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.