HomeOpinion & AnalysisColumnistsPermanent secretaries — A curse

Permanent secretaries — A curse

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There is a group of men and women in this country called permanent secretaries who are mandated by law to run the show at every government ministry.

Dejavu with Kamurai Mudzingwa

Most, if not all, of these men and women are very educated, intelligent, unprofessional and highly political animals.

It is their unprofessional and political nature that has seen chaos reign supreme in government.

Under normal circumstances, permanent secretaries are supposed to be technocrats who are apolitical so that they properly guide the ministries that they head.

The “permanent” aspect of their titles implies that governments and ministers can change, but they would be largely untouched since they are not supposed to be politicians, but professionals. But what we see in this country is something else. We have witnessed how these men and women have come out guns blazing defending political decisions and incompetencies that have hurt us as a nation.

Ask anyone who has been or is in government how far these people behave as not only untouchable kings, but as highly partisan political animals and you will get a sad picture of the evil perpetrated by these unprofessional people.

The recent exposure of the Hexco scandal involving the permanent secretary in the Higher Education ministry is not only a tip of the iceberg, but is microcosmic of what is happening in government ministries.

They hide their rot behind politics. Government workers have rightly complained that these people are not only unprofessional, but bullies who victimise innocent employees.

During the tenure of the inclusive government, MDC-T ministers complained that they could not implement progressive policies because permanent secretaries made sure this did not happen on behalf of Zanu PF.

We have heard instances where some employees have been unlawfully transferred or suspended because they fell out of favour with some of these bullies. Others, as in the case of the scandalous Hexco affair, have been corruptly promoted and allowed to keep two jobs in the ministries because they are either friends or relatives of such people.

The salarygate also exposed these people as they sat on the boards that approved exorbitant salaries for CEOs in government-run parastatals. Which ministry, if I may ask, is not rotten to the core? Is it Home Affairs, Information, Local Government, Transport, Mines or Youth? Think of any ministry in our government and see if it can pass the test of cleanliness.

Remember that these ministries are headed by permanent secretaries, some of whom have been at the helm for decades.

If there is rot in the ministries headed by permanent secretaries, what can we say about these permanent secretaries? Can we say they are swimming in the mud and yet remain clean?

If the permanent secretaries in ministries are incompetent because of their political persuasion, is there any hope that our government will perform to the majority’s expectations? The answer is a resounding “No!”. In fact, the current crop of permanent secretaries, judging by the non-performance of our government, is a curse. If Zimbabwe was a normal country, many of these men and women would have long ceased to be where they are in government.

Most would have been charged with criminal abuse of office. Others would be doing jail time for corruption.

But this is Zimbabwe where permanent secretaries are an extension of politicians. They can steal, help others steal and indulge in corrupt activities such as approving immense salaries for their friends with impunity. Seriously, do we expect any government to successfully implement progressive policies with such men and women at the helm of ministries? If we do, then we are the most stupid species in the universe.

Some of these people have become so shamelessly and unprofessionally partisan that they go about in public wearing political party regalia. These people are not doing good for the country, they are only doing good for the ruling party.

They ceased to be ministries’ permanent secretaries long back and it is an insult to call them as such.

They need a new title befitting their behaviour in those offices. I think we may safely call them “partisan secretaries” or “destructive secretaries”.

What is more irksome is that poor, hardworking employees and the nation suffer because of the behaviours of these unprofessional people. And they have the advantage of being behind the scenes. Politicians, who are in the limelight, take all the blame while these people hide behind them. They should be investigated and exposed for what they are.

During the salarygate debacle, permanent secretaries were hardly mentioned for their culpability yet they are guiltier than the CEOs. If they had the nation at heart they would have stopped the rot or raised the alarm, but they were quiet, like snakes in the grass. Can we say with confidence that they do not benefit from such scandals?
If they were professionals, wouldn’t they have resigned for presiding over such scandals in their ministries? But to expect political animals in Zimbabwe to resign because of corruption is being as naive as imagining the sky falling. Scandals seem to “strengthen” people’s positions among the gang of thieves masquerading as government officials.
What we need is an overhaul — not a recycle — of permanent secretaries.

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