A LOT has been said about the late Dr John Pombe Magufuli (JPM), Tanzania’s President who passed away on March 17th, 2021 from a 10-year heart-related complication at a Dar es Salaam hospital.
Of these stories, not much has been said about his role in transforming and stabilising the country’s higher education financing. OMEGA NGOLE writes, Excerpts … Paschal Laurent Yohana (24), a science teacher graduate from Mkwawa University College of Education (MUCE), had hoped one day to meet and thank the man, who he believes made his dream a reality.
He will not, at least in this world, as the man we fondly refer to him as JPM is no more. In a recent interview at his home village of Chokaa, in Chunya district, Mbeya region - some 890 km from Tanzania’s major commercial capital, Dar es Salaam, Paschal narrates a story that you are likely to hear from any of the villages in Tanzania.
“I’m thankful to the Government of President Magufuli for supporting my University studies, I know without government loan, my poor parents would not have afforded the costs,’’ narrates Paschal, the seventh and last child of Laurent Yohana (79) and Judith Kamomba (65) – both small scale farmers at Chokaa.
Paschal, a chemistry teacher who enjoyed 100 per cent financial support from the government’s owned Higher Education Students’ Loans Board (HESLB), joined Iringa-based Mkwawa University College of Education (MUCE) in 2017 and graduated last year.
He is among some of the beneficiaries who have been supported by the government at a total cost of 2.28 trn/- (U$D 983.1 million) disbursed by the JPM’s administration since it assumed power in the first five-year term in 2015/2016 to 2019/2020.
“I remember when President Magufuli visited our college in 2018 and categorically said the loans (higher education) were for eligible young Tanzanians from poor households … and I can boldly testify that, I personally thank his administration for that,” says Paschal in an interview flanked with his mother who adds: “We have never met him, but I thank President Magufuli for facilitating my son’s studies at the university … with petty trades, we could never have afforded to support our only child who managed to go through to university,” says the mother, Judith Kamomba.
On his part, the HESLB Executive Director, Abdul-Razaq Badru remembers the late JPM as transformational leader who was always keen on performance and results – not prolonged processes.
“I joined HESLB in July 2016 when he (JPM) had months in office and all of us had felt the heat and were already on the transformation mode … noting his tone and directives on sustainability we agreed ourselves to reengineer our business processes, collect more and extend loans to more beneficiaries,” says Badru in an exclusive interview recently.
According to Badru, when the new administration assumed office in 2015, an average of 2.1bn/- was being collected monthly - - a situation the new head of state wanted to be reversed and now average monthly collection is 16-17 bn/-.
“I recall in one event while officiating construction of hostels at the University of Dar es salaam, he firmly asked beneficiaries with due loans to come forward and repay. He also asked us to take legal action against defaulters, he was keen to seen performance,” says Badru.
The Executive Director notes that JPM’s led major transformation including amendments of HESLB Act in 2016, says Badru adding that the reforms aimed at enhancing efficiency in collection of due loans by specifically introducing new statutory roles of beneficiaries and employers, who were enjoying government investment in the beneficiaries.
“Employers are now tasked to submit to HESLB list of new graduate employees within 28 days after recruitment for us to scrutinize while beneficiaries, upon employment, are tasked to inform employers that they benefited and therefore immediate deduction and remittance to us,” says Badru.
As a result, explains Badru, annual collection of due loans increased from 28.2 bn/- (U$D 121,600) in 2016/2017 to 192.1 bn/- (U$D 828,000) in 2019/2020 and target for 2020/2021 is 200 bn/.
“Of course, amendments were not the only reason for collection increase, we also intensified inspection to employers and awareness on importance of compliance to both employers and individual beneficiaries … all these aimed at seeing results which was key to the late President,” adds Badru.
Elaborating, the Executive Director revealed that, at HESLB, the push for transformation ignited by the fifth administration under JPM and his then Deputy, now President Samia Suluhu Hassan also targeted improvements in the delivery of quality services.
He says between 2016 and now, HESLB has increased the number of operational offices across the country from five to seven and embraced technology by introducing three new products to enhance service delivery.
“With the introduction of biometric-based Digital Disbursement Solution (DiDiS) in 2017/2018, about 85 per cent of students now receive funds in less than five minutes. Loans application and processing is 95 per cent automated and recently we have introduced online portal in our website for employers and beneficiaries to get loan statements and payment procedures,” says Badru.
In his tribute to the late JPM, the Chairperson of the Tanzania Higher Learning Institutions Students’ Organisation (TAHLISO), Peter Niboye hailed Dr. Magufuli for putting students’ interests at his heart.
“According to our Constitution, he was the patron and we appreciate his commitment especially on increase of students’ loan budget from 347 bn/- (U$D 149,600) in 2014/2015 to 464 bn/- (U$D 200,100) in 2020/2021 plus timely disbursement of the funds which resulted into calm atmosphere in the universities in the past five years,” says Niboye.
The increase in budget, adds Niboye, allowed significant increase in the number of beneficiaries of government loans in higher learning institutions from 93,100 in 2014/2015 to 145,000 in 2020/2021.
Now that JPM is laid to rest at Chato, the nation was reminded of sustainability of his vision from President Samia Suluhu Hassan and the ruling party Vice-Chairperson, Mzee Philip Mangula at Jamhuri Stadium in Dodoma during national farewell ceremony to the late head of state.
“Let me take this opportunity to assure you that nothing will be lost. Our country is in safe hands … my colleague, Dr. Hussein Ali Mwinyi and I, will continue where he (the late Dr. Magufuli) left and we will get to where he envisioned Tanzania to be,” said President Samia.
On his party, Mzee Mangula reminded: “There is nothing to worry, both President Samia Suluhu Hassan and the late Magufuli were CCM’s flag bearers and campaigned all over the country in 2015 and 2020 general election articulating their plans and priorities as detailed in a 303- page manifesto for the next five years … things will go as planned,” said Mzee Mangula.
The body of the late Dr. Magufuli, who was born in Chato in 1959 will be laid to rest today, March 26th in Chato where sombre mood has engulfed the district since announcement of his death by President Samia Suluhu Hassan on March 17th this year.
(The writer works with the Higher Education Students’ Loans Board. He can be reached through Mobile: 0757500800 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)