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What Tanzania’s ‘per diem town’ thinks about African governance

Wi-th joint Like Funky Squids Beach Resort, Bagamoyo sounds like a party town. It is not. The hotel relies on bureaucrats in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s commercial capital, 50 kilometers to the south. “Bagamoyo is a town by the day,” non-governmental organization, with reference to the “per day” allowance required by civil servants for participation in field activities. “Government departments never have meetings,” he sighed.

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“Pupesitis” is common in Tanzania and many other countries in the region. In May, the government announced that the daily allowance for senior civil servants would more than double, from 120,000 shillings (about $50) to 250,000. The last detailed study, though in 2008-09, found that stipend spending ($390 million) was enough to cover the salaries of more than 100,000 teachers.

The per diem was originally intended as a reasonable payment for additional costs. But in the 1980s and 1990s, when governments cut official wages as part of structural adjustment programmes, they became a way to sneak up on wage packages. Since then, they have been taken for granted. Research by Guy Blaise Nkamleu and Bernadette Dia Kamgnia for the African Development Bank notes that it is “not uncommon” for officers’ allowances to equal or exceed “basic salaries”.

This generosity encourages abuse. Earlier this year, the boss of Uganda’s national airline was accused of asking for $12,750 for foreign travel she never took (the airline said in some cases she did travel, while in others she paid back the stipend) . Gambians are furious that the sports minister’s wife received a per diem at the recent Commonwealth Games, even though he did not attend the event (the minister denies any wrongdoing and says the money will be repaid). “Leapfrogging” is common in many countries, where officials claim to be present at concurrent events, often with colleagues signing on their behalf.

Even a legal per diem can undermine good government. Attendance on leave is based on the stipend, not the value of the activity. Senior employees attend training for junior employees. Donors splurge on per diems (often paid in hard currency) so officials can support their pet projects. They have also built a powerful lobby. Cash-strapped Malawi suspended government meetings in June along the shores of Lake Malawi. By November, it had eased.

Hoteliers in Bagamoyo are not experiencing such difficulties, albeit temporarily. Managers say business has boomed since Tanzania increased the quota. Trendy or not, they — and the local bureaucrats — are alive and well.

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