DESPITE President Robert Mugabe’s controversial and messy re-election, the country and other stakeholders are awaiting to see what sort of cabinet he will appoint soon, after the on-going Constitutional Court case in which outgoing Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai is alleging the elections were rigged to secure victory for Zanu PF.
Cabinet is a key executive government body which deals with major policy issues, including important spending proposals and financial commitments, legislative agenda, decisions on international agreements, politically controversial questions, diplomatic matters and any other functions and tasks which affect citizens, business and the country’s international relations.
As a result, whatever cabinet Mugabe will put together soon will be of interest at home and abroad. It will indicate if Mugabe wants change or wants to remain on the failed path he has been travelling for years, mainly with regards to democratic fundamentals, the economy and international relations.
Given the markets’ downward spiral following his re-election, Mugabe’s priority should be the economy if he wants his new term to be a success.
Mugabe’s ability to resuscitate the economy will largely depend on the calibre of cabinet ministers he will appoint to run government for the next five years.
Political analysts and economists believe Mugabe –– who is desperate to restore legitimacy and revamp his battered image –– needs to make progressive appointments reflecting a leaner, younger, vibrant, dynamic and pragmatic cabinet, instead of one packed with deadwood, rigid ideologues and corrupt cronies who add no value to how the country and economy are run.
Brian Ngwenya, an international economic development analyst, said Mugabe must put together a cabinet that instils confidence among the people and the economy.
“Mugabe has to appoint a cabinet that can maintain the confidence in the economy restored during the coalition government. I’m sure he does not want to leave behind a shattered economy. So I think the ministers who are going to be appointed are going to ensure the success of indigenisation and the economy,” he said. “The calibre will largely depend on whether his choice will be based on economic sense or shifty party politics.”
Analysts say the selection of ministers, who will head key ministries like Finance, Mines, Transport, Agriculture, Industry, Local Government and Indigenisation, will be critical in determining the direction the country will take.
Economists say Mugabe should appoint a leaner cabinet of at most 15 ministers, focusing mainly on finance, industry, agriculture, education, health, energy, defence, home affairs, local government, labour, transport, justice, women and youths, technology and communication, as well as indigenisation.
In the past, Mugabe’s cabinets have mainly failed because some of his ministers, who run government departments and advise him on matters relating to their portfolios, have been appointed merely on loyalty, patronage and even ethnic grounds, not merit and competency.
Meritocracy has suffered due to Mugabe’s anxiety to accommodate loyalists and allies rather than competent people.
What made the situation worse has been that even if some of the ministers failed, Mugabe has been largely reluctant to drop them, including those who are openly corrupt and incompetent.
As the country awaits Mugabe’s inauguration, whose victory is being legally challenged by the MDC-T which is seeking a poll re-run citing election rigging, many Zimbabweans are hoping that he will finally get rid of his forest of deadwood who have proved failures in office but who survive on loyalty and cronyism.
Independent investment advisor, Kevin Msipha said the performance of the economy would define Mugabe’s legacy.
“The challenge right now is the economy. If anything is going to define his legacy, it is going to be how he approaches the economy. Unfortunately, with the economy, he cannot be as hard as or as difficult as he has been with other issues. There are so many factors to consider because the economy is very fragile right now. The challenge with the economy is with policy uncertainty and a lack of confidence,” he said.
“This he can fix by appointing a Finance minister who has local roots and appeals to local business and the international community. For example, Nigeria appointed a Finance minister from the World Bank and this sent the right signal to the markets and such an approach is what is needed in Zimbabwe at this moment.”
Msipha added that: “Someone like Joe Mtizwa (chairman of Star Africa and former Delta CEO) will send the correct signals. He has respect from business and is seen in good light internationally. Politically, he is also a war veteran, something which would appeal to Mugabe.”
Analysts say even Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono, whose term ends in November, could be a suitable candidate for the Finance ministry given his experience in business and the financial services sector.
He is also well-known within business and international circles, and in fact took the lead last week to calm the population and markets amid swirling speculation about the return of the defunct Zimdollar, panicky withdrawals from banks and a plunge in the stock market.
Other possible Finance ministers are Sylvester Nguni, Cottco CEO, and Zimbabwe Revenue Authority boss Gershem Pasi. Analysts say the person appointed to this post should be someone who embraces transparency and accountability.
The calibre of Mugabe’s cabinet ministers will determine the direction the country will take in the next five years and whether the gains of the four-year transitional government will be reversed or whether Mugabe’s last term will put Zimbabwe back on the track it derailed since 1997 after initial patches of success in the 1980s.
“Cabinet is responsible for directing the operations of government, conducting government business in parliament, preparing, initiating and implementing national legislation, developing and implementing national policy and advising the president,” said an analyst who requested anonymity.
