Like a soapie, there have been numerous changes, plots and twists in Zimbabwe over the past week which makes it harder to find a specific matter to comment on but let’s tackle the obvious elephant in the room — the communications taskforce for the Finance ministry.
By Paul Kaseke
Finance minister Mthuli Ncube supposedly created a communications taskforce and appointed a chair in the past few days.
The fascination for most was the person appointed for the task, William “Acie Lumumba” Mutumanje, but that for me, is neither here nor there.
It could have been the best communication expert or an average Joe — it would be immaterial.
The bottom line is the taskforce is an unnecessary, expensive evil in a weakening economy.
After all the talk about cutting costs, one wonders why there is need for an entire taskforce whose mandate is to communicate for and on behalf of a ministry that is surrounded by an Information ministry.
I have my observations about the usefulness of the Information ministry, but since we already have one, surely it must be tasked with the sole mandate of communication, especially for a ministry.
Zimbabwe already has a bloated Executive and for a country in financial distress, the focus should be on cutting costs, rather than further expanding the government’s payroll.
This is the time for individuals in government service to take on more tasks just to save costs and not to appoint taskforces that are supposedly an extension of a ministry.
I am not sure why the minister believes that the greatest challenge facing the country is misinformation in his ministry, but it certainly does nothing to change the plight of Zimbabweans.
If anything, it depletes the few funds the government has.
Former Finance minister Tendai Biti has, on numerous occasions, stated that the greatest challenge facing government is fiscal indiscipline and this is a perfect example of this.
Government cannot continue to spend money it does not have, especially for purposes that are not legally sound nor backed in any degree of necessity.
It almost seems disrespectful for government to increase taxes, but continue to spend money on unimportant, unnecessary and irrelevant expenses.
Don’t get me wrong, we need communication and we applaud the quest to inform us more.
However, there are cheaper ways of doing this using the current system without adding a name or five to the payroll.
As highlighted earlier, government already has the Information ministry at its disposal for communication.
The ministry, which has the mandate to disseminate information from the government, can easily take up this mandate from the Finance portfolio without a duplication of duties and without further burdening the taxpayers.
Even within the Finance ministry, positions like communications officer should surely exist and if they don’t, the task of communicating can be further distributed from the permanent secretary’s office for appropriate delegation.
The point is, there simply is no need to have a taskforce whose specialisation is communication.
Government must make do with the resources it has and see how best to utilise these before outsourcing for some of these basic functions.
It is also saddening that the minister’s actions since taking office have included some actions that can be considered legally unsound.
Those of you who follow this column will note we have constantly highlighted the failure of the government to act within the law.
These gaffes seem to have attached themselves to the Finance ministry as well with its tax regulations debacle, which are regrettably unconstitutional and unlawful for reasons we won’t dwell on in this piece.
The creation of the taskforce and the appointment of its chair is another glaring state of illegality that is worrisome.
There are proper procedures and processes to be followed before the minister can purport to appoint the taskforce or indeed its chair.
These were, with respect, not followed and have, in part, been cited as the reason for the withdrawal of the appointment of the chair of the taskforce.
As I stated earlier, my concern is not that Ncube appointed Lumumba — his personal life is irrelevant in the scheme of things and I find it unnecessary for one to even traverse his past in this regard.
What is important is the whole taskforce itself: the body rather than the person.
The body is unnecessary, wasteful and ill-conceived. It should never, in my view, see the light of day as there are many individuals and departments whose mandate already includes the communication of information from the ministry.
To allow the taskforce to continue sets a bad precedent because any ministry can similarly create a taskforce, maybe not on communication, but on whatever else they deem important.
Government should lead the way in cutting costs by avoiding such unnecessary appointments.
In fact, it should invest in an audit to see who does what and where in government with a view to cutting off any costs that are duplicated, unwarranted and unnecessary.
It is also prudent that the top-tier of the Executive takes cuts in benefits and salaries, but that is something that I will touch on next week, as we look at how best government can cut costs.
Until then, maybe it would be a good idea for government to start communicating efficiently internally because it seems they don’t have one voice — it may just diminish the need for a taskforce on communication … just saying!