Saturday, November 22, 2014

Tanzanian Prime Minister tries to halt debate on energy sector graft, angering lawmakers

Tanzanias Prime Minister, Mizengo Pinda

(Reuters) - Tanzania's government asked parliament on Thursday to cancel a planned debate on corruption allegations in the energy sector, angering some lawmakers who complained of a cover-up and potentially jeopardising some foreign aid.
    The east African nation has made big discoveries of natural gas, but its energy sector has long been dogged by allegations of corruption. Investors say graft is one of the main reasons for the high costs of doing business in Tanzania.
A group of 12 international donors have said they will only pay out outstanding pledges of budget support worth nearly $500 million if the findings of an investigation into the graft claims are published and appropriate action is taken.
    Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda said parliament should not debate the findings of the energy sector investigation by the chief auditor as this would interfere with ongoing court cases.
    "Based on the principles of rule of law, when there is an ongoing court proceeding, we are constitutionally obliged ... not to publicly debate that issue because it could jeopardise the court case," Pinda told parliament on Thursday.
    "At the moment, there are more than 10 pending court cases from protracted legal wrangling over this matter."
    The investigation, ordered by the government in May, followed claims by opposition lawmakers that senior government officials had fraudulently authorised payment of at least $122 million of public funds to a private company.
    The opposition said the money came from an escrow account held jointly by state power company TANESCO and independent power producer IPTL and went to IPTL's owner, Pan Africa Power (PAP) in 2013. PAP said the transfer was legal.
    The government has denied any wrongdoing by its officials. The government's anti-corruption watchdog has also investigated the fraud allegations.
    Some lawmakers said the government sought to muzzle them.
    "The only way to put an end to these (graft) allegations ... is to debate this issue in parliament and bring it to a close," said Zitto Kabwe, chairman of the parliamentary watchdog Public Accounts Committee. The panel is scheduled next week to present the auditor's report on the IPTL allegations to parliament.
    The parliamentary speaker's office is expected to rule on the issue after considering arguments from both sides, but said parliament would not allow its independence to be undermined.

(Reporting by Fumbuka Ng'wanakilala; Editing by George Obulutsa and Gareth Jones)

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