It was supposed to be part of a routine announcement on the appointments and deployment of senior public servants.
Instead the latest announcement which among other things reversed an earlier one to retire Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture Micus Chimbombi has set tongues wagging across the entire public service.
“Dr Micus C. Chimbombi continues as Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture with immediate effect,” read a statement from Government Communications Unit, signed by Morupisi.
Chimbombi, it had been announced earlier would retire in May.
He was penciled to be succeeded by one Boipolelo Khumomatlhare.
At the centre of Chimbombi’s retirement reversal is the question of just who really runs the civil service: Is it the current Permanent Secretary to the President, Carter Morupisi or is it the Minister for Presidential Affairs, Eric Molale?
It is important to note that Molale ascended to his current political office, straight from his job as Permanent Secretary to the President.
On the face of it, the announcement was pretty harmless, but insiders say there is more to it than meets the eye.
Observers read a turf war which is at play among key mandarins inside the Office of the President.
Insiders say the decision to reverse the retirement of Dr Chimbombi points to the fact that current Permanent Secretary to the President Carter Morupisi is only a nominal figure in the greater scheme of things. Power still resides with Molale.
They say a decision to reverse Dr Chimbombi’s retirement has all the hallmarks of a PSP that is struggling to exert his authority against a predecessor who does not want to relinquish his past power trappings.
“Morupisi has not yet emerged from Molale’s shadows,” said an official at the Office of the President.
Although Molale supported the ascendance of Morupisi in the face of opposition from other power forces, notably the intelligence services, the fact that Molale only moved to an adjacent office just a few meters away complicates the working relations of the two men.
“Molale has never fully accepted that he is no longer Permanent Secretary to the President. He sincerely believes that is still his territory,” said a senior official familiar with the internal power dynamics.┬á┬á
But why was Chimbombi initially retired, to start with?
Dr Chimbombi and Morupisi have crossed paths before during their early days as middle level civil servants.
At the time, Chimbombi was senior and professionally trained, while Morupisi was junior and very much a product of work experience.
One of their contemporaries says the relationship between the two men was not always a cordial one.
The tables have now changed.
Morupisi has become the leader of the civil service ÔÇô at least in name – with powers to not only transfer and promote but also retire Dr Chimbombi as it happened when it was previously announced that he would retire on May. It would seem like Morupisi thinks this is the time to get even with his former boss, not an easy thing to achieve under the current dynamics where as it seems, power really resides elsewhere.
Another question to ask is just why is it important that Chimbombi is retained? Whose interests does he serve?
Chimbombi is a crucial part of the infrastructure that was put in place by Molale during his days as PSP. The two have had a relationship going far beyond the call of government official duty.
As administrative head in the Ministry of Agriculture, Chimbombi is the point and contact man for the commercial farming lobby interest of which Molale is a fast emerging kingpin.
The Minister for Presidential Affairs is a leading member of the Mosesedi farmers association ÔÇô a Barolong constituency based farming lobby group, who a while ago were said to be unhappy with the retirement of Chimbombi, their erstwhile man at the Ministry of Agriculture.┬á┬á
Legally Morupisi is supposed to report to President Ian Khama, but in practice Molale’s shadow looms large over all Morupisi’s decisions.
The situation is made all the more complicated by a special relationship that Molale enjoys with President Khama ÔÇô a relationship that Morupisi can only be envious of.
There is a precedent with what is currently happening with Chimbombi.
When he became PSP during the tenure of former president, Festus Mogae, it seemed like Molale had already made up his mind against the then Permanent Secretary Samuel Rathedi, who as it was had up to then been much senior to Molale. Rathedi had also been a contender for the position of PSP.
But as fate would have it Rathedi was summarily retired, only to come back into the civil service at the behest of Ian Khama when he ascended the presidency.
A little later, Rathedi was demoted igniting whispers of a long history of bad blood between him and the then PSP Molale.