, etc. No matter how we call or name it the bottom line is the same: public integrity, the supreme quality of leadership, is on the decline. Essentially, it is the race to the bottom as people compete to outwit one another when it comes to displaying of wealth and power. In our emerging national politics the two, wealth and power, are two sides of a coin.
There is no doubt that over the coming months we will be hearing and/or reading more and more of it as elections draw closer. ‘Experts’ on democracy or voter education will be crisscrossing the country telling voters to choose good leaders (‘viongozi bora sio bora viongozi’). One can definitely bet that religious leaders are likely to become increasingly vocal often issuing ‘warakas’ to their believers, again, on how to elect good leaders. On the other hand, political parties will be competing for the hearts and souls of unsuspecting voters promising them (just promise), able leadership including adherence to public integrity.
All these developments are quite in order given what we know about the consequences, both intended and unintended, of the failures to promote and sustain integrity in public life. However, much as we would love to have our leaders to behave like saints, impossible task for any humankind, we are faced with situation whereby public integrity is something easily talked about but hard to practice. More often, even the most vocal are sometimes caught up in compromising situations thus raising more questions than answers.
Yes, as a nation we need to reclaim integrity in managing our public affairs. More important, it is high time that public integrity should carry more weight in deciding who should become our leader(s). At the same time, however, we should not be oblivious of the fact that with such widespread decline in integrity it will be expecting too much to the have problem addressed one and for all. Indeed, it has taken us long to be where we are today. Likewise, it will take a while to get ourselves out of this bottomless pit, all things considered. As we continue to ponder over the issue let us think of these questions: Who will be the one to cast the first stone? Alternatively, who will bell the cat?