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Tanzania Eliminates 10,000 Government 'Ghost Workers' in Anti-Corruption Campaign

The public payroll's house cleaning comes after an audit found that more than $2 million a month was lost to people scamming the system, profiting from thousands of public sector jobs that didn't actually exist.
Photo by Reuters

Tanzania's new president, who has earned the nickname "the bulldozer," won another fight against corruption in the East African country after the government announced it eliminated 10,000 jobs in the public sector held by so-called "ghost workers."

The public payroll's house cleaning comes after an audit found that more than $2 million a month was lost to people scamming the system and profiting from jobs that didn't actually exist, according to an announcement on Sunday night from Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa.

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"We will identify those behind this payroll fraud and take them to court… the fight against corruption is top priority for the government," Majaliwa said through an official statement.

A nationwide audit kicked off in March as a way to uncover fraud, corruption, and lost funds in the nation of nearly 50 million people. The government action is just the latest attempt by President John Magufuli to fight back against corruption since he was elected in October by a decisive majority.

Magufuli is a 56-year-old former school teacher who ultimately rose through the ranks of the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party and most recently served as a Minister of Works, where he earned the "Bulldozer" nickname for the efficiency he showed in the role — particularly with a government initiative for building new roads. The ruling party, CCM, has run the country since it was created by the merger of the country's two main political parties in 1977, and has controlled both the presidency and the parliament ever since.

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During his campaign Magufuli promised to tap into the country's natural gas deposits and put an end to frequent power outages, while breaking out into pushups at events to show he was fit. Almost immediately after taking office Magufuli began taking action, promoting a day of cleaning in lieu of Independence Day celebrations, barring civil servants from traveling out of the country, and ousting hospital board members after being unimpressed during a visit to the facility.

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Before getting down to ridding the public coffers of ghost worker salaries, Magufuli first sacked tax authority chief Rished Bade, the anti-graft agency's Director General Edward Hoseah, and the head of the Tanzanian Port Authority, Awadhi Massawe. Most recently he cancelled yet another round of holiday celebrations marking Union Day on April 26.

While poverty has declined in recent years and housing conditions have improved, more than nearly three-quarters of Tanzania's population still survives on less than $2 a day, according to the World Bank. There has been optimism around the recent discovery of onshore natural gas reserves, and the economy is projected to grow at a rate of 5.6 percent this year.

Meanwhile, in the most recent global corruption ranking from Transparency International, where the number 1 spot was deemed least corrupt, Tanzania found itself number 117 on the list of 168 total.

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Throughout Tanzania's various levels of local and federal governments, there are a total of 550,000 public sector jobs costing Tanzania more than $260 million each month to cover their salaries.

As of February, local polling showed Magufuli had a 90 percent approval rating, and garnered favor and support across sub-Saharan Africa. The Twitter hashtag #WhatWouldMagufuliDo took off at the end of last year and has been used to question and ridicule other African leaders and their opening habits.

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— Iguma (@GabrielIguma)May 9, 2016

Wanted to take a taxi home but after thinking — Gitz (@iGitz_)November 26, 2015

With the attention largely focused on Magufuli's popular approach to slashing corruption, some recent crackdowns on local media have received less notice. In January, authorities arrested two editors from the local Kiswahili-language, weekly newspaper Mawio and forced the publication to cease publication.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) the paper was banned "for allegedly inciting violence in articles." The incident occurred as a result of the contentious election results in the Tanzanian island of Zanzibar, where the local electoral commission claimed the opposition party had won the semi-autonomous district. The headline in question read "Unrest coming to Zanzibar."

Another recent move that has raised concern happened as part of the government's cost and corruption-cutting campaign. Tanzania's information ministry cut the live broadcast of parliament sessions, citing costs to state-broadcaster Tanzania Broadcast Corporation of $2.1 million, and coverage came to an end on April 19. Journalists had pushed back against a similar attempt by the ruling CCM party back in 2013.

"We condemn the decision, for it has denied people their rights to information… To prohibit cameras in the debating chamber is an open strategy to violate freedom of press," said Theophil Makunga, who heads the Tanzania Editors Forum, during a news conference.

Local opposition parties reportedly attempted to fund the service themselves, but the government denied their requests.

Reuters contributed to this report.