By Owen Gagare
HARARE- Zimbabwe government business is virtually grounded amid revelations that most cabinet ministers and senior civil servants have joined President Robert Mugabe on leave. Mugabe went on his annual leave just before Christmas and headed to his favourite Far East destination with his family leaving Vice-President Joice Mujuru as acting president. He is only expected to resume work at the end of January.
In Mugabe’s absence, cabinet, which is already severely depleted by the non-availability of ministers, cannot sit –– meaning executive authority of the country has been compromised and key decisions cannot be made. According to Section 20.1.1 of the GPA, which gave birth to Zimbabwe’s coalition government, executive authority of the government “shall vest in, and be shared among the president, the prime minister and the cabinet, as provided for in this constitution and legislation”.
Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, the deputy chair of cabinet, is also reportedly out of the country, although he is not on official leave. Tsvangirai has not chaired cabinet since the formation of the inclusive government. The Secretary for Media, Information and Publicity and presidential spokesman George Charamba yesterday confirmed that most ministers were away, but said this was normal.
Charamba said ministers were taking advantage of Mugabe’s absence to rest at a time when government business is in recess. “When the president goes on leave, everyone takes advantage of his absence to go for a break, including the vice-presidents,” Charamba said. “In the vice-presidents’ case, Mai Mujuru acts during the first half of the president’s leave and VP Nkomo takes over for the rest of the time.From tomorrow (today), VP Nkomo will be the acting president while Mai Mujuru takes a rest.
“Similarly,” Charamba said, “most ministers have taken leave. However, a core pool of ministers, who run key ministries, remain behind to run their ministries and also act on behalf of other ministers,” said Charamba. He said ministers had not gone on leave in a chaotic manner, but they had done so with approval. The ministers, Charamba said, had been allowed to go on leave en-masse because there was little government activity during this time of the year.
“Normally, cabinet’s last sitting would be just before Christmas and it goes into recess from Christmas until the end of January. Functionally, the government has no resources because the budget was presented in December and funds will only start trickling in from mid January to the end of January because the funds are tied to revenue collection,” Charamba said.
Most ministers are away at a time civil servants are demanding salary adjustments. However, any salary adjustments for the civil service require cabinet approval and cabinet will only start sitting in February.
Although there is an acting president during Mugabe’s leave, they are known to be afraid of making critical decisions in his absence ever since he reversed a decision taken by the late Vice-President Joseph Msika and then Home Affairs minister Dumiso Dabengwa to evict war veterans who had invaded farms at the outset of land invasions in early 2000 while Mugabe was out of the country.
Later in 2000 after the June elections, the new Home Affairs minister John Nkomo ordered the eviction of war veterans who had invaded farms adjoining Chitungwiza and Kambuzuma, but Mugabe, who was in Mozambique at the time, reversed the decision on arrival. Zimbabwe’s constitution limits the power of an acting president as laid down in Section 31 (2).
It does not allow a person in an acting capacity to declare war or to make peace; enter into any international convention, treaty or agreement, dissolve or prorogue parliament; appoint or revoke the appointment of a vice-president, minister or deputy minister; or assign or reassign functions to a vice-president, minister or deputy minister, including the administration of any act of parliament or of any ministry or department, or to cancel any such assignment of functions. Zimbabwe Independent
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