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GNU to amend Cabinet, Council of Ministers rules

ZANU PF and MDC negotiators have agreed to amend the consolidated Cabinet and Council of Ministers rules and procedures to reflect the current situation within the inclusive government following a dispute last year over the issue.

The deal was reached during the recent negotiations and is part of the final report on the talks handed over to President Robert Mugabe, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara and South African President Jacob Zuma last week.

Zuma’s team of facilitators comprising Charles Nqakula, Mac Maharaj and Lindiwe Zulu is back in the country to try to settle remaining issues. The team yesterday met Tsvangirai and is expected to meet Mugabe, although it was experiencing difficulties in pinning down an appointment with him.

This consolidated Cabinet handbook sets out essential requirements for effective Cabinet operations during the tenure of the inclusive government.  It spells out the guidelines, procedures, composition and functions of Cabinet, the Council of Ministers, standing Cabinet committees, ad-hoc Cabinet committees, ministerial task forces and working parties in the letter and spirit of the Global Political Agreement (GPA) and Amendment No 19 of the Constitution.

Several editions of the Cabinet handbook have been published in the past, with the objective of fostering the efficient and effective operation of the Cabinet system.

Following the signing of the GPA on September 15 2008 and the consequent formation of the inclusive government in February last year, it became necessary to come up with a Cabinet handbook that would adequately reflect the Cabinet system structures and processes in the new dispensation.

However, there was a battle between Zanu PF and the MDC last year over the issue. The row threatened to degenerate into a quarrel which would have made it difficult to come up with changes in consonance with established Cabinet conventions and best practices.

The new handbook would capture notable features of the current framework of government which includes the post of prime minister and two deputy prime ministers as well as the Council of Ministers. 
The review focuses on highlighting and clarifying the respective roles of the new structures from the perspective of Cabinet system operations, and more especially, the role of the Council of Ministers vis-à-vis cabinet, standing Cabinet committees, ad hoc inter-ministerial committees or task forces and working parties.

The amended handbook will show the new structure of Cabinet and who sits in it. Mugabe is the chairman and Tsvangirai is the deputy chairman of cabinet. Other members are vice-presidents, deputy prime ministers, ministers and the Attorney-General.

Others who attend Cabinet are Chief Secretary to the President and Cabinet and a nominee of the secretary to the prime minister and Council of Ministers.

The Council of Ministers, which coordinates policy implementation, is chaired by Tsvangirai. It is also attended by the deputy prime ministers and ministers. The chief secretary to the prime minister and Council of Ministers and a nominee of the chief secretary to the president and cabinet also attend.

The prime minister, as chairman of Council of Ministers, determines the times for meetings. Usually, the Council of Ministers meets every alternative Thursday from 9am in the New Munhumutapa boardroom.
The council’s agenda is prepared by the chief secretary to the prime minister and Council of Ministers for approval by the prime minister.

 

However, Cabinet is the supreme organ of the executive with the principal responsibility of approving government policies. In this regard, its functions as defined by the constitution are as follows:

lThe responsibility to evaluate and adopt all government policies and the consequential programmes;
lSubject to approval by parliament, the allocation of financial resources for the implementation of such policies and programmes;

lThe responsibility to prepare and present to parliament all such legislation and other instruments as may be necessary to implement the policies and programmes of the executive;
lExcept where the constitution requires ratification by parliament, or action by the president, the approval of all international agreements;

lEnsuring that the state organs, including the ministries and departments, have sufficient financial and other resources and appropriate operational capacity to carry out their functions effectively; and
lTaking decisions by consensus, and taking collective responsibility for all cabinet decisions.

The president, as chairman of Cabinet, determines the times for meetings of Cabinet. Generally, Cabinet meets every Tuesday from 9:00am in the cabinet room at Munhumutapa Building in Harare.

The business of the Cabinet is defined by an agenda, prepared by the Chief Secretary to the President and Cabinet for approval by the president in consultation with the prime minister.  The chief secretary circulates to each member a copy of the agenda usually on Friday preceding the Cabinet meeting.
The quorum for Cabinet meetings to occur is half of the total membership.

Attendance at Cabinet meetings is compulsory, unless a member is outside the country on official business or has been granted prior approval by the president to attend to other private business. Members wishing to be excused from Cabinet should seek direct clearance with the president or convey a written request to the president through the chief secretary to the president and cabinet.

Minutes of Cabinet are recorded and capture the main points of discussion and decisions reached on each item. The Chief Secretary to the President and Cabinet is responsible for ensuring the accurate recording of minutes and Cabinet proceedings.

It is the responsibility of the ministers under the supervision of the prime minister to ensure implementation of Cabinet decisions. Line ministers responsible for implementation of Cabinet decisions are expected from time to time to brief the prime minister and the Council of Ministers on the progress they are making in implementing Cabinet decisions.

Dumisani Muleya

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