POTENTIALLY explosive political row has erupted over damaging leaks to the press of cabinet documents before formal discussions in the policy-making body.
These include a confidential report which Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai intended to present proposing changes to cabinet rules in view of the current inclusive government.
The issue has rekindled political tensions and suspicions between Zanu PF and MDC ministers who are reluctantly working together as uneasy partners.Â Informed sources said Tsvangirai (below) was going to complain to President Robert Mugabe about the leaks which appeared in the government-controlled Herald on Wednesday and yesterday.
Asked about his leaked report to cabinet, Tsvangirai told the Zimbabwe Independent in an interview yesterday that â€œthere is no confidentiality at allâ€, but was quick to refer further questions to Chief Secretary to the Office of the President and Cabinet, Dr Misheck Sibanda.
â€œIt seems there is no confidentiality at all but youâ€™d better ask Sibanda if there have been any such leaks,â€ Tsvangirai said. Efforts to get comment from Sibanda failed last night. However, sources said Sibanda was concerned about the issue.
Information to hand shows there were damage-limitation efforts made by senior government officials from the Office of the President and Cabinet and the Attorney-Generalâ€™s Office yesterday to prevent the issue from boiling over.
Tsvangiraiâ€™s spokesman James Maridadi last night said the Prime Ministerâ€™s Office was â€œworriedâ€ about the leaks.
â€œWe are not concerned so much about the content of the document but we are worried that somebody is by design leaking confidential cabinet information to the public,â€ he said.
â€œThat document is a working paper for cabinet. It had not yet been formally tabled, but the person who leaked it is basically saying cabinet can as well go and meet at Harare Gardens where everybody who wants can attend. This is a serious indictment on cabinet and should worry every member of cabinet.â€
Initially Tsvangirai himself had said â€œask those who have leaked the documentâ€ before claiming he was not aware of what the press was talking about.
One of the press reports quoted Tsvangiraiâ€™s confidential report on proposed reforms of the cabinet rules and regulations and the other dealt with the Information Communication Technology (ICT) Bill currently before cabinet. The story on the Bill said battle lines were drawn over the proposed law which is being discussed in government circles.
The story on Tsvangiraiâ€™s report titled Cabinet Handbook, Comments and Suggested Alterations, detailed the changes which the prime minister wants made to the rules and regulations of cabinet to reflect the new political arrangement in place. Since the formation of the inclusive government, Mugabe chairs cabinet, but Tsvangirai is now the deputy chair.
However, since the arrangement does not in practice allow Tsvangirai to chair cabinet even if Mugabe is
not there as there is always an acting president, the prime minister wants changes to give him a chance to preside over cabinet when the president is away.
Documents to hand say the prime minister also wants a clarification of the relationship between cabinet and the council of ministers which he chairs. The council of ministers meets at least once a fortnight at the direction of the prime minister.
Tsvangirai is also arguing that it is inappropriate to refer to Mugabe as â€œHead of State and Governmentâ€ when executive power is shared between the president, prime minister and cabinet. He is demanding changes to reflect the new political dispensation and power relations.
The prime minister is further demanding that ministers must report to him directly since he â€“ as the supervisor of government policy formulation and coordination – reports to the president.
â€œMinisters, including provincial governors, are expected to tender regular reports to the prime minister regarding their implementation of government policies within their ministries or provinces,â€ Tsvangirai says in the leaked report.
â€œThe prime minister will convey the substance of these reports to the president.â€
Tsvangiari proposes a raft of changes covering guiding cabinet principles, the structure of the cabinet system, cabinet programming and attendance, security and the handling of cabinet documents, assignment of administrative acts, management of ministries, council of ministers, ministerial contributions to presidential addresses and speeches, appointment of boards of public enterprises, and procedures for business travel and cabinet committees.Â
MDC officials said yesterday they were alarmed about the â€œcalculated leaksâ€ designed to undermine Tsvangirai and his ministersâ€™ authority.
â€œWe are stunned by these leaks and the attendant disinformation which is also being communicated through the public media,â€ an MDC minister said last night. â€œWe have raised this issue with the Prime Ministerâ€™s Office and we are assured that he will take up the matter with the president.â€
ICT minister Nelson Chamisa yesterday refused to comment on the matter, saying his Media, Information and Publicity counterpart Webster Shamu would be better placed to deal with it.
â€œI canâ€™t comment on cabinet matters. Call the Minister of Media, Information and Publicity,â€ Chamisa said.
However, Shamu also said he could not deal with the issue.
â€œI canâ€™t comment on cabinet matters in the press unless given authority to do so because it is unlawful and I will be committing a crime,â€ he said. â€œI will be arrested if I do that.â€
Shamu recently warned newspapers, particularly the Independent at that time, to desist from reporting on cabinet issues. The Independent stopped but the minister yesterday refused to deal with the issue of officials feeding leaks into the Herald.Â
But an MDC minister said reports in the public media were â€œleaksâ€ from a â€œwell-known senior civil servantâ€ who behaves like a minister.
â€œThe stories in the public media are leaks from a senior civil servant in the Media, Information and Publicity ministry who behaves like a minister. He is clumsily trying to do agenda-setting to shape and direct political events,â€ the minister said.
â€œBut he doesnâ€™t seem to realise that he is actually breaking the law with impunity. The prime minister will take the issue up with the president.â€