HARARE – President Emmerson Mnangagwa is under pressure to appoint his Cabinet ahead of his trip to the Far East on Friday where he is scheduled to attend the Beijing Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC).
Since his inauguration four days ago, the country has effectively been operating without a Cabinet, with former ministers affected by the dissolution of the previous bureau only performing ceremonial duties.
Permanent secretaries have therefore taken over government business while Mnangagwa is operating as a lone ranger in the cockpit.
Mnangagwa’s spokesperson George Charamba yesterday said he could not comment on the new Cabinet because it was the prerogative of the president to do so.
He said: “I cannot speak before the president has spoken”.
In terms of the Constitution, the tenure of office of a minister or deputy minister becomes vacant upon the assumption of office by a new president.
As such, Mnangagwa finds himself in an invidious spot of bother whereby he cannot travel to China on Friday without a functional Cabinet because he would need to leave behind an acting president to perform executive functions in his absence.
Legal experts are therefore expecting him to unveil his line-up before the trip to Beijing where he will also meet Chinese President Xi Jinping to discuss Africa-China and Zimbabwe-China cooperation.
Three days ago, Jinping dispatched his special envoy, Su Hui, to deliver his congratulations on Mnangagwa’s inauguration.
Su, also vice chairperson of the 13th National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, took the opportunity to applaud Mnangagwa’s participation at FOCAC and his contribution to the success of the summit.
The summit, according to Harare, is to bring the China-Africa and China-Zimbabwe comprehensive strategic partnership of cooperation to a higher level.
The two countries share close ties, dating as far back as the 1970s when Beijing used to support the war of liberation.
The relationship has since been cemented following the fallout between Zimbabwe and its former colonial master, Britain, over former president Robert Mugabe’s autocratic rule.
Opinion is divided on whether Mnangagwa could appoint his Cabinet before Members of Parliament have been sworn in since his ministers would be drawn from the legislative assembly.
Constitutional law expert Craig Lennington said his reading of the national charter was that while the Constitution was clear on the dissolution of Cabinet, ministers could still continue holding their offices even if they are no longer lawmakers.
“Ministers can hold office even if there are not MPs; the key word is that he can appoint new ministers who can function until they are sworn-in,” Lennington told the Daily News.
Constitutional law expert Alex Magaisa said Zimbabwe was on autopilot as ministers lost their posts on Sunday.
“It’s common cause that in terms of section 108(1)(c) ministerial posts became vacant on Sunday when Mnangagwa was inaugurated. It’s important for the president to appoint Cabinet as soon as possible to avoid one-man rule or having individuals masquerading as ministers when they are not properly appointed,” said Magaisa.
Lawyer and opposition leader Obert Gutu said the ideal situation was that Mnangagwa should have appointed his Cabinet soon after his swearing in.
“Constitutionally speaking, Zimbabwe doesn’t have a Cabinet at the present moment and of course, this vacuum raises very serious issues pertaining to governmental stability and continuity.
“Technically speaking, there is no Cabinet minister who is lawfully in office right now until such a time that a new Cabinet has been appointed. We expect President Mnangagwa to appoint his new Cabinet as soon as possible in order to fully comply with his constitutional mandate and obligations,” said Gutu.
But as Mnangagwa weighs his options, officials in his party are busy positioning themselves for strategic postings in government.
Covert and overt lobbying has been on show lately, with officials trying to curry favour with Mnangagwa and some of his trusted lieutenants.
On Sunday, Zanu PF officials went to great lengths to get his attention, with others exaggerating their contribution to his wafer-thin victor.