Tanzania's Magufuli orders seizure of expatriate construction workers' passports

DAR ES SALAAM (Reuters) - Tanzanian President John Magufuli ordered the confiscation on Friday of passports belonging to foreign employees of an Indian infrastructure company managing a water project that is running late.

Tanzania's President John Magufuli addresses a news conference during his official visit to Nairobi, Kenya October 31, 2016. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

Magufuli, nicknamed “the Bulldozer” for pushing through his policies, has been praised by Western donors for an anti-corruption drive and cutting wasteful government spending since he came to power in November 2015.

Opponents, however, accuse him of becoming increasingly authoritarian, undermining democracy by curbing political activity and cracking down on dissent.

“The president ... has ordered that the passport of ... Rajendra Kumar, should be seized along with the travel documents of his assistants until they complete the water project,” Magufuli’s office said in a statement.

The statement described Kumar as the representative of Overseas Infrastructure Alliance (India) Private Limited. The Delhi-based infrastructure company was not immediately available for comment.

“Magufuli has warned that if the project is not completed within four months, he will take more stringent measures against those supervising the construction work,” the statement said.

The 29 billion shilling ($13 million) water project in the southern town of Lindi was expected to be finished in March 2015 but remains incomplete, the president’s office said.

It said Magufuli, a former public works minister, was angered by the lack of progress on the project, which he visited on Friday.

Some foreign investors have expressed concern about what they say are unpredictable government policies and actions, while some big mining companies feel they are being unfairly targeted by Magufuli’s administration.

On Friday, a day after Magufuli repeated a call for exports of copper concentrate to be halted, Tanzania’s energy and minerals ministry announced an immediate ban on sending copper concentrate or mineral sand for processing abroad.

Magufuli’s call to build a smelter in Tanzania to process gold was criticized in November by the Tanzania Chamber of Minerals and Energy, which said it showed a lack of understanding of how the industry works.

Major gold mining companies in Tanzania include Acacia Mining Plc and AngloGold Ashanti Ltd.

Like other African nations, Tanzania is on a drive to add value to its exports rather than send raw materials abroad.

The new government banned imports of coal and gypsum in November to boost its mining sector, saying it had abundant reserves of the minerals.

($1 = 2,230.0000 Tanzanian shillings)

Reporting by Fumbuka Ng’wanakilala; Editing by George Obulutsa and Catherine Evans