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Comment: Mugabe holding cabinet hostage

THERE exists a madcap state of affairs in the governance of Zimbabwe: when president Robert Mugabe is on leave, there is no government business to talk of as the entire administration is forced into recess leaving the country to run on autopilot.

This may sound like hyperbole but that is exactly what is happening. When the president goes on leave, the man takes all the keys with him and ministers are left twiddling their thumbs. In fact many of them also take their leave as well because the cabinet will be closed, literally.

Cabinet last met on December 18 and shortly thereafter Mugabe took his annual leave. While at any one time in Zimbabwe there is an acting president in Mugabe’ absence, it appears that he has no confidence in his lieutenants to chair cabinet while he is away.

MDC-T leader and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai is the nominal deputy chair of the cabinet but as it stands he is only a distant number four in the hierarchy of the so-called government of national unity (GNU).

Mugabe’s way of doing business as the chairman of cabinet has shown an archaic approach to governance and policy-making which has no place in a modern state.

Cabinet is an important organ in modern government administration and this explains why in Zimbabwe as well as many other states it sits weekly to implement policies.

However, while on paper the Zimbabwe cabinet sits weekly and mostly on Tuesdays, this rule only applies when Mugabe is present.

When he is not present and an acting president appointed, the weekly meeting is rescheduled or not held at all. When Mugabe went on his annual leave, John Nkomo was appointed acting president only to be replaced by Joice Mujuru at the beginning of the New Year.

Neither of the two was trusted to chair the weekly meetings and the government went on autopilot. There has been no cabinet meeting in more than a month.

At a time like this, it is incumbent upon the other partners in the GNU to show leadership and insist on a meeting so crucial to the governance of the country.

Instead, Tsvangirai also took a break, only returning to his office a few days before Mugabe. The other MDC faction was preoccupied with leadership jostling, with Welshman Ncube eventually taking over the reins from Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara.

So who then was making the crucial decisions on the sale of diamonds, indigenisation legislation, the pending civil servants strike and the sudden shortage of fuel which required the attention of Cabinet?

There were attempts by responsible ministers to address the issues but any serious analyst would have seen the half-heartedness and hesitancy shown when their decisions need cabinet ratification.

It is interesting to note that Mugabe, who literally holds the cabinet hostage and only convenes it at his whim, chose to chair a Zanu PF politiburo meeting on Wednesday, confirming a long-held belief that his party takes precedence over government. I

t is presumed that he wanted to get his party’s position on various issues to be discussed at the African Union Summit in Ethiopia, most likely on the Ivory Coast standoff, the inevitable breakup of Sudan and the revolts engulfing the Arab nations of Tunisia and Egypt.

It is clear that Mugabe, who is accustomed to substituting government with the party which he controls, would set out Zanu PF’s position which would become the country’s position on such critical issues.

This is one of the tragedies of the type of government that has been adopted. While Mugabe, who has been at the apex of the party since 1976 and government for 31 years, may be impervious to changes occasioned by the unity government, the MDC has shown serious administrative failure at a time when Zimbabwe is rudderless.

People are asking, where is the MDC? That is a legitimate question.

They are virtually invisible. Is it not time for the MDC leadership to show decisiveness and aptitude, providing policy direction at a time when the country has run out of fuel which saw a 100% hike in fares? The MDC, it appears, has been afflicted by Zanu PF’s delinquency and does not take its role in government seriously.

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