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February 19, 2019

Send Parliament Cooks On The Benchmarking Trips Instead

More than a decade ago when I briefly worked for a non-governmental establishment that was sponsored by a donor from the West, my fellow officers and I would always complain that our boss was taking all the overseas trips at our expense.

The overseas organisation would offer the outfit I was working for ‘benchmarking’ trips (then known as study tours) for officers in its various departments. These were mainly short training courses and were therefore supposed to be attended by specific officers from specific departments. However, our boss found it prudent to go for the trips himself, with the understanding that he would impart the knowledge gained to his juniors when he returned. This never happened.

Had my former boss allowed his subordinates to undertake the trips, most likely they would have been able to serve the organisation better, which would have translated into a content clientele and a happy donor. Years later after I had left the organisation, I heard that it had folded up and while this may not have been caused solely by the bungled trips, such accumulated follies in its various segments ensured its downfall.

Irrationalities and mismanagement in the economy are leading us down a fate similar to the one my organisation suffered. The most recent and glaring example is the foreign trips by a parliamentary committee to ‘benchmark’ on food for the waheshimiwa.

Last week, the vice chairman of the parliamentary Committee on Catering and the Health Club reported to the House that his 11-member team had crisscrossed the globe looking for the best food to feed the honourable members lest they drop dead from the food poisoning of what majority leader Aden Duale describes as rotten meals.

Apparently, the members of the committee, who do not seem to know much about the kitchen let alone catering, were going round the world to learn how to cook for their colleagues and give them better health club facilities. But according to Duale, apart from the poor quality of food, one can find better services at a gym in River Road than what is offered at the parliamentary health club.

That said, our MPs have more to learn from the new Tanzanian President, John Pombe Magufuli, by reducing their sometimes comical overseas trips. Like my former boss, some of these legislators are ‘denying the goats the chance to lick salt’, yet they are not salt lickers by profession.

It is absolutely unnecessary, but if people must fly out to India, Ethiopia, The Netherlands or even outer Mongolia and spend public funds on accommodation and hefty allowances in an effort to satisfy the taste buds of the MPs, then they should not be fellow MPs who have no idea what they are shopping for.

In the parliamentary restaurant, there are cooks whose duty it is to make food and beverages for the honourable members and their distinguished guests. These (like the officers in my former employment), should be the ones doing the benchmarking on food for parliament. Employees of the health club should get the study tours to do with their duties. Denying them means the MPs will continue ‘enjoying’ (in Jakoyo Midiwo’s words), the food they deserve.

When they see the MPs cheating them of the chance to travel and maybe learn more, they will continue giving them mandazi and cupcakes that look like they were made ages ago.

But this overseas ‘benchmarking’ craze is simply sickening. Who needs to benchmark on quality food in India, Ethiopia or Europe? There are great Indian, Ethiopian, American and European hotels and restaurants in this country where these fellows can benchmark, if they must. Only after they have seen what the local establishments have to offer and are convinced it is below the standard of the honourable MPs, should they look outward.

The same applies to the health club; let the MPs look at what is available in the various first-class health clubs locally, before they go hunting for things they have no idea about. If the parliamentary restaurant and gym do not have the right staff, then re-train them at Utalii and if what they have is below par, get qualified employees.

The ‘benchmarking’ on catering debacle is just a drop in the ocean as far as wastage and embezzlement in Parliament goes and as we await the details of the EACC report on parliamentary allowances, hopefully this institution that is supposed to keep the executive in check will learn to check itself. Otherwise, we are doomed. 

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