In many years of observing, noting and commenting on public affairs I have been unaware of anything as remarkable, astonishing or outright depressing as Mmegi’s front page report (27 May) headlined ‘Obfuscating Matome Irks PAC or inside on page three, ‘Dodging Matome Angers PAC’.
The news story in question provided an account of the meeting of the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee with the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Labour and Home Affairs, Pearl Matome who, henceforth, I refer to as the Perm. Sec. According to Mmegi, the Parliamentary Committee “tore her Ministry to shreds for ineptitude, ineffectiveness, corruption and downright failure to use common sense”.
It also lamented her propensity to dodge questions and her inability to explain to the Committee the particular challenges that obviously face her Ministry, as they face all Ministries.
One member told the Perm. Sec. that they were aware of numerous complaints made to her Ministry by, amongst others, the Ministry of Wildlife and Tourism and HATAB – a reference, presumably, to the latter’s recent complaint that for years past it has been making its needs and problems known to the government but without result. In many cases, he argued, decisions taken by the Ministry were irrational, absurd and in some cases cruel and grossly insensitive.
He suggested that the Ministry’s actions were promoting a negative image of the country which is bound to influence potential investors. Further, he asked what might be the rationale for allowing just two hundred applicants to be given citizenship from the many more who annually apply? The Perm. Sec. did not know.
Another member stated that the International Trade Centre had told the Ministry that its refusal to approve work permits to potential investors had cost the country P4 billion. In response, the Perm. Sec. stated that she had been unable (or perhaps unwilling) to meet any of the complainants to consider their concerns. She rejected the Committee’s assertion that she was ignorant about the issues facing her Ministry, she insisted that her inability to answer the Committee’s questions did not indicate that she was unaware of those issues or that she had not discussed them before being brought before her.
Bluntly, this kind of response fits ill with a government which needs to recover the respect and support of the country and its voters by halting what is widely seen as a disconcerting downward slide.
Now, this one meeting between the elected and the appointed has brought into the open, in the most dramatic fashion, the extent and nature of that slide and the inherent power conflict which exists between the one and the other. Demonstrating this conflict in the most astonishing manner was the fact that the senior civil servant felt no need to hide from the Parliamentary Committee her indifference, and, implicitly, her contempt for its role, responsibility and authority.
Her attitude must have convinced those members that she sees herself as untouchable. How is possible that the system of government which was previously so widely admired, has sunk to such depths and become so degraded?
How has it been allowed to happen that a once respected and undoubtedly important Ministry is now described by MPs as being inept, ineffective, and corrupt? Is this a one off, an unhappy exception to the norm or is it merely the now visible tip of a system that is now seriously degraded? How is it possible that this one Ministry, indeed any Ministry, could be taking decisions and implementing programmes which run counter to those repeatedly set out by the government?
Could the Minister himself have been unaware how members of this Parliamentary oversight committee, some of them being his own party colleagues, regarded his Ministry? Are other Perm, Secs. setting their own agendas without regard for government policy or public need?
These possibilities are so deeply disturbing that an alternative, preferable version will be sought by many. The obvious possibility is that the Mmegi news story grossly misreported what had occurred, that the Perm. Sec. was defamed and unjustly ridiculed and that the Ministry is neither inept nor corrupt. A variation might be that the members of that particular committee had been pushing their own personal agendas. I suppose this scenario is just possible but in reality, hardly likely. So where does all this now leave us? Was this a news story that is already forgotten?
Or, if there is to be a follow up, what form might this take? Who might now take action and if so, how might this be accomplished?
If the Ministry is indeed inept and corrupt, as the Parliamentary Committee believes that it has long been, how will change be achieved so that in future it becomes less inept and less corrupt?