Saturday, November 02, 2013

People surrounding the President
By Editor
Mon 07 Oct. 2013, 14:00 CAT

Chief Matanda of Mansa district says he has reservations about some people surrounding President Michael Sata because they do not share his vision for the country.

This doesn't seem to be a new argument. This argument used to be heard during Dr Kenneth Kaunda's days when many used to say that he was a good man but some of the people who surrounded him were not good enough.

Some people used to praise Frederick Chiluba, saying he was a very good leader but some of the people around him were not that good and were causing problems for him.

We heard similar things said about Levy Mwanawasa and Rupiah Banda. It seems all our presidents have been good but some of the people they appointed had problems. How should these concerns be dealt with?

Our laws give the president a lot of discretionary powers to appoint citizens to various government and state positions. And in our political parties, party presidents also have varying powers to make certain appointments. This is a prerogative they have. And the choices they make are purely theirs.

Our presidents carry a lot of responsibilities; they have a lot of work to do. And they need the help of other people to carry out their functions. They have rights to create certain positions in government that will enable them to function well and deliver efficiently, effectively and in an orderly way on their obligations to the people.
The people our presidents appoint to assist them should be able to compensate for their bosses' weaknesses, inadequacies and even failures.

While our presidents derive great experience from the exercise of their functions as heads of state and government, they do not have the privilege of being - nor could they be - specialists in all economic and social spheres. They are basically politicians - in itself one of the most difficult tasks in today's world - and above all, they must be responsible ones. Therefore, they need people with certain skills, experience or knowledge to help them, to work with them, to work for them. And the list of such people is very long. The president needs a suitable vice-president to help him or her. The president also needs all sorts of ministers and deputy ministers, a secretary to the Cabinet and all sorts of permanent secretaries. Diplomats and their assistants also have to be appointed by the president. There are also appointments to various state agencies, including those dealing with national security, intelligence and law enforcement. The president also plays a very important and critical role in the appointment of key Judiciary and judicial officers.

If the president appoints the right people, capable people, his or her job becomes easier and the possibility of delivering on electoral promises increases. If the appointments are poor, wherever there is a poor appointment, problems start and delivery on promises is jeopardised.

We know that making these appointments is not an easy undertaking for any president. And the more appointments one makes, the more difficult the situation becomes. It is not possible for one to know all the best people, all the most suitable individuals for the jobs on offer. It means some of the appointments the president makes are as a result of consultations and lobbying.

In this country, the president has a very long list and his office is full of job applicants. There are all sorts of people queueing to be appointed this or that. Some are people the president has been involved with in his political struggles. Others are cadres of the ruling party.

Then there is a long queue of relatives and friends who want jobs from the relative or friend who is in a position to make appointments to various government and state offices. And sometimes those who are the best suited for the jobs don't join the queue of patronage and the president doesn't in any way get to know them. Sometimes those who need these jobs the most are inclined the least. Most of the appointments the president has to make, there are no adverts - it is simply a question of headhunt. In the end, the appointments made from the point of view of efficiency may not be the most optimal.

Many considerations come in. Political considerations can never be removed from these appointments. Political jobs are for political people. There is no need for one to seek a political job when they have never been in politics or have never been interested in politics. But we have people who have never been interested in politics, who have never done any political work wanting to take up political jobs such as being ministers. Some of such people might have been very close to the president before assuming power and that can put a lot of pressure on the president.

And there are times when the president may ask some of his friends to recommend names for certain government or state positions which he or she is not able to fill on his or her own. Here, again, there is a danger of people simply recommending their own relatives, friends, or other associates who may not add any value to the president's work. Out of trust, the president takes recommendations from relatives or friends and makes appointments. Some of these appointments may turn out to be a disaster and problematic for the president.

But whichever way they are appointed, the responsibility for their performance lies with the president - the buck stops at the president. But how does one get this right? We can't say that responsibility should be taken away from the president because it is the president who has to work with these people. And the relationship has to be one of trust and loyalty. This is the case all over the world.

What this means is that the president has to personally pay a lot of attention to these appointments because at the end of the day, it is the president alone, as the appointing authority, who bears the consequences of bad appointments. And the primary criteria in these appointments should be efficiency and effectiveness.

The life of the president has also to be made easier by those close to him or her - the relatives, friends, comrades, party cadres and so on and so forth. They should leave him or her alone to make the right choices. And when anyone is called upon to assist in this process, there should be maximum honesty and sincerity to ensure that the best appointments for the job are made.

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