Reflections on new government cost-cutting measures

Most African countries gained independence from colonialists in the 1960s. Half a century down the line the majority are still donor-dependent and suffer dilapidated infrastructure in educational institutions including universities, demotivated civil servants who strive to join better paid sectors such as politics and donor-funded projects, high unemployment among young people including graduates, and extremist groups such as al-Shabaab, whose militants on 2 April 2015 stormed Garissa University College in Kenya and killed 147 students.

However, recently some African countries – notably Tanzania and Nigeria – have witnessed new leadership styles and changes in the public sector amid public outcries over the embezzlement of public funds and massive corruption.

A brief history

Tanzania – then Tanganyika – became independent from Britain in 1961. At the time it had a single university college.

In 1967 the Arusha declaration was adopted, affirming the country as a socialist state, with access to education to be regulated and controlled by the government to ensure equal access for all socio-economic groups.

The Arusha declaration went hand in hand with the nationalisation and control of all major means of production by the state, including private education institutions, some owned by religious organisations. Until the mid-1990s, when a liberalisation policy was introduced, education provision and funding was mainly the preserve of government.

Fifth phase leadership

A multi-party democratic system was introduced in Tanzania in 1992. On 25 October 2015, the fifth – and highly contested – multi-party general elections were held, in which registered voters turned out in numbers to vote for a president, members of parliament and councillors.

Final results were announced on 29 October with a candidate from the ruling party, Dr John Pombe Magufuli, declared a winner with 8.8 million votes (58.46%) ahead of an opposition coalition candidate who scooped six million votes (39.97%).

The new Tanzanian president’s famous slogan is Hapa Kazi tu, which means “It is only work that counts here”. Within only a few months in office, Magufuli has become a continental icon and has proved to be a no-nonsense president. The hash tag #WhatWouldMagufuliDo has been trending for months.

His leadership approach has included imposing cost-cutting measures in public expenditure. Most notable is that money saved is directed towards improving social welfare and services, including medical care, education and the purchase of anti-retroviral drugs to treat HIV-Aids.

This article offers some reflections on the strict frugality attempts by Tanzania’s new leader since he assumed office in early November 2015.
  • • Foreign trips for senior officials have been restricted. Officials need to seek approval for trips from the president, vice-president or chief secretary and to clearly explain the benefits to the country, who will sponsor the trip and its duration. The president told parliament that between 2013-14 and 2014-15, TZS356.324 billion (US$163 million) was spent on travel abroad by ministries, state companies, independent departments and agencies. This was enough to build 400 kilometres of tarred roads, he added.

  • • The government is cracking down on rampant tax exemption and evasion. The Tanzania Revenue Authority or TRA, established in 1995, was to spearhead tax collection but it has not met targets due to excessive tax exemption and evasion. Eight TRA officials have been charged with conspiracy to defraud and occasioning a loss of TZS12.7 billion (US$5.8 million), 35 workers have been suspended for involvement in tax offences and the TRA’s commissioner general was suspended to pave the way for investigations into 349 missing containers for which tax valued at TZS80 billion was supposed to be paid.

  • • For the first time in Tanzania’s history, independence day and World AIDS Day were celebrated by cleaning local environments, and money for the celebrations was redirected to tackling pressing community issues, such as buying beds for hospitals and expanding roads to ease traffic congestion in Dar es Salaam city.

  • • Government Circular Number 5 of 2015 implemented Magufuli’s promise to provide free education to all school children. The circular states that pupils will not pay any fees or other contributions provided by parents or guardians before the circular’s release. Previously, pupils at secondary schools were charged fees of TZS20,000 and those in boarding schools paid TZS40,000.

  • • The new cabinet consists of 34 ministers and deputy ministers (19 ministers and 15 deputies) instead of the 55 ministers of the previous government. Many ministries were merged: for example, the former ministries of education and vocational training, and of science and technology, were merged to form a ministry of education, science, technology and vocational training. Money allocated for the induction of new ministers – about TZS2 billion – was saved for allocation to priority areas.
Universities have not been left out of public institution austerity measures. For instance, in universities directives were issued to eliminate wasteful spending and optimise the use of resources.

