AT a time when the surge in Covid-19-related deaths is dramatic, amid new rampant cases of the pandemic, the Zimbabwean government’s primary policy-making body – cabinet – has not been meeting, The NewsHawks has established.
The last time Zimbabwe’s cabinet met was on 8 December 2020. This well before President Emmerson Mnangagwa went on his annual leave from 1 January 2021 to 1 February 2021.
Mnangagwa’s co-deputies, Mohadi and Constantino Chiwenga, alternated as acting president in-between. Mohadi held the fort from 1 January to 14 January, while Chiwenga came in from 15 January to 1 February, although he was hardly visible as he was said to have been “exhausted”.
Chiwenga’s health is frail after he fell seriously ill and was flown as an emergency to China for medical treatment in 2019.
However, there was confusion within the executive yesterday after Mnangagwa addressed as someone back at work, while Chiwenga issued a statement, saying he was still the acting president.
Mohadi and Chiwenga did not hold any cabinet meetings for the whole of last month, just as Mnangagwa failed to do so this week upon his return to work. Prior to that, he had failed to hold cabinet after 8 December 2020.
The failure by cabinet to meet has raised eyebrows and fundamental questions on Mnangagwa’s leadership form and content, style and fitness to govern. It has also raised queries about decisions which have been made and announced of late to contain Covid-19, as well as on other issues — suggesting an arbitrary exercise of power or dereliction of duty, or both.
Zimbabwe’s government is run through a cabinet system. Hence, cabinet makes critical decisions and interventions for government ministries, departments and authorities — the professional state bureaucracy – to implement.
The Office of the President and Cabinet is the highest office in the land. It comprises Mnangagwa, Mohadi and Chiwenga, cabinet ministers and ministers of state.
Section 105 of the constitution states that cabinet consists of the President, his two deputies and ministers appointed by the head of state to the cabinet. The Attorney-General and Chief Secretary to the President and Cabinet are ex-officio members of cabinet.
The same section of the Supreme Law further states that: “Cabinet meetings are presided over by the President or, in his absence, by a Vice-President or, in their absence, by a minister referred to in Section 100 (1)(c).”
This suggest cabinet does not only have to meet when the President is there; it can and should meet even in his absence given its critical role in decision-making and governance processes.
But when Mnangagwa was on leave none of his deputies chaired a cabinet meeting. Even then, cabinet had last meet on 8 December before he went on leave.
When he came back on Tuesday — traditional cabinet meeting day — Mnangagwa did not convene an expected cabinet meeting, physically or virtually.
There are always post-cabinet media briefings introduced after Mnangagwa came into power in 2017.
The last one was on 8 December 2020. Constitutionally, Mnangagwa’s office exists to capacitate and help him in leading state and government institutions to execute his constitutional responsibilities and duties. This is articulated in Section 89 and 90 of the constitution.
The office is mandated to provide strategic policy direction, coordination, monitoring, advisory oversight, planning and ensuring efficient service delivery of government ministries and departments.
While the cabinet is in hiatus, Covid-19 cases and deaths spiked.
Nearly 1000 people died while Mnangagwa was away.
After the last cabinet meeting, at the 44thpost-cabinet briefing, government said Zimbabwe had 1 0547 confirmed cases of Covid-19.
When Mnangagwa went on his official leave on 1 January 4, Zimbabwe had 369 deaths and cumulatively 15 829 cases.
Upon his return on February 1, there were 1 234 Covid-19 fatalities. This means 865 people died while he was away. As of yesterday there were 34 171 cases and 1 288 fatalities.
While Mnangagwa was away, there was little visibility for his deputies on Covid-19-related issues, or anything related to public affairs.
While he was acting president, Mohadi made some statements on purported availability of intensive care unit beds, while Chiwenga, who was largely holed up at his Chinese villa in Borrowdale, announced the renewed lockdown and made a few remarks.
Mnangagwa yesterday announced Zimbabwe had finalised plans on its Covid-19 vaccine rollout, adding 60% of the population would be targeted during the first phase.
While government appeared to have been on auto-pilot, an inter-ministerial task force on Covid-19 was occasionally making decisions apparently directed by the president.
Last March, Mnangagwa appointed 11-member inter-ministerial ad hoc taskforce on Covid-19 after Zimbabwe reported first cases of the pandemic.
The taskforce includes former Health minister Obadiah Moyo, who chaired the team, July Moyo, deputy chair (Local Government and Public Works), Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri (Defence and War Veterans Affairs), Kazembe Kazembe (Home Affairs and Cultural Heritage), the late Foreign Affairs minister Sibusiso Moyo, the late Transport minister Joel Biggie Matiza, Mangaliso Ndlovu (Environment, Climate, Tourism and Hospitality Industry), Mthuli Ncube (Finance and Economic Development), Professor Amon Murwira (Higher and Tertiary Education, Innovation and Science Technology Development and Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services Monica Mutsvangwa.
Moyo, Matiza and Shiri succumbed to Covid-19. Manicaland Provincial Affairs minister Ellen Gwaradzimba also died of coronavirus. In the absence of post-cabinet briefings, then acting Information minister Jenfan Muswere periodically issued statements on important issues.
Kudzai Kadzere, a Harare-based human rights lawyer, said while the constitution is silent on how regular cabinet should meet, Clause 3 of the country’s Supreme Law which deals with the national objectives speaks to good governance, which implies it is a requirement for cabinet to meet regularly.
Good governance cannot be served by erratic meetings or a cabinet hiatus.
“Cabinet is the highest decision-making body and citizens expect all-hands-on deck from it, especially during a time of an emergency like right now with the Covid-19 situation. The failure by cabinet to meet regularly, as implied in the constitution, is serious dereliction of duty. While there is a taskforce in place dealing with the pandemic it is not enough and does not and cannot substitute cabinet,” Kadzere told The NewsHawks in an interview.
“It must also be remembered that cabinet has a five-year tenure derived from the national elections. Its scope for operation is thus limited, hence time lost cannot be recovered, particularly during such times of adversity and crisis due to Covid-19.”