Thursday, October 28, 2021

Finance ministry’s name change reflected post-2018 reality

It would be cynical to suggest that the name of the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning was changed for this reason but the coincidence is just too great, too vivid to ignore.

Right from independence in 1966, that is the name that the ministry has carried but last year it was changed to the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development. In the telling of Government Enclave’s insiders, the ministry’s role in the development planning process has been greatly diminished and with such development, the role of development planners as well. In the precise words of a ministry official, “We no longer do planning; all we do is just disburse money.”

That will be the legacy of President Ian Khama with regard to his approach to public finance management. The founding fathers in Presidents Sir Seretse Khama and his successor, Sir Ketumile Masire, are said to have had a lot of confidence in economists which is why most of them held senior political and administrative posts in the public service.  For the most obvious reasons, most economists were in the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning. Beginning in 1966, successive pieces of legislation concentrated a lot of statutory power over public finances in that ministry. As Director of Economic Affairs during Masire’s presidency, Kenneth Matambo (who is the current Minister of Finance and Economic Development) is said to have been so powerful that he was assistant minister in all but name. Successive finance ministers themselves were so powerful that they were put on an imaginary list of “senior cabinet ministers.” As the parliament speaker, Gladys Kokorwe, pointed out two years ago, there is no such pecking order. That notwithstanding, there is no doubt that when Khama became vice president in 1998, the finance minister had a lot of power and that the status quo was preserved by someone (President Festus Mogae) who was both an economist and had himself been finance minister.

On becoming president on April 1, 2008, Khama wasted no time in indirectly transferring this immense power to the Office of the President. Certain functions were transferred out to newly established agencies that were directly placed under OP. What are now called the Government Implementation Coordination Office and the National Strategy Office are a reincarnation of functions that were previously carried out in the old finance ministry. In 2015, Khama became even more brazen, circumventing statutory process by establishing the economic stimulus package (ESP) programme. In terms of the law, only the finance ministry can disburse public funds but OP now does that through ESP. The planning for the projects was itself not done at the finance ministry but OP. Through this programme, OP has usurped the mandate of another government department ÔÇô the Public Procurement and Asset Disposal Board (PPADB) which has legal mandate to adjudicate multi-million pula tenders in the central government.

Khama inherited Mogae’s finance minister, Baledzi Gaolathe, who was soon transferred to the Ministry of Trade and Industry as part of a plan to dismantle the old power structure. Gaolathe, who died in 2010, was replaced by Matambo whom sources say is not as assertive with Khama as Gaolathe was and has less power and influence as finance minister than he had as Director of Economic Affairs. The ministry still disburses finance but it is OP that does the development planning.

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