The inauguration of the fifth president of this republic was immediately followed by the shaping or reshaping of both the political and administrative leaders of the executive arm of government. A vice president was selected and endorsed by the majority in parliament, which was later followed by the appointment of cabinet on the same day. These two major events were followed by the reshuffling of the administrative leadership through transfers, appointments and promotions to senior positions in the civil service. The completion of the three exercises means the new presidency has shown his card on whom he believes would assist him drive, lead and direct the development process of the country going forward.
The endorsement of the vice president was probably pre-determined by the elevation/choice of the current vice president to the chairmanship of the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) prior to the president presenting his choice to parliament. Historically the chairperson of the BDP central committee has also served as vice president of the country and nothing suggested a departure from the norm/practice despite speculations of other names for the vice presidency. The combining of party chairperson and vice presidency in one individual consolidates the government-party power centre and seemingly makes running the party and government easier. The lingering question around the vice presidency is whether this choice by the president is short term one leading to elections with the intention of selecting the long term vice president after the 2019 elections, in the event the BDP wins elections or if indeed the choice is both short and long term. This remains to be seen and for now it appears to have a stabilization effect for the BDP going into the 2019 elections.
Appointment of cabinet was one event eagerly awaited by most as it was to give a clearer picture of the new presidency’s approach to the stability of both the party and government and a number of pointers emerged from the new cabinet as appointed. Firstly, there have been reports of a potential marginalization of some former cabinet ministers and members of parliament that are perceived to have not supported the president during the BDP electoral congress. This has not happened as quite a number of them have been appointed or retained as ministers, suggesting that in the short term the party leadership understands the importance of a stable BDP going into the elections. It is however another matter if indeed like the vice presidency these appointments are only short term with the intention of making more “preferred” appointments after the elections as and when the party wins elections. Secondly, it should also be telling to look at who was appointed for which ministry, in terms of matching the experience, qualifications (in certain individuals) and knowledge of government work possessed by this ministers and the mandates, functions and responsibilities of the ministries they will head.
It would appear that while in some ministries the above were considered and used as a guide, there are still some ministers who were appointed purely for other considerations other than the requisite experiences and knowledge of the ministry’s sectorial responsibilities. It is possible that some appointments were purely political and may had very little if any to do with competencies and a close match of experience and knowledge to the ministry’s functions. To the extent that a few ministers have been appointed to ministries where they have experience of and qualities to directly relate and understand the ministry’s work, it could be assumed that it’s in part addressing the envisaged role of ministers as political leaders who exercise substantial administrative authority in ministerial decision making as has been the case lately. It remains to be seen if this will be the trend or the bulk of the executive role of government will be retained in the bureaucracy as the professional and expert gurus of government work and public policy policies’ through crafting, initiation and analysis as well as policy choices. The management of the political-administration interface and the politic-administration dichotomy are going to be interesting developments worth observing in the new administration.
The reasoning and guide used to appoint cabinet seems to have also been used in the transfers, promotions and appointments to civil service senior positions. There are those promotions, appointments and transfers that would seem to have been rationalization of individuals’ qualifications, experience and competencies in relation tom their new positions and this for some of us ought to have been the dominant consideration. This would have gone a long way in promoting meritocracy in the civil service and restoring the professional integrity of the public service. There are however, some promotions, transfers and appointments that have still largely ignored the qualifications, experiences and competencies of some of the individuals relative to positions they have been appointed to. This will overall create scepticism and doubt about civil service leadership and the total adherence to professional advice to be given by these individuals to the political leadership.
It is this civil service leadership positions appointments that ought to have been based purely on merit and a strict matching of one’s qualifications, experience and competencies to the responsibilities of the position. I still argue that given the training of the civil servants and experiences gained over the years, it is very possible to ensure that all senior civil service and indeed public service positions, could be filled by the right individuals. One of the fundamentals of public service appointments is to endeavour to have the “right people, in the right places” and avoid having a visible percentage of the “right people, in the wrong places” and the “wrong people in the wrong places”. A dominance of the latter two in the public service would only point to a public service that has low morale, lacks vibrant and constructive engagement with stakeholders on public policy matters, potential for unethical practices and half-baked advices to the political leadership.
Above all when appointments in the civil service are compromised, then the old evils of malfeasance, misfeasance and nonfeasance often reigns rampantly in the conduct, practices and behaviour of civil servants. This takes away the responsibility to expertly and professionally advice the political leadership through well rationalised and objective public policy choices and the long term result is loss of integrity in both the public service and ultimately the government.
Dan Molaodi teaches Public Administration at the University of Botswana