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Badilisha Lugha KISWAHILI

Wanted: Objective criteria to assess cabinet ministers

29th April 2012
Editorial Cartoon

One thing that shall never be clarified is how much of the contention concerning eight cabinet ministers the debate around whom resulted in an imminent cabinet reshuffle – or dissolving the cabinet altogether – is fact, and what is fiction.

A singular example is how much Energy and Minerals minister William Ngeleja has been criticised by all the powers inside the powerful energy monopoly of Tanesco for ‘delay’ in securing the vital guarantee from the government for a Sh408bn loan from commercial banks. Would it not have been better to blame the governor of the central bank, or the Minister for Finance?

There are even some worries that people may quarrel in private life and then spill their venom on the floor of Parliament ostensibly defending public interests, for instance when Kahama MP James Lembeli corrected Minister Ezekiel Maige on a house he purchased.

The minister said it was around 400,000 dollars and the MP promptly corrected that it was 700,000 dollars, which may be right, but its factual validity does not resolve the basic issue of where he personally comes in into all that. Institutions exist to probe into individuals’ lives when the need arises, not one-man tribunals and ethical committees.

A columnist in this issue says that one basic reason for periodic parliamentary uproars that have tarnished legislative life in the fourth phase administration is the cost of running for election, that it is too high. Thus each elected MP seeks to recover the cost and obtain some tangible benefit as well, in which case becoming a member of the cabinet helps quite a lot in achieving as much.

What he did not say is that not so long ago the whole of Parliament was agreed about raising their sitting allowances from Sh70,000 to at least Sh200,000 per day which the premier approved and the president hesitated, and while he was still appealing for ‘wisdom’ the doctors came in with the first strike, killing the deal.

MPs are furious their own plans are being derailed while ministers have it all easy, so they go forking everywhere for the usually possible misdemeanours, from the likes of David Jairo to Richmond, and parliamentary life is engulfed in dispute.

This leads to a different requirement, that a method of evaluating the performance of a cabinet minister (and indeed other top public officials) be instituted so as to end calumny and witch hunting as a method of government, or as pleasure seeking by MPs.

There are countries which already have such a system, one being arch-reformist Rwanda, where at the end of the year the Auditor General and the President sit with each minister, or any contested minister and show the balance sheet, whereupon he or she is asked if, on the basis of that performance, he or she is still needed in government. It isn’t hard to see what to respond.

Another country with such an assessment system is Kenya where a minister is required to have 70 percent performance mark to retain his position in Cabinet.

It is unclear how such controls may include a test of opinion among clients, organisations which the minister oversees, or should strictly be based on financial returns.

All the same, other lines of information regarding a particular sector would be helpful in evaluating the minister’s action, as negative perception by society has a reason, as it is partly caused by the targeted individual by either failure or omission. Having provided the pretext, the ill will of others finishes the rest, and we hear what the minister paid for to obtain a house, without the semblance of an inquiry having been performed; suddenly we want him out.

So in order to get out of this kind of culture, a few things might have to be introduced, that questions concerning the private activities of ministers as individuals need to be directed to the Ethics Committee so as to be investigated, not exploded in Parliament as a one stop shop.

Secondly, objective methods be set up to evaluate the work of the cabinet especially in relation to supervision of projects in sectors they oversee, and distinctions be made as to failures of direction and supervision, from objective scarcity of resources.

If such distinctions will not be put up, the habit where the failure of the government to do this and that isn’t explained from resources but a minister will remain, and therefore no cabinet will be stable. For example Kahama has few or no tarmac roads, so let’s see what the minister bought lately, or misnomers of the sort, which don’t help political stability.

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