Mugabe cannot appoint acting ministers: MDC

HARARE – Robert Mugabe’s intention to appoint acting ministers to replace members of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC party who have stopped attending Cabinet meetings is unconstitutional, the MDC said on Wednesday as the fallout in Zimbabwe’s troubled coalition continues to deepen.

“The announced intention by ZANU PF to appoint acting ministers through the office of the President is not only unfortunate but it is as illegal as it is ill-thought,” the MDC said in a statement.

Tsvangirai and his MDC two weeks ago stopped attending Cabinet meetings and said they were cutting cooperation with Mugabe and his ZANU PF party to protest the veteran leader’s refusal to fully implement last year’s global political agreement (GPA) that gave birth to the coalition government.

The MDC action was also in protest against the arrest of one of its senior officials, Roy Bennett, on controversial terrorism charges that the Prime Minister says are politically motivated and a further breach of the GPA.

Tsvangirai and his MDC ministers again boycotted the yesterday’s Cabinet meeting, throwing the eight-month-old coalition into a quandary and leading to the announcement by Mugabe’s ZANU PF of the intention to appoint acting ministers.

“It is self-evident that Zimbabwe at the present is on a precipice following the decision announced by the MDC president on the 16th October 2009 to disengage the MDC from the two executive organs of government where it interacts with ZANU PF; namely Cabinet and the Council of Ministers,” the statement said.

“Such a decision, which was made on the backdrop of a serious history of callous disregard to the GPA and lack of respect of the MDC as an equal partner is a decision with grave constitutional implications.”

The MDC said its action meant that executive power was crippled and Mugabe, whose spokesman George Charamba boasted early this week that government would continue working without the MDC, cannot make substantive decisions without consultation with his coalition partners – Tsvangirai and another MDC faction leader, Arthur Mutambara.

“Executive power resides in office of the President, the Prime Minister and Cabinet. The proper quorum and representation of Cabinet does not lie in individual ministries but in their respective political organs,”

“Put simply, Cabinet executive power is being shared by the three political parties represented in the same. That means that if one of the political parties withdraws from that Cabinet, then the same cannot function and the same cannot make any meaningful decision.

State media reported on Wednesday that Mugabe could soon appoint acting ministers from his ZANU PF party to carry out duties of MDC Cabinet members – a move that effectively shows that the MDC disengagement has paralysed government operations.

"With the agricultural season upon us, the issue of portfolio leadership at ministerial level has to be addressed by His Excellency the President as the Head of State and Government one way or the other,” the state-controlled Herald newspaper quoted Media and Information Minister Webster Shamu as saying.

"His Excellency may have to consider appointing ministers in an acting capacity to key ministries for the sake of a successful agricultural season and general economic turnaround.

“Important Cabinet decisions have to be translated into action expeditiously," Shamu told the Herald.

But the MDC said according to the GPA, Mugabe can only appoint or fire ministers after consulting his coalition partners.

“Furthermore, it was clearly defined that ministers and deputy ministers may be relieved of their duties only after consultation of the principals of the parties participating in the inclusive government,” said the MDC, adding; “What ZANU PF intends to do is not to appoint acting ministers, but to usurp the Constitution of Zimbabwe by appointing their own ministers.”

Tsvangirai and Mugabe met on Monday, when the former opposition leader returned from a tour of regional capitals to drum up support to try to exert pressure on the 85-year-old Mugabe, but failed to reach agreement on the power-sharing dispute threatening the shaky coalition government.

A team of ministers from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) politics and security organ – also known as the Troika – is expected in Zimbabwe today to review progress of the country’s power-sharing government.

Analysts say neither Mugabe nor Tsvangirai wants to see the coalition government collapse because both stand to benefit from its continued existence. However, they warn that the incessant squabbles between the two could in the long-run cripple the administration and render it ineffective. – ZimOnline