Who should demand declarations of intent?

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Any ardent observer of State, ministerial and even administrative matters in the Land of the Brave cannot help but wonder about this creature called Ministerial Intent, the result of non-delivery thereof by some Cabinet ministers which has recently been a matter of public shame and reprimand by His Excellency, Dr Hage Geingob, the President of the Republic of Namibia.

Yes, one cannot but agree that where and when any Cabinet minister does not deliver or meet the deadline about anything assigned him by the President, or does not deliver on anything ordinarily within the realm or purview of the functions and powers of her/his ministry, the President as the captain of the ship must call his lieutenants to order, or advise them accordingly.

As much as the Head of State may want to be seen as a no-nonsense executive, the first and right place where to call his ministers who are unable to meet whatever deadlines, to account, is nowhere else but Cabinet itself. And of course in between the Cabinet sessions he has every right to demand accountability directly to him.

But emphasis is on Cabinet because one of the basic tenets of governance is collective responsibility, and ordinarily any minister must report to Cabinet, and as a corollary to the Presidency and the President himself, where he/she should get the necessary help and guidance in whatever assignment entrusted him/her either by the Head of State and/or by the Cabinet collective rather than resorting to public reprimands through the media.

Cabinet because the Constitution is clear on the need for consultation with Cabinet whenever the President is going about his duties, powers and functions, except in certain circumstances.

Surely, somewhere down the line, the time will and shall dawn where and when it may be necessary for the President to have his ministers account publicly. But when it becomes usual and habitual it may necessarily not be a sign of good leadership to have one’s lieutenants account publicly without affording them the chance to account first and foremost to the appointing authority, which is the President himself, and then Cabinet and ultimately the nation.
Dr Geingob is not the first Head of State to toe this line against ministers for one or the other omission, non-commission, oversight or simply dereliction of duty. His predecessors did the same. A flashback to his immediate forerunner, His Excellency Hifikepunye Pohamba, would bring back to mind the rebuke in the media, and thus public gaze, of a manager of a Namibia Development Corporation (NDC) farm for unbearable conditions of the workers on the farm. The President directly visited his wrath publicly on the farm manager and one wonders whether the NDC board of trustees, let alone the line ministry ever met any presidential wrath in this regard?
One thus could not have been but wondering whether His Excellency wants his lieutenants to act consequently and live up to the mandate entrusted them, and whether calling them to account publicly is good governance? More often than not such a public appeal would seem no more than playing to the public gallery rather than captainship of a ship whether sinking, still chartering the troubled waters or sailing in calm waters. One cannot but also wonder how many a time such authoritativeness has and is being followed up by face-to-face directives from the Head of State to the relevant minister?

But back to the actual motivation for this column, which is the public reprimands or if you like the showmanship at public reprimand, some of the ministers had been subjected to lately by the Head of State for being unable to respond in time to delivering the Declaration of their Ministerial Intent – one has been wondering whether asking this of the ministries may not be putting the cart before the horse? Would it not have been incumbent upon the appointing authority to first lay down some presidential briefs to the appointees as a basis for the expected declarations of intent?

This is in order to establish the necessary collectiveness in line with the enhanced or/and revised vision, the requisite emphasis by the Head of State and the realignment of priorities rather than expecting individual ministries to come out of the wilderness with declarations of intent, which may be based on sheer imagination.

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