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Mnangagwa contracts gimmick dismissed

PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa’s efforts to tie his Cabinet ministers to performance contracts is an exercise in futility as long as the Treasury does not provide adequate funding for operations, commentators told the Zimbabwe Independent yesterday.

They also described the development as political ostentation adding that contracts, signed by permanent secretaries in 2020, did nothing to improve service delivery in Zimbabwe. Cabinet ministers, the central bank governor, permanent secretaries, heads of government agencies, local government chief executives and universities’ vice chancellors yesterday signed performance-based contracts to foster a culture of accountability.

Mnangagwa launched the performance based contracts for permanent secretaries in 2020 with delivery results announced at the same function yesterday. According to Public Service Commission (PSC) chairman Vincent Hungwe, a consultant engaged by the government, produced quarterly reports on the performance of Zimbabwe’s ministries. He said the consultant’s report indicated that four secretaries exceeded all set targets while 13 met the goals while three failed in executing their targets.

The four secretaries who were honoured during the launch included Higher Education secretary Professor Fanuel Tagwira, Thokozile Chitepo (Youth, Sport, Arts and Culture), John Bhasera (Lands and Agriculture) and George Guvamatanga (Finance and Economic Development).

Officiating at the ceremony, Mnangagwa said the performance-based contracts gave bureaucrats an opportunity to recommit themselves to the culture of high performance guided by the National Development Strategy 1 and Vision 2030.

“My government will leave no stone unturned towards revamping institutions, systems and processes to make them more citizen-centred and results-oriented. I challenge you to introspect and ask yourself whether you are an enabler or hindrance to the achievements of the Second Republic. “If you are the latter — a hindrance — you are in the wrong place,” Mnangagwa said.

“Appointment and serving at the highest echelons of public service should never be a licence for self-aggrandisement and advancement of narrow interests.”

However, political commentator Stephen Chan said performance contracts at the top of any civil service were rare.

“They are common in corporate life. Key performance indicators (KPIs) in corporate life would include turnover and profit margins. Those can’t apply in the public service.

“So it all depends on what the key performance indicators are and how they are measured. If a ministry has no funds or insufficient funds, no one on any sort of contract will be able to perform. Proper resourcing is more important than these types of contracts,” Chan said.

In an interview, Southern Africa Liaison Office (SALO) senior programme advisor Munjodzi Mutandiri said the idea of performance contracts sounds plausible at political rallies.

“However, it is just propaganda. In a normal contract, people are hired to do a job and there are grounds for dismissing anyone who has not met the contractual obligations. It sounds intelligent when one talks about a performance contract.  Interesting to note is that this is not a new idea in Zimbabwe,” he said.

Government in 2006 announced that all permanent secretaries and heads of parastatals and state enterprises were going to sign performance contracts.

“Has that improved service delivery? Certainly no! It is therefore not wrong to conclude that performance contract talk is meant to create perceptions and narratives of a government working hard to be effective while diverting attention from those who must account,” Mutandiri added.

The South African-based commentator argued that when assessing government performance, the first place to look is at the chief executive’s door steps.

“In this case the CEO of the country is President Mnangagwa. When he was campaigning in 2018, the President gave the nation a pledge card, which he asked people to keep. The pledge card was clear that he would provide health care for all, education, electricity, and many other promises. Now the President cannot, four years later, insinuate that the permanent secretaries are the reason why much has not happened,” he said.

Mutandiri opined that the move sounded like an electioneering gimmick.

“In the spirit of accounting, one should look at what was promised in 2018 and what has been delivered. How many houses have been built against the promises/pledges; has there been improvements in electricity delivery, heath, education, among other issues? The second level of accountability to go is the appointed politicians, in this case, cabinet ministers. Have they delivered and if not has anyone been fired on grounds of failing to perform?”

He said it was good that ministers sign the performance contracts but in practical terms it means nothing citing that it is the President who must ensure his team delivers on the policy manifesto of his party and the pledges made.

He said Zimbabwe’s challenge is less about the implementers of policy and more about political elites who have created an environment conducive for corruption to thrive and where incompetence is tolerated.

“The budget performance by the Ministry of Finance clearly proves that resource allocation is a political decision that implementers like permanent secretaries might not be able to control.

“The budget votes that were met seem to be in the President’s Office and Ministry of Defence only. Other ministries reportedly failed to receive even the amounts that were allocated to them in the budget,” Mutandiri said.

“However, it is important to create an environment where talent is respected, and people are hired on merit. If these performance contracts help improve professionalism then they should be applauded.”

Secretaries signed performance contracts in December 2020 and Mutandiri noted that Zimbabweans haven’t seen an improvement in the service delivery across all ministries since then.

According to Prajapati Trivedi of the World Bank, performance contracts in governments emerged in the 1980s in UK and New Zealand and are usually issued to prevent confusion due to multiplicity of objectives which is also a major cause of problems of state agencies.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa in 2020 announced that he signed performance agreements with his cabinet ministers to strengthen the capacity of the state and increase accountability.

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