Monday, June 17, 2024

The Question About Ministers And Deputy Ministers

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By Isaac Mwanza

DURING Zambia’s 2017 to 2020 constitutional review process, there was a strong push by some Patriotic Front (PF) Members of Parliament who sat in the back benches of the National Assembly to re-introduce the office of Deputy Minister.

This proposal by MPs stemmed from discontent which was forming and growing among PF backbenchers who complained that Ministerial offices had become personal-to-holder.

They mumbled that the then President Edgar Lungu was not affording every PF MP a chance to become a minister.

There were also subtle accusations against serving Ministers that despite all MPs being elected by the people and spending own resources to win parliamentary seats, Ministers were living more comfortable and better lives than ordinary MPs.

Clearly, many sought the prestige of a ministerial office even if it was at the lower level of Deputy Minister.

These backbenchers from the then ruling PF made threats and apparently looked ready to collapse the entire constitutional review process from the floor of the National Assembly if the National Dialogue Forum (NDF) did not adopt provisions that re-introduce the office of a Deputy Minister.

We must also remember that our excuse as a nation for abolishing the position of a deputy minister was that deputy ministers were a drain on the Treasury and had no clear job description.

Perhaps we need a detailed study to establish the validity of that argument as well, and to re-examine the structure of our government as it stands today.

In a place of deputy minister, we now have more directors employed and more than one Permanent Secretary appointed to a ministry or Cabinet Office without clear job description.

The appointment of more than one Permanent Secretary in a Ministry, to the best of this author’s knowledge, is a novel arrangement which is less practiced in the Commonwealth.

On the other hand, there was also a stronger push by civil society organisations (CSOs) for a constitutional change to allow the President to appoint his Cabinet Ministers from outside Parliament.

This demand was unpopular among Members of Parliament from the then ruling PF. Even opposition MPs from the main opposition United Party for National Development (UPND) silently opposed this proposal.

It may not be widely known but there were UPND lawmakers who, even after staying away from the NDF on the orders of their Party leadership, kept lobbying delegates to the NDF not to adopt the extra-parliamentary system of appointing Cabinet Ministers.

The collective arguments by both the PF and UPND MPs were that Zambia was not yet ready for such a copy-paste system as the final cost would even be higher than if the Ministers were appointed from within Parliament.

It is certainly a good thing to look at best practices from other jurisdictions but that should not be an end in itself.

In the United Kingdom, Ministers are chosen by the Prime Minister from the members of the House of Commons and House of Lords, as is the case is in Zambia.

It may be worth pointing out that the idea of Cabinet Secretaries is not novel. The United States of America and Kenya call their Cabinet ministers as Cabinet Secretaries.

The U.S Secretary of the Treasury is the equivalent of the Minister of Finance in other jurisdictions, or Chancellor of the Exchequer in the United Kingdom.

The difference is that in the United States of America, and now in the Republic of Kenya, the Cabinet Secretary to the Treasury, or Finance Minister, is appointed from outside parliament.

Cabinet Secretaries do not become Members of Parliament on appointment to the Cabinet.

The question that now arises are, are we ready as Zambia to make the change and appoint our ministers from outside parliament?

If so, what is the thinking behind the change and why do we want Ministers appointed from outside parliament? If not, why not?

What are the advantages of our current system of appointing our Ministers from among our Members of Parliament? What do we stand to lose as a country if we do not adopt the US or Kenyan model?

In Kenya where Cabinet Secretaries are appointed from outside Parliament, members of Parliament are well-remunerated and the Cabinet Secretaries are an additional expense on the treasury.

The question then is whether Zambia’s economy is now ready to meet the additional expenses beyond what we spend on our parliament.

Can the appointment of Ministers from outside parliament be seen as imposing an additional burden on our finances? In what way would this argument be valid?

As part of the process, every effort should be made to establish a clear consensus on whether Zambians really want Ministers appointed from outside Parliament and remain opposed to reintroduction of deputy ministers since these have just been replaced with more directors and Permanent Secretaries.

We must also rethink whether we want to abandon the current first-past-the-post system of electing Members of Parliament and councillors, which matter was extensively canvassed during the last constitutional review process.

During parliamentary debate of the Constitution of Zambia (Amendment) Bill of 2015, the National Assembly decided that these three issues will remain matters for future debate and consideration.

I wish to also warn Zambians that the more we open up our Constitution for amendments every time we notice gaps or introduce some more provisions, the more gaps we create in the Constitution.

We have and must continue to progressively clean the gaps in the Constitution through our courts of law, with support of subsidiary legislation.

[Published by the Daily Nation, May 2023]

4 COMMENTS

  1. The set up is just fine. There are more important issues than this trying to placate selfish individuals.

  2. There’s no need for deputy ministers, no need for cabinet ministers to be appointed outside parliament and no need for a chain of permanent secretaries in a one ministry. The reason is very simple, Zambia has more than 19 million people and the majority of this people cannot even afford 3 meals a day, they are sleeping without food. They have no access to clean water and no decent housing. The Zambian wealth is not just for the 156 MPs but for all the 19 million plus people.

  3. I hope Henry Kyambalesa has read this article. That is how you write a news or CA article otherwise known as a feature. It should flow and not be interrupted by wordy subheads and superfluous sub-points. It should as much as possible be devoid of academic jargon and should be contextual. Word economy is number one requirement.
    Nonetheless, Mwanza should note that secretaries of state in the US are the equivalent of our ministers and should not be confused with our Cabinet secretary who is the highest ranking civil servant but below a minister. However in Kenya the cabinet secretary is a politically appointed head of a ministry who is not a member of parliament. Like a minister here.

  4. And can we see how our president circumvents decisions against Deputy Minister portfolios only to start appointing a zillion permanent secretaries? Presidents are not supposed to appoint Permanent Secretaries.

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