Management at one public university directed that meetings of up to two hours could only offer water, tea or coffee; light refreshments could be had at meetings of longer than two hours, limited to tea, water, juice, nuts and fruits; and lunch could be served only in exceptional circumstances and clearance had to be sought from the university finance officer.

These strict measures were aimed at curbing uncontrolled pricing for catering services as well as too much food being ordered. In fact, some administrators were abusing the service by inflating the prices for services (including catering) offered to universities.


Perhaps the area that requires urgent intervention is improving working conditions in public universities.

Specifically, academics in public universities work in non-conducive environments that include a shortage of working tools and overcrowded classrooms. Also, they have traditionally been paid meagre salaries compared to colleagues in the corporate world.

The rise of the ‘consultancy’ academics in many African universities, coupled with ‘flying’ lecturers who move from one university to the other as part-time lecturers, have been identified as particularly damaging to the quality of education in universities, in terms of postgraduate student supervision and serious research-based academic work.

Attracted by lucrative payments for consultancies and part-time teaching while maintaining full-time jobs in public universities, there is not enough time left for research, subject preparation and student consultation.

There is also an urgent need to improve research, which has suffered significantly as a result of under-funding, with public funds siphoned to other ‘priority’ sectors in the economy.

Further, austerity measures should be sustainable – not fire-fighting – and the benefits of tax collected should accrue to the entire community, including universities. That means improving student bursaries, renovating libraries and stocking them with up-to date publications.

Money currently spent on fuel-guzzling SUVs, unnecessary frequent foreign trips in the name of benchmarking, expensive parties, workshops, exhibitions, board meetings and other such occasions drain the meagre financial resources allocated to public institutions, and should be redirected to solving urgent problems facing institutions.

Instead of depending entirely on government subvention, universities also should exploit unconventional sources of revenue such as contracted research with industry, and should involve alumni and philanthropists in funding as well as university decision-making.


It is too early to judge the new government’s performance, but efforts so far – especially on cost-cutting measures – need to be recognised. The new government began its tenure with the drastic, timely implementation of some of the promises it made during electoral campaigns.

Within its first months in office, the government managed to save a whopping TZS1 trillion by cutting spending on luxurious ceremonies, overseas air tickets and allowances. It is hoped these efforts will be sustainable.

Perhaps other African leaders could take a leaf out of the book of Tanzania’s new government, and realise that one does not need to extend rule to a third term through ‘reinterpretation’ of the constitution or through a referendum, to deliver promises to the people.

As United States President Barack Obama once said: "Africa doesn’t need strongmen, it needs strong institutions."

Simon Ngalomba is a lecturer in the department of educational foundations, management and lifelong learning in the school of education at the University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. He is a member of the African Network for Internationalisation of Education, or ANIE. He has been engaged in numerous research activities including on 'Implementing Education Quality in Low Income Countries' funded by the UK’s Department for International Development, and on the internationalisation of higher education and the changing leadership roles of deans in African universities, funded by the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa, CODESRIA. He can be reached at: simonngalomba@yahoo.com.


Any academic from the university is arguably a global knowledge creator/researcher, so restricting travel out of the country is something that cannot be acceptable by any standard. In fact, most of the time their trip expenses are covered by host institutions/sponsors. Clean up the acts of your own non-academic civil servants who travel for 'leisure' in the name of attending exhibitions, workshops, benchmarking/study tours and as soon as they arrive there turn to being tourists by visiting malls to do shopping/taking photos (for Facebook and Instragram purposes). Kindly stop restricting intellectuals from travelling out of the country. The importance of academics presenting their academic findings cannot be over-emphasised, as some trips attract research funds, from which the host universities deduct their 20% institutional share hence boosting their revenue base.

Frank Peter on the University World News Facebook page