Tanzania mismanaged $1.6 billion covid funds

After first denying the covid-19 crisis, Tanzania is now unable to account fully for aid received from abroad
At the height of covid denials, health workers in Dar es Salaam prepared face shields from recycled plastics at the Zaidi Recyclers workshop.
At the height of covid denials, health workers in Dar es Salaam prepared face shields from recycled plastics at the Zaidi Recyclers workshop.
Photo: Aditya Soni (Reuters)
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Tanzania’s controller and auditor general has found irregularities of more than $1.6 billion in the funds allotted for the country’s covid-19 socioeconomic recovery and response (TCRP) plan. The money was found bilked from the government’s coffers and mismanaged.

At the height of the pandemic between 2020 and 2022, eastern Africa’s most populous nation received much covid-19 assistance in cash and loans from various sources.

In September 2021, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) disbursed $600 million in covid-19 relief. Later, in November, the IMF cleared another $372.4 million to the country. Tanzania also received $112 million from the Global Fund, besides nearly $44 million from the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and $546,000 from the Irish government through the World Health Organization (WHO).

Where is the money?

Tanzania’s ministry of finance and planning disbursed $530 million to those implementing the projects, including stakeholders from various government departments, according to Charles Kichere, the controller and auditor general. The ministry was to oversee the entire process.

These funds were largely aimed at mitigating the pandemic’s adverse socio-economic impact amid a collapse of tourism and economic growth hampered by travel restrictions. The money was also intended to purchase medical equipment and PPEs and support public health programs, besides aiding post-pandemic recovery.

But Kichere’s audit has unearthed numerous shortcomings in the expenditures, which could be pointers to large-scale improprieties.

Tanzania’s big covid joke

When covid-19 struck, Tanzania was one of the countries whose leadership repeatedly underplayed its seriousness even as fatalities piled up across the globe.

The then president, the late John Pombe Magufuli, claimed prayers and herbal remedies were sufficient to combat the virus. The country’s healthcare system was soon overrun, though Magufuli blamed this on faulty testing kits. Even today, there is no accurate data on how many Tanzanians died of the disease.

In early 2021, Magufuli changed track and acknowledged the crisis. Yet, a sceptical and hesitant Tanzania did not impose any severe restrictions or take major steps like widespread testing or vaccination.

President Magufuli died in March 2021.

His successor, president Samia Suluhu Hassan, took a different approach and announced stringent and comprehensive measures to check the spread of covid-19.

This inspired global financial and humanitarian organizations to lend a helping hand to the country.

However, the reported misappropriation of funds shows Tanzania may not have fully accepted the crisis even under its new president.