Jacob Zuma calls the shots for deputy ministers

2014-06-01 15:01

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There are changes afoot for the country’s deputy ministers: in future, their roles will be defined by President Jacob Zuma himself, rather than their own ministers.

The number of deputy ministers has risen from 28 in 2009 to 37 now, but there’s not much clarity on what role these 37 must play.

Section 93 of the Constitution gives no details of their duties, saying only that they “are accountable to Parliament for the exercise of their powers and the performance of their functions”.

Unlike ministers, they are not members of Cabinet.

Newly appointed Deputy Minister of Trade and Industry Mzwandile Masina said Zuma would now give responsibilities to deputy ministers, marking a shift from past practice when this was the prerogative of line ministers.

Late last year, the ANC’s leadership resolved that deputy ministers should be assigned clear roles.

This comes after the party asked ministers and deputy ministers last year to make submissions about their roles and relationships in government in preparation, Masina said.

The refined version of the resulting document is due to be handed to Zuma soon.

“This will ensure that deputy ministers play a major role. So we don’t just get driven around,” said Masina.

Zuma’s spokesperson, Mac Maharaj, said Zuma specified roles “in broad strokes” for ministries with two deputies – like international relations and cooperative governance and traditional affairs. He said that, ultimately, ministers and deputies were expected to work as a team.

“It is not a mechanical exercise. Outlining responsibilities does not solve problems to the extent that people have problems working with each other,” Maharaj said.

New deputy ministers include Bheki Cele in agriculture, Kebby Maphatsoe in defence and military veterans, and Patekile Holomisa in labour.

The lack of clear roles has sometimes caused tensions between deputy ministers and their bosses.

For example, when rumours of a turf war between then police deputy minister Fikile Mbalula and his

minister Nathi Mthethwa surfaced, Mbalula countered allegations that he had been sidelined by saying he was not Mthethwa’s “ball boy”.

“I am a deputy minister with substance. My job is not to go around the Waterfront buying groceries and clothes. My task is not to carry the briefcase of a minister,” he said.

A former deputy minister told City Press that ministers sometimes did not like to be outshone by their juniors in their portfolios.

The former deputy minister said Zuma had suggested once during his first term that there should be a clear delineation of roles, but this was never implemented by line ministers.

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