Birth of indigenisation super minister

IN May last year Public Service minister Eliphas Mukonoweshuro took umbrage at his MDC-T colleague Finance minister Tendai Biti’s announcement that government had frozen civil servants’ salaries.

His gripe was that the Finance minister was encroaching into his purview as Labour minister. He warned Biti that “government did not operate on the basis of super ministers”.

“All issues pertaining to the Ministry of Public Service, i.e., remuneration issues, conditions of service, human resources policy and management, etc, are the responsibility and central mandate of the responsible minister and no one else,” Mukonoweshuro said.

“This government does not operate on the basis of super ministers who may frequently arrogate to themselves responsibilities that are neither in their present province of competence nor designated mandate.”

There is perhaps no greater evidence of this arrogation of overarching powers by a minister than the influence that Indigenisation and Youth minister Saviour Kasukuwere is exerting across portfolios in the unity government.

Biti’s actions, like those of any Finance minister, are bound to encroach into domains of other ministries. His colleagues, as was the case with Mukonoweshuro, can however publicly censure him for trespassing. Kasukuwere is however living a charmed life. Who in Zanu PF can publicly raise a finger against him at the moment?

He has become a super minister who currently has the nation in a spin as he throws his weight around, and in many an instance, literally.

This newfound power has been given impetus by President Robert Mugabe, constantly urging him to target certain firms for expropriation.

He now carries the President’s brief on the indigenisation project and isn’t he loving it; like a kid with a new toy.  

His boisterous behaviour at a business dialogue organised by our sister paper the Zimbabwe Independent last year, was no flash in the pan. He is enjoying his place in the sun.

As the presidential wind blows under Kasukuwere’s wings, what is more than apparent is the power that the minister now wields in other portfolios including those that are held by his colleagues in Zanu PF.

He can decide investment policy and who invests in banking, mining, industry, farming, tourism and infrastructure development.

All these sectors are manned by whole ministers who now have Kasukuwere as an unseen guest at all meetings with potential investors.

His feverish behaviour however, we are told, is an agitation for equitable distribution of wealth.

But cynics like myself are worried whether with his newfound political power, Kasukuwere would achieve the desired goals of wealth distribution and at the same time ensure that the economy continues on the recovery path.

Political ambition and sweeping legislative power are not always the right ingredients to achieving prudent development in a country.

Kasukuwere’s political power is not just resident in the word of the President but also in the indigenisation law, which is laced with clauses that appear to have been crafted to transfer wealth to a specific group of people.

The minister, under the law, is empowered to come up with a register of persons who are potential beneficiaries of controlling interests in non-indigenous businesses.

The law is silent on the criteria set out for the purpose of determining who ought to be entered on the database and who ought to be excluded.

Researcher Derek Matyszak, writing on the Idasa website, says: “The legislation merely provides that if the minister is satisfied that the application is made in good faith, the applicant shall be registered in the database.”

Does this not leave the minister with fairly broad discretionary powers as to who may be put forward as a participant in an indigenisation scheme?

That is not all. The law also gives the minister what Matyszak refers to as “unfettered discretion to decide whether to approve or reject an indigenisation plan or to attach conditions to such a plan”.

Matyszak adds: “This arrangement leaves the possibility of plans being accepted or rejected on the basis of who — rather than what — is proposed in the indigenisation plan. Rejection may be based upon the extent to which the terms of indigenisation are beneficial to the person identified as a partner rather than whether they meet the criteria set out in the Act.

Although the exercise of the discretion ought to depend upon compliance with legislated indigenisation requirements, cronyism and corruption in this regard will be extremely difficult to prove or prevent.

“By placing the procedure in the hands of the minister rather than the board and by giving the minister such a broad discretion, the legislation thus appears purposely designed to allow the minister the possibility of compelling, against the threat of rejection of an indigenisation plan, the inclusion of selected individuals identified by the minister in indigenisation plans and the inclusion of such persons only on terms which the minister deems sufficiently beneficial. Oddly, and significantly, no appeal lies against a ministerial decision to reject an indigenisation plan other than in limited specified circumstances.”

The rejection of indigenisation plans has already started.

The jury is still out on whether the rejections have anything to do with political patronage.

What’s fundamental though is that Kasukuwere as a super minister needs to tread with caution in the employment of the power in his grasp.

His peers cannot challenge him lest they are accused of rebelling against the executive.

The MDC side of the unity government is usually dismissed as insidious elements who have always opposed President Mugabe’s empowerment policies.

On two key moments lately, President Mugabe has openly urged Kasukuwere to unleash the indigenisation project on select firms.

This is usually all one needs to be a super minister: Mugabe’s word.

As he exercises the presidential will, he should be mindful of history.

A number of his colleagues in government have travelled this road before.

Jonathan Moyo, Joseph Made, Didymus Mutasa and RBZ governor Gideon Gono have at some point in their lives earned this uncanny distinction of supermen.

It lasted as long as their principal allowed them to bask in the glory.

There is a game President Mugabe plays very effectively. It is disempowering one group to empower his man of the moment. – This article was first published in the NewsDay