The Zuma administration has a fabulous, hardly-been-used mechanism for rating the performance of Cabinet ministers. Perhaps the president will employ the findings of his performance, monitoring and evaluation system to purge the deadwood from his executive. But alas, he may just need the deadwood to help him fight off contenders in Mangaung. What to do? By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.
President Jacob Zuma returns triumphantly to South Africa from the Ethiopian capital after concerted behind-the-scenes diplomatic wrangling secured the African Union Commission chairwomanship for home affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
The world will probably never find out what exactly South Africa did to outsmart and outgun the powerful West African states under the banner of Ecowas, which sponsored the incumbent Jean Ping’s bid. But Zuma, backed by the Southern African Development Community, was hell-bent on obtaining the position no matter how much it would sour relations with francophone countries on the continent.
Dlamini-Zuma now vacates the home affairs portfolio after achieving a remarkable turnaround in the performance of the department in just three years. It was long anticipated that, should Dlamini-Zuma win the AU vote, another Cabinet reshuffle would be in the offing just over a month since Zuma re-jigged his executive.
The last reshuffle came as something of a surprise because, though the death of the former public service and administration minister Roy Padayachie had created a vacancy, it was not expected that Zuma would use the opportunity to move ministers and deputy ministers about.
This time around, though, the country’s commentariat is willing a major reshuffle as Zuma considers a replacement for Dlamini-Zuma at home affairs – someone who would keep the turnaround on course and hopefully not let the crucial department regress to the state of dysfunction and disorder it used to be in.
With basic education minister Angie Motshekga having bathed herself in shame and ineptitude over the Limpopo textbooks scandal, there have been several calls for her to resign or to be fired. Motshekga has apologised to Zuma for the fiasco and the presidency has instigated a task team investigation – one of the three – to find out what went wrong and how to prevent a recurrence.
It is difficult to read whether Motshekga’s apology has placated Zuma and whether he is willing to overlook the shambles of the schooling system and retain her in the post. With the president now presented with the opportunity to re-arrange Cabinet, he can demonstrate his much-talked-about commitment to education – supposedly the focal point of his presidency – by rescuing the portfolio from the grip of Motshekga’s incompetence.
The problem with Cabinet reshuffles is that they are rarely motivated by the need to remove deadwood and improve performance. This is despite the fact that the country was led to believe the outcomes-based approach of the Zuma administration meant that ministers will be rated according to their performance agreements with the president.
Government adopted 12 outcomes to measure performance and delivery. These were:
- basic education,
- safety and security,
- rural development,
- human settlements,
- local government,
- international relations, and
- public service.
In April 2010, Zuma signed performance agreements with all Cabinet ministers. These were fleshed out into delivery agreements for the 12 outcomes. All departments, agencies and spheres of government that are involved in the direct delivery required to achieve an outcome were party to the agreements.
This was done in order to professionalise the work of government and improve synergies between departments, spheres of government and state agencies. The performance, monitoring and evaluation ministry is supposed to monitor the progress of the delivery agreements through a dynamic system of tracking and reporting.
That was how it was supposed to work. In theory.
If the system is still in operation, South Africans are not being kept abreast of how it is functioning. We have never been told if there has ever been a time when the system’s sirens started ringing when some or other minister fell hopelessly behind in reaching their targets.
For example, the basic education outcome requires the minister to improve the quality of teaching and learning, including through increasing access to high quality learning materials. Surely the tracking system would have been screeching for the past six months considering there were no textbooks getting to Limpopo’s schools – let alone “high quality learning materials”.
If so, why were officials from the presidency not breaking down Motshekga’s door to find out why there is such a serious breach in delivery? This must mean Motshekga has failed hopelessly in her performance agreement. Problem is, government has never really explained what would happen if Cabinet ministers flunk their performance agreements with the president.
But while mid-term through his administration would be an ideal to rate the performance of his Cabinet and purge the dunces, 2012 is not the year for big gambles. Zuma has his eye on the big prize - the ANC presidency - and will not take major risks that can antagonise parts of his constituency. He also needs to keep his playmakers on-side.
Ministers are not chosen to serve in the executive because they are the most capable among South Africa’s 50-million citizens to do so. The president has a pool of MPs to choose from – he is allowed by the Constitution to select two people outside Parliament to serve in the executive – and makes his selection in order to satisfy constituencies, maintain gender, ethnic and provincial balances, and put his key allies in strategic portfolios. Cabinet reshuffles therefore need to be conducted prudently to maintain this formula.
In an election year such as this, it is even more crucial to move the chess pieces carefully and not make drastic moves over trifling things like performance.
Motshekga may be utterly useless as basic education minister but extremely useful to Zuma as president of the ANC Women’s League. The women’s league, along with the ANC Youth League and Veteran’s League, has full voting powers at the Mangaung ANC elective conference in December. They have the same powers as provinces to make nominations for the top six positions and the national executive committee.
Therefore, upsetting the league by firing its president would be a really bad idea for Zuma. The ANC Youth League has become his biggest adversary precisely because of the anger over his treatment of its former president, Julius Malema. Rolling the dice with another league, especially one that is so ardently behind his second-term bid, would be foolhardy.
In any event, Zuma can defer the basic education crisis by saying he has to wait for the outcome of the task team investigation into the textbook saga, and cannot act against anyone before he has the findings before him.
But he still faces the dilemma of who to appoint at home affairs. The most obvious person to fill the position would be Dlamini-Zuma’s former understudy when he was her deputy, and the rising star in Cabinet, Malusi Gigaba.
But Gigaba is a member of what is referred to in anti-Zuma circles as “the Zulu quartet” running Zuma’s second-term campaign: police minister Nathi Mthethwa, state security minister Siyabonga Cwele, higher education minister Blade Nzimande and Gigaba.
One Cabinet minister says Gigaba is most useful to Zuma’s campaign where he is - at public enterprises - because he can “shake the money tree” whenever he needs to. Facetious it may sound, but presidential campaigns require resources to lobby structures – resources which the ANC does not dole out to candidates. Gigaba is also overseeing government’s R500-billion infrastructure rollout and therefore wields tremendous power over what gets built where and who gets to build it.
Similarly, none of the other members of the “quartet” can easily be moved, although all three have been involved in running battles in their respective departments. If any of them are moved, it would have to be to portfolios where they would have greater lobbying power.
It remains to be seen whether Zuma will act quickly to replace Dlamini-Zuma or will bide his time to fill the vacancy in Cabinet. He has had several months to consider who could take up the post because the AU has been beckoning Dlamini-Zuma since January. But because it will be his last big move with Cabinet before Mangaung – barring another death – Zuma will look to seal his campaign and secure his champions.
So the ministerial performance agreements will probably remain locked in the Union Buildings for some time to come. DM
Photo: South African President Jacob Zuma stands beside Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe before his State of the Nation address at Parliament in Cape Town February 9, 2012. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings