The acquisition by Tanzania of a £28 million BAE ‘Watchman’ air traffic control system using a Barclays Bank low interest loan to pay for it, has caused a major stir, particularly in Britain where the issue has divided the cabinet.

BAE Systems approached the Ministry of Defence in Britain as early as 1997 because, as the equipment included a military element, an export license was required. Under the procedures, firms can be given the nod and told that although this is distinct from and does not replace the issuing of a formal license, it is only rarely that such approval is subsequently overturned. Only five orders have been overturned in 10 years. So, having been given the nod, BAE began to manufacture the equipment.

When the matter became public knowledge, a battery of objectors attacked the sale. Those opposing it apparently included British Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown and Secretary for International Development Clare Short, the World Bank and the IMF and many NGO’s devoted to Tanzania’s welfare including OXFAM. The project was considered too expensive and its military component was considered unnecessary. The project would wipe out two-thirds of the real savings Tanzania had gained from debt relief.

Clare Short, reportedly acting independently of other cabinet members, then froze £10 million of a £65 million British aid programme already allocated for budgetary aid this year. Another major aid donor, Denmark was considering doing the same after a heated debate in the Danish parliament. The leader of the ruling Liberal Party said: “We give them Shs 52 billion and they spend Shs 35 billion in buying military equipment which is of no use to the country” he said. In defence of the purchase the Tanzanian Government published a 10-page paper which said, inter alia, that the lack of modem radar denied the country the chance of increasing revenue from aircraft using Tanzania’s airspace; that the project would enable the country to reinforce its defence and safety; that buying two systems -one for civilian and one for military purposes -would be expensive; and, that nine other countries used the equipment (Thank you Roger carter for letting us have this statement ­Editor).

Defending the sale, President Mkapa was quoted as saying that there could be only two reasons for rethinking the matter. Either there was some element of corruption or the equipment was not worth the money. No one had given him one iota of evidence about corruption and no one had shown him that he was not getting value for money. “In the meantime” he said, “this contract has to be fulfilled. It is as simple as that. ”

As this issue goes to press the International Civil Aviation Organisation was said to be investigating whether the military control system was appropriate for Tanzania.

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