Zambians are opposed to the Dar es Salaam city commuter train that runs on their joint Tazara tracks, saying they were not properly consulted before the project took off.
Tanzania Transport minister Harrison Mwakyembe inaugurated the city’s commuter train project in October 28 last year using facilities of both the Tanzania Zambia Railway Authority (Tazara) and the Reli Assets Holding Company (Rahco).
Tanzania spent about $5.7 million to renovate Tazara locomotives and coaches for the project.
But sources within Tazara told Tanzania daily The Citizen recently that the Zambian side has protested over being treated like junior partners in Tazara despite the fact that they are equal partners with Tanzania.
According to the source, who preferred anonymity for fear of reprisals, the Zambians are also saying that since Tazara and its assets were jointly owned by the two sides, any project featuring them must benefit both sides.
Despite the dispute, the Tazara commuter trains are still running plying between Mwakanga on the outskirts of Dar es Salaam and Kurasini, near the Dar es Salaam port.
“It is not because the Zambians are jealous, their major concern is the need for the two sides to respect procedures and regulations that constitute and formed the authority,” said the source.
According to procedures, Tanzania was supposed to table the matter before the Tazara board of directors for discussion and approval, officials from the Zambian government say.
From the board the matter would have been referred to the inter-ministerial meeting comprising transport ministers of the two sides for their blessings.
This procedure was not followed by Tanzania, according to sources, as a consequence of which tension and mistrust between the two sides have reportedly deepened.
Sources say the two sides are working frantically to resolve the dispute with officials from the Transport ministry, Tazara and their counterpart from Zambia holding several meetings to resolve the crisis.
At the centre of the controversy is the Tazara managing director, Mr Akashambatwa Mbikusita-Lewanika, a Zambian national.
Sources say he is personally against the project and has managed to convince his government back home to oppose it. He was intensely lobbied by the Tanzania government during the initial stages of the project and he gave in. But later he started raising issues concerning the use of the property.
Specifically, he questions the use of locomotives and coaches that had been grounded but not yet written off from Tazara books.
But when contacted for comments, Mr Mbikusita-Lewanika was extra-cautious in his e-mailed response, trying as much as possible not to show any indication of a conflict on the project.
“I am not aware of any dispute over the commuter train. As managing director of Tazara I cannot be, and I have absolutely no responsibility, nor desire and no intention to be, a judge of what the Government of Tanzania determines or follows as procedures,” he remarked.
On whether consultative procedures were followed before the start of the project, he said the government of Tanzania “is a sovereign state that determines its own procedures and how to adhere to them in terms of policies and their implementation.”
On whether the project was benefitting Zambia, replied: “Any isolation of an aspect of operation of a jointly owned enterprise may in the first place be subjective. This calls for establishing the objectivity and justification of why it is being isolated and whether such isolation does not risk taking it out of its fuller context,” he said.
He added: “In the final analysis it is up to the partners to determine the existence and acceptability of whatever benefits may be forthcoming from any or some or all aspects of operations of the joint venture. What constitutes a core benefit or acceptable benefit sharing arrangement for Tazara is the responsibility and determination of these two governments and not Tazara management.”
Efforts to get reactions from the transport ministers of the two countries and board members did not succeed.
But the Public Relations Officer of Tanzania’s Transport Ministry, Mr Lisso Biseko, while acknowledging that a dispute existed, said the ministry was not ready to comment on the issue.
The Tazara Regional Manager Abdallah Shekimweri told The Citizen he was aware a dispute was brewing, but it was mainly centred around the use of Tazara assets for a project that only benefits Tanzania. He also said he was aware Mr Mbikusita-Lewanika is the one who had raised those issues.
According to Eng Shekimweri, the MD wanted the issue of rights to Tazara properties had to be sorted out at the outset, since the renovated facilities still existed in the records of the authority.
“Mr Mbikusita-Lewanika is saying the locomotives and coaches that were renovated and are being used for the commuter project were not written off from Tazara books and so are not supposed to be used in the projects,” Mr Shekimweri said.