“So whatever appointments he makes will have a bearing on the future of the country, and the economy in particular.”
In 2008 Mugabe described his cabinet as the worst he had ever had. However, he retained the same ministers, raising questions about his commitments to run a capable and effective government.
“The cabinet that I had was the worst in history. They (only) look at themselves, they are unreliable, but not all of them. The people are suffering…”, Mugabe was quoted saying in August 2008, after winning the disputed second-round June polls, which Tsvangirai withdrew from citing violence perpetrated on his supporters.
Mugabe, however, still went ahead in 2009 to appoint the bulk of the same people he had described as the worst.
Unlike in 2009, this time around Mugabe has a large pool to choose from after his party won 160 of the 210 seats contested on July 31 and an additional 37 senators. Additionally, 37 women from Zanu PF were elected through proportional representation.
The president is also allowed by the new constitution to appoint five ministers or deputies to cabinet outside the National Assembly members and senators.
Chapter 5, Section 104 (3) of the constitution reads: “Ministers and deputy ministers are appointed from among senators and Members of the National Assembly, but up to five, chosen for their professional skills and competence, may be appointed outside parliament.”
Mugabe now has the opportunity to correct the wrongs of the past and put in motion a serious economic recovery plan.
Analysts say instead of appointing party loyalists and allies, the president should appoint technocrats to key ministries, who are better qualified to implement reforms needed to revive Zimbabwe’s industry and economy.
Mugabe has an opportunity to prove his critics wrong by appointing people who are performance-driven and raise the hopes of Zimbabweans dampened by his controversial re-election and socio-economic problems.
The prevailing sentiment within business is that Mugabe must use the five appointees to bring in a competent Finance minister –– someone who is knowledgeable, market-oriented and engages industry and multilateral institutions. The minister also needs to be someone with a social democratic persuasion to avoid him or her being a captive of the markets at the expense of the people and social services.
Analysts say Mugabe must appoint a transparent and accountable minister to run the sector. If his objective is to keep the mining sector opaque, then he can reappoint his previous unaccountable ministers, including Obert Mpofu. However, if he is willing to change and ensure transparency then he needs someone different.
Economists say Mugabe should appoint the Industry and Commerce minister from outside parliament. The ministrty needs someone who can turnaround the distressed sector, particularly manufacturing, where companies and factories have either closed down, streamlined operations or are operating at far below capacity utilisation.
At present trends, capacity utilisation is expected to decline further than the 44,2% reported in 2012. This will address the issue of production, employment and the tax revenue base for government, among other necessary components for economic revival.
Analysts say the current minister, Nicholas Goche, has done fairly well as shown by the on-going countrywide refurbishment of the highway network and construction of tollgates, modest revival of Air Zimbabwe and the purchase of new equipment to patch up potholes.
Whoever is appointed there needs to revive the public transport system, such as the revival of the National Railways of Zimbabwe and Zupco.
Analysts say the ministry desperately needs someone to replace the overzealous Saviour Kasukuwere who has damaged the process, while dividing government through his belligerent approach. This is not the time to appoint hawks in such areas.
Msipha said: “The principle of indigenisation is good, every country is practising it. There should not be a sense that we are doing something new or different from other countries.
“The only problem is that we are poor communicators. The key thing is how you package the programme.
“We need a person who understands the concept and can explain it better. We need a progressive and open-minded person in that area. It should be separated from youths and could instead be Ministry of Indigenisation and Entrepreneurship.”
Analysts say if Mugabe wants to show he is embracing good governance and accountability, he should reassign or boot out current minister Ignatius Chombo who has been tainted by numerous allegations of corruption and dispatch him to such a portfolio as Higher Education where he is not distracted by accumulating stands and houses or fire him altogether.
This is a very key ministry, considering power shortages and how they affect the people and cripple business. Analysts say Mugabe needs to appoint a vibrant minister to tackle the numerous problems affecting the power sector.
He can appoint from the numerous new MPs who have an in-depth knowledge about the sector.
Even if Mugabe might want to make radical changes in the new cabinet, his political vulnerability and fear of the unknown will likely ensure he retains most of his old guard loyalists such as Emmerson Mnangagwa and Sydney Sekeramayi –– who are almost always recycled around the Defence and Security portfolios.
Deadwood like Didymus Mutasa, enthusiastic adherents like Patrick Chinamasa and Simbarashe Mumbengegwi, for instance, are also likely to remain.
Ineffectual ministers, such as Olivia Muchena and Sithembiso Nyoni, could also survive even though they are part of the deadwood, while loyal and hardworking losers like Jonathan Moyo could also come back through the backdoor.