Fire and water don’t mix for Tanzania whistleblower

 

Thomson Reuters 2

 

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation

 

Author: Kizito Makoye

 

Dar es Salaam, the capital of Tanzania (Photo Wikipédia).Dar es Salaam, the capital of Tanzania (Photo Wikipédia).

 

BUNJU, Tanzania June 25 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – John Lugembe sat under a huge baobab tree shielding himself from the blazing sun, his hands blackened from the lumps of charcoal he packs into thin polyethylene bags ready for sale.

« I have been doing this business for a year, » he said.

It is a far cry from the office job he proudly held for eight years at the Dar es Salaam Water and Sewage Corporation, until he was sacked after blowing the whistle on an alleged water theft scheme.

 

Now the 39-year-old father of three spends hours every day sifting through piles of dusty charcoal in this sprawling suburb of Dar es Salaam trying to eke out a living.

« I sell each plastic bag for 3,000 shillings ($1.31). In a good day I could sell up to 30 of them and get up to 20,000 ($8.76) in profit, » Lugembe said.

 

A new bill before Tanzania’s parliament would protect future whistleblowers from a fate like Lugembe’s. It comes as the country reels from a major corruption scandal over leaked documents that disclosed $122 million disappeared from the Bank of Tanzania to facilitate suspicious energy contracts.

 

Lugembe said he lost his job in 2013 after he notified water ministry officials of a scheme to steal water. He alleged that company officials were colluding with thieves to set up illegal connections to siphon off and sell municipal water.

« I was sacked because some people did not want the truth to be told, » Lugembe said in an interview.

Dar es Salaam is desperately short of water. Daily demand is for 450,000 cubic metres per day, but only 300,000 cubic metres are pumped into the city and of that almost 56 percent never reaches the customer, official data show.

 

The government knows there is corruption.

« There’s every indication that a lot of water is lost due to theft and vandalism of our infrastructure, done by criminals who collaborate with dishonest officials at respective urban authorities, » Jumanne Maghembe, Tanzania’s water minister, said in a May speech to launch a major water project.

 

Deputy Water Minister Amos Makalla told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a telephone interview that Lugembe’s dismissal is under investigation. He worked in the revenue department where an estimated $2.9 million is lost each year to water theft.

Robert Mugabe, the local area manager who sacked Lugembe, said the reason was professional misconduct and drunkenness, accusations that Lugembe denies.

 

The Whistleblower and Witness Protection Act would put in place a mechanism to protect, reward and compensate whistleblowers and witnesses who give information in good faith that exposes potential corruption and unethical conduct.

The bill, which is expected to be voted on and signed by the president by next year, would punish anyone who exposes a whistleblower with at least three years in prison or a minimum fine of 5 million Tanzania shillings ($2,189) or both.

 

Lugembe, who hopes to get his job back, has no regrets for what he did to expose corruption, though he has paid a price.

« If this law had been passed two years ago, I wouldn’t be here selling charcoal and my family would probably not suffer, » he said.

 

$1=2283.83 TZS (Reporting by Stella Dawson; Editing by Leslie Gevirtz)

 

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