Strategic moves

2010-11-05 00:00

I FEEL left out of the excitement over the firing of cabinet ministers, especially the retired General­ Siphiwe Nyanda. It is not that I think it is acceptable to spend taxpayers’ money on big beemers or exclusive hotels such as the Lord Nelson, even if the name sounds strikingly similar­ to an icon of the struggle against apartheid.

Days after the big hullabaloo, I am still battling with the logic behind­ President Jacob Zuma’s decision to fire ministers and create­ new deputy minister positions. As many have stated all week, the so-called reshuffle has more to do with managing ANC dynamics than dealing with state issues.

The ruling and opposition parties are, however, in an unusual space of being in broad agreement over a political decision and all seem united behind the belief that this will light some fire under some ministers’ bottoms and thus improve service delivery.

I wonder how it is that all of them would not remember that it was only towards the end of October that these ministers signed performance agreements. It was less than a month ago when cabinet ministers finally signed their contracts with their employer — the president.

By way of background, the service­ delivery agreements were signed by ministers across departments to implement the 12 national “outcomes” identified in the government’s midterm strategic plan.

Zuma gave the ministers time to work on the plans to achieve these outcomes, hence the gap between the announcements in April that such agreements would be entered into and that would finally be happening in late October­.

So knowing all this, how does anyone conclude that any minister has failed or succeeded in what he or she was tasked with?

Furthermore, Zuma himself said that the performance agreements were not going to be the yardstick to determine which ministers would stay or go.

“Some people may not be measuring­ up to the task because of expectations. We can’t put an axe [over their heads],” Zuma told the media in May this year. “We are saying that all ministers, all of us, must have measurable outcomes. If they [the ministries] don’t do so they are the ultimate people [we can hold] to account. I don’t think we should look at this as a way to try to punish people,” he said.

Fair enough. But the state and the ruling party can simply not have it both ways. They must decide whether ministers serve at the pleasure of the president, who, in the immortal words of our current first citizen “has a right to appoint and disappoint”, or whether they are working against objective standards by which they will be measured.

The public too, deserves to know what they are in for. Although ministers are appointed by the president, he does so in the exercise of powers that he holds on behalf of the citizens.

So if the president says that he is going to monitor the performance of people to ensure that they serve us taxpayers better, then he should give them the space they need to do this and not fire them a week after he has made it clear to them what he expects them to achieve.

To celebrate such arbitrary decisions to fire ministers when the ink on their so-called agreements has hardly dried just because the victims are unpopular personalities says more about our own double­ standards than it does about the fired person.

There is no virtue in being fair to the upright. It is expected. It is how we treat the wicked that speaks to the extent of our evolution­. This is why we must object even if it is Nyanda, the man roundly described as the face of cronyism, who is not getting a fair crack of the whip.

Alternatively, the voters deserve to be told the truth as to why he has bitten the dust as it cannot be because of “performance”.

While it is the prerogative of the head of state to hire and fire, to do so arbitrarily does our state no favours in the long term.

Insecurity of tenure may just fuel­ cronyism and corruption that has become the scourge of our political­ times with ministers accumulating­ as much as possible and as quickly as they can, knowing that any day could be their last.

Nyanda’s fate and the fates of the other fired ministers speak to a bigger political problem. We have a political system that prefers to keep the most important elements in a democracy, the voters, in the dark as much as it is possible. No wonder government spin doctors earn more than doctors in the public sector.

The president has now got away with sleight of hand. Provincial­ and local governments all over the country are readying themselves to do the same. Some have already started. All of them will employ the yarn of “service delivery” to justify their massacre of the politically irrelevant.

You therefore have to hand it to the spin doctors for their handling of this pantomime.

Perhaps they do deserve to earn better than the conventional doctors. It takes some doing to make so many praise the emperor about his new robes of bravery when we ought to be able to see through it all.

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