Nick Mangwana View From the Diaspora
Our political convention is that our Cabinet has collective responsibility for its decisions. Once decisions have been made then we have the Ministry of Information to disseminate the Government position on such matters.Recently one of the most contested issues in the public sphere has been whether a Government programme known as Command Agriculture has been a success or not. A lot of regional ministers have come out and said what they know in their respective provinces.
There doesn’t seem to be anyone who says that it has been a failure. However, there are a few who have said it has been a “fraud”, who happen to be in the Government and are Cabinet ministers. What is not clear is what motive they have for lampooning their own project.
Now, nobody is saying they should be complicit in a fraud or collude with a lie. And this columnist is not interested in certain ministers’ personal internecine disputes. It is the new genre of megaphone politics that is now a concern.
Zanu-PF is expected to politically benefit from the bumper harvest to be realised this year. If the drought and lack of working capital had persisted, it would have been a tough election next year.
But as it is, the opposition have realised they have no snowball’s chance in hell of winning that election, hence they are trying to discredit it as a face-saver.
But what does a Cabinet minister gain from attacking their own Government projects and policies? What is in it for them when they destabilise their own Government?
This country cannot develop without political stability. Unstable Government in this context is one in which there is a conflict within different groups.
No investor worth their money can invest in a country that has a government that is perceived as unstable. And a government that has such serious public conflict is perceived as unstable. Why are Cabinet ministers fighting their own Government? This is unheard of.
Even if there was something un- toward happening, since when have Cabinet ministers become whistle-blowers and still retain their posts? Their whistle-blowing would be a positive thing, but the other positive thing they should do is to resign, isn’t it?
Now, in this case, if there is an iota of evidence that there is malfeasance of any sort taking place, then this is serious.
If all the stuff that is being said was from the opposition, then fine. The opposition machinations can easily be dismissed as mischievous. They are not a national security concern.
What’s a national security concern is the mischief that is coming from within the corridors of power.
One of the worst things one can do to a national economy and a government is to portray the image that there is a lack of a consensus. Robust debate is very important but the forum at which the debate takes place is equally key.
Our political convention is that our Cabinet has collective responsibility for its decisions. Once decisions have been made then we have the Ministry of Information to disseminate the Government position on such matters.
To have a Cabinet minister rubbishing a Government policy is not only to show disunity within that Cabinet. It also undermines the whole executive starting with the President to a junior minister.
If the Government of Zimbabwe has applied exemption to the principle of collective responsibility and unanimity, then let us hear it now. And in that case, we expect the Ministry of Information to tell us.
This Government is drawing itself in a corner. The way it’s going, one would get the impression that the President is meeting individual ministers on a one-on-one basis and discussing portfolio-related policy matters in a “silo” approach.
That would mean the other ministers have no clue what the Government position is on a certain matter. But no, the executive meets every Tuesday and discusses these matters as a Cabinet. Then decisions are made.
Or is it that our ministers meet and debate but no decision is made, so what we see is that continuation of a Cabinet debate that was not concluded? What the heck is going on at the centre of our Government? Why are we having an erosion of a narrative consensus?
Surely, let the debate on public matters be very robust. But there should be closet debates inasfar as the Cabinet is concerned. After internal closet debate or even dissent, the people of Zimbabwe expect their Government to come out with a unified position and speak with one voice.
That gives the nation confidence and is good for the investor who is looking for a stable Government which gives security to their investment. We are currently having social and political embarrassments because of these displays of discord.
Convention expects a member of Government to divest of their personal interests or ambitions when they come together with their colleagues in a Cabinet. It is one of those freedoms you sacrifice when you get the prestige of being called a Government minister. Even lost soul Didymus Mutasa knows and follows that regardless of his expired use-by date.
Diversity of opinion is healthy and should surely be expressed in the Cabinet as it enriches decision-making. But public fragmentation of policy should not be tolerated. There should be solidarity between ministers when it comes to pronunciations of public policy.
The Government is only getting away with this nonsense because of the state of the opposition. How can anyone have confidence in a Government engaged in such public spats? Opposing your Cabinet’s policy in public is a clear vote of no confidence in one’s own Cabinet.
Any decent person would resign at that point than to attack the policies of your Government on social media. It is unheard of to have a minister speaking against a Government policy. There is a cut and dried convention that a minister who is not prepared to support Government policy should resign.
Any minister who wants to attack STEM or Command Agriculture should resign because those are Government policies regardless of who is fronting them. Become a backbencher and then bring the Government to account as backbencher. Isn’t that the same reason why minsters don’t ask colleagues questions in Parliament?
Ministers act in each other’s portfolios for the very reason because they have the oath of office and are briefed on it.
So this is a call for decency to any minister; defend a Cabinet decision or resign. There might be different ministries in the Government, but the decisions that emerge thereform are Government decisions. Ministries are not silos. If anyone thinks they are, then definitely he is in the wrong trade.
Intra-governmental fragmentation results in an ineffective government. We are having major information efforts being deployed to counteract misinformation from a Cabinet minister on the efficacy of a Government policy. That is a detraction from proper policy delivery. Something which our economy cannot afford.
Cabinet is the central organ of any government. Therefore, any portrayal of disharmony within it is an implication of a dysfunctional government. This leads to personal attacks on the President as we hear more noises and shouts of “the centre doesn’t hold”.
Let nobody misunderstand this; we are not looking for a Cabinet of choristers. We are refreshed when we learn that an issue was subjected to a very heated debate based on principle, not on narrow factional lines. But when that debate is over, out of it should emerge a consensus.
It does not matter how much in the privacy of the Cabinet boardroom a minister strenuously argued against a certain policy, when the Government adopts it, that minister is morally obligated to defend it or resign.
We need our Government to project a cohesive front. These snide attacks at each other are not good for the country at all. They might entertain but they are equally destabilising.
A Government from one party should not behave like some coalition government or some GNU. It does not even begin to make sense.
A sense of unity at Cabinet level implies a strong and stable executive which is a confidence builder. If our economy was normal, all these internecine conflicts would have tanked our the country’s credit rating.
It is fine for ministers to have individual ambitions and pursue those. But that should not be at the expense of the Government policy and national progress. So, on public affairs, it is useful for ministers when they speak, to speak for every member of that Cabinet and not against them.
A Cabinet has people from different backgrounds and different ideological slants. It’s all good. But it is wrong for people to play their own personal complexes in serious matters of the State.
It is in the best interest of that State for ministers to conduct themselves in a way that portrays an image of unity. But the level of backstabbing, leaks and briefing against each other has reached unsustainable levels. Something has to give.