CABINET has not been meeting to deliberate on urgent government business since December because President Robert Mugabe and most ministers have been on annual leave that ends next week.
The absence of cabinet meetings means government has not been able to address pressing issues like the threat of industrial action by civil servants, fuel shortages and the stalled Essar/Ziscosteel deal and the country’s position on Ivory Coast at the ongoing African Union Summit in Ethopia, among other things.
Civil servantsare threatening to go on strike if they do not receive a substantial salary raise that matches the poverty datum line, currently at US$504 a month.
Cabinet is expected to resume sitting on February 8 after Mugabe returns from the AU summit.
University of Zimbabwe constitutional Law lecturer Greg Linnington said the failure to meet by cabinet for more than a month was both disturbing and wrong particularly in light of the Global Political Agreement (GPA) which gave birth to the inclusive government.
“This is a disturbing development. What’s happening is wrong,” Linnington said, “This is a clear case of poor governance. The acting president should preside over cabinet when the president is absent.”
The genesis of the power vacuum when Mugabe is away can be traced to well before the inclusive government but became more pronounced when Morgan Tsvangirai was appointed to the premiership in February 2009.
MDC-T ministers boycotted cabinet in June 2009 after Mugabe brought forward the government’s sitting day to a Monday instead of the usual Tuesday to accommodate his schedule that included travelling to Libya for an AU Summit. The MDC-T interpreted the move as calculated to prevent Tsvangirai from chairing cabinet in Mugabe’s absence.
“Innocent and innocuous as this decision may be, the fact of the matter is that it underpins everything wrong about the present agreement,” Deputy Prime-minister and MDC-T deputy president Thokozani Khupe said at the time. “The decision seeks to deny the recognition of the Prime Minister as chair of cabinet when the president is away.”
The GPA position was, however, altered after further political negotiations among the three parties in the inclusive government and agreed that Tsvangirai would only chair cabinet in the absence of any member of the presidium.
Tsvangirai chairs the council of ministers.
It was categorically stated that while Tsvangirai was nominally the deputy chair of the cabinet, he is number four in the hierarchy of the inclusive government, and is subordinate to Mugabe and his deputies, who should chair the cabinet in the absence of the octogenarian leader — a position Tsvangirai reportedly accepted.
Constitutional Law expert Lovemore Madhuku said that the GPA legimatised Mugabe and did not give any power to the MDC formations.
“Zanu PF behaves as if it’s still the big partner in the government,” Madhuku said: “Tsvangirai is just a glorified minister with little power to do anything.
Mugabe is still powerful and determines the government agenda in the inclusive government. The GPA was not properly executed on how power was to be shared.”
Linnington said Mugabe’s consultations with Zanu PF’s politburo ahead of the AU summit was not a good step as his presentation at the summit will be a party position instead of representing government views.
“Zanu PF politburo is a political body that is not part of the state. That position is bad,” Linnington said, “The president should get advice from cabinet on so many decisions he will have to make.”