THE Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) this week refused to recognise Obert Mpofu as the Minister of Industry and International Trade and postponed its Policy Organs and Heads of State and Government summit meeting in Zimbabwe to a later date.
According to reliable government sources, the summit will only be convened when Mpofu is a legitimate minister.
Comesa’s major bone of contention centred on President Robert Mugabe’s dissolution of cabinet just before the elections.
“He is not a minister,” said a government source. “He belongs to a cabinet that was dissolved. Until a legitimate cabinet is in place, nothing can happen.”
Cabinet was dissolved just before the elections but reconstituted by Mugabe days later to fill the void created by the delay in announcing the results of the presidential election.
The sources said Mpofu faced resistance from Comesa members as his standing at the summit as Zimbabwe’s Trade minister presented Comesa with a legal challenge.
Zimbabwe was supposed to take over chairmanship of Comesa from Kenya at the end of the summit on May 15.
Under Comesa’s protocol, President Mugabe would have assumed chairmanship as head of state of Zimbabwe.
Mpofu, being Zimbabwe’s Trade minister, would then chair all Comesa ministerial meetings whose resolutions would feed into the meeting of Comesa heads of state.
“The headache for other Comesa members was whether Mpofu would be recognised as a cabinet minister in all their discussions. It posed a big challenge into how Comesa operates,” said another source.
The revelations were contrary to claims peddled by government media that the summit had been postponed to avoid a clash with the uncompleted electoral process.
Mpofu was dismissive of concerns about his status and maintained that the cancellation had nothing to do with him or the standing of Mugabe’s cabinet.
“The president was supposed to take over as chair. Only heads of state chair Comesa,” Mpofu said. “You can’t talk of those issues when they were supposed to take place at the end of the summit. It is beyond me, I am not allowed to speak on such issues.”
The conundrum has seen government becoming a lame-duck institution with several ministries and government departments failing to operate effectively.
The sources revealed that key decision-making requiring ministerial approval had been suspended because of the dissolution of cabinet.
It is now reported that Chief Secretary to the President and Cabinet, Misheck Sibanda, has been the man implementing several key government decisions.
“Ministers have found it difficult to authorise certain decisions,” the source added. “Sibanda has taken over, but there is a limit to what he can do. He is authorising emergency cases only.
When it comes to key policy matters, government is powerless.”
Sibanda could not be reached for comment.
However, Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Patrick Chinamasa said cabinet still existed and was capable of transacting on government’s behalf.
He denied claims that Sibanda was in charge.
“I don’t see any legal issues arising out of all this,” Chinamasa said. “The constitution clearly states that the president and cabinet continue until a new president is sworn in.
Only parliament has been dissolved. Cabinet has not and continues.”
By Kuda Chikwanda