Ministers: For who, what and why?

The last few months have been very eye-opening, to say the least. I found myself examining African countries’ obsession with bloated Cabinets and governments. From that study, I found that Zimbabwe and South Africa compete for the most bloated Cabinets and governments on the continent. I have no doubt that the two countries are in the top five when one looks at this internationally.


Zanu PF national political commissar Saviour Kasukuwere
Zanu PF national political commissar Saviour Kasukuwere

South Africa has 35 ministers and 37 deputy ministers and while Zimbabwe has 20 deputy ministers, it has a total of 41 ministers (including the immaterial Minister of State portfolios). While some can argue that our neighbours are justified in having a large Cabinet which is somewhat proportional to their 44 million population, the same cannot be said of Zimbabwe.

Not only does Zimbabwe have 33 million citizens less than South Africa, it does not have a functional economy nor a large tax base to sustain its morbidly obese Executive.

When one looks at the underlying rationale of these ballooning Cabinets and governments, it becomes clear that these positions have been used to reward party loyalists and friends even though most of them are hardly qualified for the positions they hold.

In Zimbabwe, this is perhaps more evident because most of the ministers have a track record of poor performance and have failed to deliver.

The obscenity of the Zimbabwean Cabinet is that there are two Ministers of State in the Vice-Presidents’ Office and 10 Provincial Ministers of State whose role is not only unknown, but unnecessary. Actually before that, one should start by noting that it is unnecessary to have two Vice-Presidents especially when one of them is fond of living like a monarch at the expense of taxpayers.

The obscenity doesn’t end there. An entire Minister of State post was created in the Office of the President to advise on Psychomotor Skills in the Education sector and the minister himself wasn’t able to respond to a question asked on what his ministry entailed three weeks after being sworn in. In other countries, this post is a unit of the Education ministry and does not warrant the creation of an entire ministerial portfolio.

Rather absurdly, we have Defence and National Security ministries. These ministries should be collapsed into one. They are essentially ministries that cover the same thing. Ideally, the Defence ministry should house the Central Intelligence Organisation as well although in practice we know that it is housed in the President’s Office. The Home Affairs ministry should house the police force as was the case previously.

The Economic Planning and Investment Promotion ministry should not exist as its functions can easily be assumed by the Finance ministry. The same thing applies to the Agriculture ministry and the Lands and Rural Resettlement ministry. They should be housed under one ministry as they inadvertently duplicate their functions.

The Information Communication Technology, Postal and Courier Services ministry should usurp some of the functions of the Media, Information and Broadcasting Services (MIBS) ministry, which, should then cease to exist. MIBS has been an enemy of democracy in Zimbabwe in any event and should be discontinued because the original function is now largely performed by presidential Press secretary George Charamba.

The Public Service, Labour and Social Services ministry was previously responsible for the welfare of war veterans and should continue to do so instead of creating an entire government ministry for that especially when there is the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans’ Association (ZNLWVA) where President Robert Mugabe is the patron. The tasks of the minister of this portfolio and the ZNLWVA are identical. Alternatively, the Defence ministry can also assume this function like other African countries have done.

When it comes to Cabinet and government, the smaller the governing body, the better. One would only have to look at other countries to see how this is true. Botswana has 17 ministers and seven assistant or deputy ministers, while Russia has 23 ministers and no deputy ministers. Nigeria has 31 ministers and no deputy ministers and China has 20 ministers and no deputy ministers, while the United Kingdom has 21 ministers and no deputy ministers. The United States probably has the smallest Cabinet with about 14 ministers.

Unfortunately, for every Zimbabwean taxpayer, each minister and deputy minister is entitled to a top-of-the range car, State security and other allowances that remain classified. To worsen the situation, most government departments have a permanent secretary, principal director and other directors who, in many instances, perform the same functions. Previously, the position of principal director was not a feature in government departments.

A few weeks ago, Local Government minister Saviour Kasukuwere was out of the country on “official business”. During his period of absence, he was replaced by Higher and Tertiary Education minister Jonathan Moyo, who proceeded to supposedly “lift” the suspension on Harare mayor Bernard Manyenyeni. A lot of people wondered why the deputy minister didn’t replace his boss and the answer to that question is the reason why I believe we don’t need deputy ministers.

Contrary to what most people believe, the Cabinet of a country is generally made up of a President, Deputy President(s) and ministers.

This is true of Zimbabwe as well. Evidence of this is found in section 105(1) of the Constitution that states “Cabinet consists of the President as head of Cabinet, Vice-President(s) and Ministers …” Deputy ministers are, therefore, not part of Cabinet.

Added to this, section 88(2) of the Constitution says that the executive authority of Zimbabwe vests in the President who exercises it through Cabinet. It is, therefore, clear that executive authority, which basically covers all the basic functions of ministers, cannot be exercised by anyone who is not a member of Cabinet.

Using this principle of governance, deputy ministers can never act in the absence of the minister of that portfolio. As a young boy I used to wonder why minister X would have to come and replace minister Y while he was on leave and I thought it was very amusing that the deputy minister could never act on behalf of an absent minister. Years later, I still find myself asking what their relevance is if they cannot even act on behalf of their “boss” when he or she is away.

While the previous Constitution had more scope for deputy ministers to do substantive work, the present Constitution limits such scope. Strangely, in terms of the previous Constitution, Executive authority could be exercised by the President through ministers and deputy ministers. In terms of section 31D (1) of the same Constitution, a deputy minister could be asked to act on behalf of a minister. This provision makes sense given that deputy ministers could, in terms of that Constitution, exercise executive authority.

The 2013 Constitution is a different regiment completely in this regard. As noted above, deputy ministers are not part of cabinet and do not enjoy any executive authority whatsoever. The functions of Cabinet are found in section 110 of the Constitution and include conducting government business in Parliament, directing the operations of the government, preparing, initiating and implementing national legislation and developing or implementing national policy. These are functions that are the preserve of Cabinet exclusively and deputy ministers cannot, at least lawfully, exercise the same powers.

A quick survey of the deputy ministers will show that many of them are not technocrats or qualified to be handling those positions so the argument that they are appointed because of their skill fails. In any event, government already makes use of permanent secretaries and principal directors for the technical component. Deputy ministers are useful only in as far as attending funerals, events or meetings that the minister cannot attend but they are an unnecessary addition to government just like it is unnecessary to have two Vice Presidents.

The fact that Mugabe has not appointed equal deputy ministers to match the number of ministers indicates that these Mickey Mouse positions can be done away with.

The country cannot afford to be granting reward cards to loyalists of government who, in any event, have shown themselves to be national liabilities and not assets.

lPaul Kaseke is a legal adviser, commentator, analyst and sessional law lecturer with the Wits Law School. He writes in his personal capacity. You can give him feedback via email:



  2. “From that study, I found that Zimbabwe and South Africa compete for the most bloated Cabinets and governments on the continent”

    The writer needs to widen his study . may be he is talking about “southern Africa” not “AFRICA”

    if the study is about “Africa” I refer you to find out the size of the Uganda cabinet/ government.

  3. Zimbabwe has bloated everything. Zimbabwe has too many MPs to start with.

    Then Zimbabwe has too many ministers. The reason for too many ministers is simple – it’s a way for Mugabe to reward his mates.

    Those ministers do nothing – they don’t even attend Parliament to answer questions but they make sure they get the benefits.

    1. just as Micheal responded I am amazed that any body able to get paid $4334 in 4 weeks on the internet
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