Cabinet Ministers Must Be Picked From Parliament

Recently, a Mmegi editorial asked whether the president shouldn't have more choice on cabinet selection. The query came as a corollary to an issue that had been raised by Boyce Sebetela in a parliamentary question. The legislator had enquired if there were any plans to amend the constitution to allow for cabinet ministers to be appointed wholly or in part from outside Parliament.

Sebetela's contention  was that a combination of  the  two roles  could result  in failure to  execute both  duties effectively.  The  minister for Presidential  Affairs and Public Administration  responded that there were no plans to  provide for  such  a dispensation.  Minister Kwelagobe  also pointed out that  our  system was practised by other  democracies with  much larger Parliaments.  

The matter  in question  has  been   a subject of   political  discourse  in   our polity.  Certainly  there is  a  school of  thought  that  wants  the  current system  changed   to enable the  president to look  outside  Parliament  for  people  to sit  in his cabinet. In the Mmegi editorial,  a very persuasive argument  is  ventured for  the  shortcomings  inherent  in the  status quo. Most notably, Mmegi opines that  besides the   heavy  workload on  ministers,  the current practice  blurs  dividing line  between the executive and the legislature. 

Furthermore,  the  dual  system has   led to accusations   of bias in to the effect  that  ministers  allocate  greater development  resources to their constituencies.  The arguments cited are weighty and cannot be  discounted.   Of more fascination to me,  Mmegi  contends that  leadership and management talent  from outside Parliament  are excluded by the system because  the current crop of  legislators   does not necessarily represent the best brains  in the country.  

It is on this point  that I  wish to anchor my counter-argument. My view is that  no political system is  perfect.  On that basis,  it must be accepted  that  in the Westminster  model,  there  will always  be  legislators  who in the eyes of  the people should be in  cabinet but are  not,  owing to  the fact  that  cabinet  appointment  is the  prerogative of the   head of state. 

By the same logic, there is no guarantee that   even if the  president were given  latitude  to  pick his cabinet from outside Parliament, he will  always choose the  best  people. Even then the people  whom he considers talented may not necessarily be  better than  those sitting  in Parliament.  One  admits that in an  ideal situation,  a government must always be run by the best brains.  But it is a fact of   democratic politics that such  is never the case.

There are  many  considerations  that go into choosing  ministers. In our case,  still engaged in nation building,  geographical  factors could come into play.  Neither  can anyone dispute that  a balancing  act to   maintain cohesion of   a  governing political party is another consideration  when it comes to appointments. Critically  still,   presidents  are not infallible. They are susceptible   to  the foibles and  caprices of  lesser mortals. In that regard,  personal factors  may play a part  when a friend or relative is  given the  nod.  

Compelling  the President   to  pick  cabinet from  within Parliament  is part of the doctrine  of  checks and balances in the sense that  choice is limited to a certain pool of  people with whom he has to learn to work.  This is the most abiding  argument  in favour of the  current  method.  By limiting  choice, the system acts as  a buffer  to  presidential  powers in the sense that the  crop  in Parliament  enjoys the mandate of the  people, and is not directly  beholden  to  the  head of  state.  This is in stark contrast to   individuals   who do not  enjoy the mandate  of  the electorate  being  given the  authority to run the  country simply because the President likes them.  Such a notion   also smacks of plain  unfairness and condescension. 

I fail to appreciate why   activists who   work hard to  put the party in power should be  bypassed in favour  of   others who will only  emerge to  take up  cabinet positions.  The qualitative changes to  our  Parliament  and   cabinet have been  evident  through  the years since independence. This is because  many of our brainiest and talented  people  have  gone to  seek the mandate of voters before assuming  cabinet  positions.

The only  exception pertains to  any  of the four  specially elected  legislators who have gone  straight to cabinet. But  even then  in order for them to return  for a second bite at the cherry,  they have had to  present themselves  to the voters. This to me  is the way to go. Those who want to  become  cabinet  ministers must  go through the hard slog of an election in order to be  considered.                                       

 

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