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Trying Times For Masisi

The bottomline is that state ministers serve at the pleasure of the state President. Therefore, a reshuffle could mean many things: It could mean ministers did not perform as expected in so far as the President’s agenda and aspirations are concerned. The Monitor Staff Writer Ryder Gabathuse looks at what could have precipitated the recent mini reshuffle of senior positions in the President Mokgweetsi Masisi-led Cabinet

FRANCISTOWN:  As one commentator has said, sometimes a Cabinet reshuffle could suggest a, “House burning within – a clash of ideas between the President and Cabinet on how to tackle the many challenges presently dogging the country.”

A youthful political scientist who pleaded anonymity was adamant, “for instance, how do you justify the removal of Dr. Thapelo Matsheka from the treasury, which is in the forefront in the fight against the coronavirus (COVID-19), poverty and unemployment. That’s a clear indication of clash of ideas on issues of fiscal discipline and the trajectory that the country is taking.”

President Masisi has recently reshuffled three Cabinet portfolios. Mmusi Kgafela was appointed Minister of Investment, Trade and Industry, Matsheka, Minister of Infrastructure and Housing Development while Peggy Serame was appointed Minister of Finance and Economic Development.

The commentator further contends that the recent reshuffle is a clear sign of lack of depth as even when there is a clear sign of ‘under-achievement’, the President settles for moving furniture around instead of weeding out underachievers. He posits that the quality of the backbench is also suspect.

But a question remains, what could have precipitated the Cabinet reshuffle at a time when former finance minister, Matsheka had allegedly threatened to resign from the Masisi-led Cabinet? Is it pure coincidence or what is the Masisi presidency going through?

University of Botswana (UB) -based political scientist, Adam Mfundisi concurs that in the absence of any concrete evidence, “we will have to speculate and make assumptions on the political developments motivating the change of guard in the most powerful ministry: Finance and Economic Development.”

In other jurisdictions, any prompt Cabinet reshuffle reminiscent of President Masisi’s recent move affecting the minister in charge of treasury, it could have debilitating effects that could harm the economic standing of the country due to created trade uncertainties.

The UB politics and administrative studies lecturer says if one wants to understand the inner workings of President Masisi, one has to read former Cabinet minister Sadique Kebonang’s article in Mmegi, which suggests that Masisi is under siege in the Botswana Democratic Party and in government, creating a paranoid status.

“The allegations that the former Minister of Finance and Economic Development threatened to quit Cabinet has been vindicated. There seems to have been a serious disagreement between the President and the minister on financial and economic policy,” posits Mfundisi. He observes that Matsheka is an erudite scholar and a celebrated economist with a long history of dealing with macroeconomic and microeconomic issues.

“To remove him from this important ministry, which controls the socio-economic, financial, and political power is not any easy decision.

He might have differed substantially with his appointing authority. Another notable factor might have been his determination to transform the ministry to manage efficiently and effectively the public purse,” added the UB don. He pointed out that in his Budget Speech and subsequent deliberations; Matsheka was emphatic that he wants to have effective stewardship of the economy. He proposed progressive policies on how to close the deficiencies in the proper management of the public resources.

Mfundisi says the motivation to fight corruption and mismanagement of the economy may have troubled some people in government and the private sector.

“Any anti-corruption crusades land people in trouble. Trust and loyalty to the President might be another reason for the reshuffle and removing the Minister and replacing him with the President’s blue-eyed girl, Serame an unelected MP,” he stated.

Another reason, Mfundisi indicated could be that the Minister (Matsheka) crossed paths with Botswana’s ‘Guptas’ in the execution of his public duty.

In his view, this group of businesspeople (without mentioning names) has captured the state and any financial and economic policy that threatens their desire to accumulate wealth and power would unleash blowback.

Furthermore, Mfundisi says if you challenge the Supreme Leader, the consequences are hard to contemplate.

“The accolades from both opposition and ruling party MPs accorded to the Minister (Matsheka)

during the Budget Session may have angered his boss. The cult of personality is a threat to Botswana's democracy and progress. If you steal the limelight from your boss, you are bound to attract penalties. Paranoid delusions are grandiose and suspect people closer to them. Such people hate critics and interpret criticisms as a sign of tarnishing their image,” the political scientist indicated.

To him, “all indications are that the government is in a mess. The Executive mismanaged the financial and economic resources to a stage where bankruptcy is looming.” He was also worried that corruption has been growing at unprecedented levels indicating that the COVID-19 pandemic has become the rallying point for corruptive behaviour. Mfundisi’s considered view is that Matsheka was removed from a powerful portfolio because he has possibly ruffled feathers of those who control the commanding heights of the economy, society, and polity.

He quoted the renowned Kenyan professor, Patrick Lumumba who has asserted that, “in Africa, if you want to be sacked, fight corruption tooth and nail. If you want to stay in office longer, pretend to be fighting corruption, then you will be the darling of the political elite.” The ethical and strategic leadership Matsheka displayed in the past immediate Budget Session may have been one contributory factor, he thinks. Strong and effective stewardship of the public purse might have annoyed the appointing authority. And Matsheka’s candidness in responding to issues raised by MPs might also have irked the appointing authority.

The former finance minister proclaimed the moral high ground during the budgetary legislation process; he might have crossed the paths of his political handlers. Matsheka, a former UB lecturer is presented by Mfundisi as a brilliant and conscious economist. He has in-depth knowledge of both micro and macroeconomics. Since assuming office in 2019 at the helm of the Treasury, he has transformed it amidst resistance from conservative bureaucrats and politicians in the ruling party. He has been instrumental in infusing ethical and accountability mechanisms in the ministry to ensure stewardship of public finances. He has articulated well the socio-economic and political challenges faced by Botswana and the solutions thereof. He has been honest in dealing with economic and financial challenges. Despite the sterling job he has done for the ministry and the country, he was booted out. The UB lecturer is adamant that the President must be guided by the Constitution and the legislative frameworks in effecting cabinet appointments.

He feels there are some considerations that must be factored as per his considered view on the matter. The Minister of Finance and Economic Development is the third person in the hierarchy of the Executive coming after the President and Vice President. Therefore, to threaten to resign, as widely reported, is an indictment to the government of Botswana. It further dents the public confidence and trust in government.

Internationally, it's a blow to government strategic vision of transforming the economy and attracting foreign investments amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Matsheka had infused strategic leadership in the management of the economy and financial stability. He had a vision of aggressive revitalisation of the economy post COVID-19.

 He was instrumental in developing a recovery plan for the country. Meanwhile, Mfundisi feels that the President is building a new team that does not include Elias Magosi, the former permanent secretary to the President (PSP). He considers his release from the Office of the President as a smart way of parting with him. “The chances of him being appointed to the top post at the SADC secretariat as executive secretary are dependent on the calibre of other SADC member nominees. Unless, he is unopposed, I doubt he will ascend to this plum job,” observed Mfundisi. He wondered: “Why part with him if he is an asset in the middle of the challenges that the country is facing? I suspect he has over-lived his usefulness.”


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