THE controversial chief executive officer of the Tanzania National Roads Agency, Ephraim Mrema, has been linked to yet another scandal in the troubled government agency -- this time involving a controversial project for the proposed construction of TANROADS' headquarters building.
TANROADS, which is responsible for managing a network of around 30,000 kilometres of trunk and regional roads in mainland Tanzania, currently does not have its own headquarters offices and the blame is being laid squarely on the CEOs alleged transgressions.
"Mrema refused to build TANROADS's proposed headquarters building at Mabibo area in Dar es Salaam on the pretext that it is too remote and far from the headquarters of the Ministry of Infrastructure Development," a well-placed government official told THISDAY.
The CEO is believed to favour a location closer to the Dar es Salaam's central business district.
Mrema is reported to have rejected the Mabibo area despite the fact that a number of key government institutions currently operate from there, including the Tanzania Food and Drugs Authority (TFDA) and the Export Processing Zones Authority (EPZA).
"The decision to abandon the Mabibo project has already caused a loss of more than $1 million to TANROADS that was paid to a consultant to design the proposed building at Mabibo," said another government official.
The TANROADS management is believed to have forked out another $1 million for separate consultancy services for a proposed headquarters building at a site in the city centre.
"After squandering $1 million on the design of the abandoned Mabibo project, TANROADS paid another $1 million for new consultancy services to provide another geotechnical and design of the proposed building in the city centre," said an official close to the agency.
"The World Bank was ready to provide around 12 billion/- to finance the construction of a headquarters building for TANROADS, but has since canceled this assistance because of the controversy."
The current headquarters of TANROADS are located on rented premises at Maktaba building along Bibi Titi Mohamed Street in the city.
"World Bank officials in Dar es Salaam were angered after they discovered that they were misled by the TANROADS management about key aspects of the project and have since withdrawn their funding," said the official.
"At the moment, the TANROADS management is in the process of renting new office premises for its headquarters. There are signs that TANROADS will now relocate to ZAIN House at Morroco area, with the rent bill expected to more than double."
It is understood that TANROADS has been paying annual rent of 500m/- at the Maktaba complex, but this could now shoot to 1 billion/- at the Zain House.
The Prevention and Combating of Corruption Bureau (PCCB) is already investigating a number of dubious contracts and procurement decisions at TANROADS.
This comes as TANROADS' embattled CEO has himself been the subject of much controversy over his alleged unlawful appointment, professional misconduct and dubious employment contract extension.
Mrema was appointed CEO of the government's roads agency under hugely controversial circumstances by the former Minister of Infrastructure Development, Andrew Chenge, on June 4, 2007.
According to the letter of appointment, Mrema was to serve as CEO of TANROADS for a period of three years.
This means that his tenure at the helm of the government's roads agency was scheduled to officially end on June 3, 2010. It remains unclear why he remains in his position after the expiry of his contract.
A government inquiry has already established that Mrema was appointed to the post contrary to official procedure and lacks the necessary qualifications for the key post.
He is also 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.
In his defence, Mrema claimed that he was personally authorised by President Jakaya Kikwete to appoint new directors and regional managers at TANROADS.
State House has since refuted his claims and sought to distance President Kikwete from the unfolding saga.
The Vice-Chairman of TANROADS' board of directors, Dr Samuel Nyantahe, has officially called upon Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda to take urgent administrative measures on the matter, describing the situation as a "serious crisis."
"...the situation at the agency is very grave as there is a reign of terror ... urgent government intervention is needed to forestall further deterioration and decadence," said the vice-chairman of TANROADS' board in a letter to the PM.
In the April 12, 2010, letter to the PM, Nyantahe questioned the government's ongoing failure to take action against the seemingly untouchable TANROADS chief.
"How can a public service official (Mrema) exhibit blatant insubordination behaviour and get away with it?" Asked the vice-chairman of TANROADS' board in the letter to the PM.
"How does a system continue to condone the actions of a public official who refuses to obey lawful orders on the pretext of having been so instructed by the Head of State, even after it is subsequently proved there were no such directives from the Head of State?"
Nyantahe noted that the Ministry of Infrastructure Development appears to be somehow unable to take any action against Mrema despite his open insubordination.
“It is frustrating when the parent ministry, despite numerous notifications verbally and in writing, has failed to resolve even the most straight forward issues,” he told the PM.