A root and branch shake-up looms in government as President Emmerson Mnangagwa, continues to take bold steps to boost public and investor confidence in his administration, while also consolidating his hold on power.
The Daily News is reliably informed that the dreaded axe is hovering over the heads of a number of permanent secretaries, principal directors and other key government officials in a bid to eliminate red tape, which has been undermining efforts to revive Zimbabwe’s battered economy.
Mnangagwa took the first step to give life to his economic agenda last week when he named a 20-member Cabinet that has charmed his friends and foes alike.
The shrewd politician who surprised many when he dropped some of his closest allies from his Cabinet, is seen cutting loose several permanent secretaries and directors to make it easy for his lean team of mostly technocrats to deliver.
Just after elections, he retired 13 permanent secretaries who had reached the retirement age of 65.
Among those pensioned off are Ngoni Masoka (Labour and Social Welfare); George Mlilo (Transport); Machivenyika Mapuranga (Higher Education); Sylvia Utete-Masango (Primary and Secondary Education) and Melusi Matshiya (Home Affairs).
Insiders within Mnangagwa’s administration said the upcoming round of changes will also enable the president to surround his Cabinet with bureaucrats who can assist him achieve his targets.
Newly-appointed minister of Media, Information and Publicity Monica Mutsvangwa told the Daily News that while it was Mnangagwa’s prerogative to make the necessary changes to his administration, his overriding vision remains that of “opening Zimbabwe for business”.
“The president’s mantra is ‘Zimbabwe is open for business’ and he is going to improve on the way government business is done; he will make changes to improve the transparency and accountability of government,” said Mutsvangwa.
Ibbo Mandaza, a former permanent secretary in government in the 1980s turned critic, said the country’s public service was overdue for an overhaul seeing that politicians have now taken over the running of ministries instead of directing policy.
Said Mandaza: “The public service is overdue for change: In the 1980s when I was in the public service, we ran the government. In our time, ministers were symbolic and the main cog of the ministry was the permanent secretaries”.
Mandaza said the country has lost track over the years by entrusting the running of government to politicians who have their own goals which should not interfere with public service.
Zimbabwe’s model of government follows that of its former colonial master, Britain.
In terms of the Westminster model a permanent secretary is the administrative head of a department or ministry.
They are ‘‘permanent’’ in the sense that they are normally career civil servants who have tenure beyond the life of any particular government.
This system, in which the permanent public service extends to the topmost levels of public administration, is one of the defining characteristics of the Westminster model, according to the Commonwealth library.
University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer Eldred Masunungure said Mnangagwa was now more concerned with the economy than old political ties and was likely to tinker with permanent secretaries who run ministries on a day-to-day basis.
“He is now his own man, he has earned his legitimacy, he is no longer beholden to those who launched the military intervention and those who supported him during that era when he was down – they have outlived their usefulness,” he said.
Masunungure said the obtaining situation dictates that those who do not have the required skills to deal with the prevailing challenges should be dropped from government to create space for those who are better skilled.
“…we have the infusion of more competent people in Cabinet, at least on paper. The country should, however, not be over expectant. In a nutshell Mnangagwa’s Cabinet appointments are a combination of various factors but mostly because he now has the legitimacy, he now has freedom of action and he is now exercising that,” added Masunungure.