Making sense of the Cabinet appointments!
For a second time since he came to power Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) this Tuesday sought and obtained the unanimous approval by Parliament of his Cabinet comprised of some 20 ministers. The new Cabinet, fifty percent of whose members are women, a first for Ethiopia, faces a grim challenge ahead. Prior to approving the ministerial appointments Parliament endorsed the latest proclamation defining the powers and duties of the executive organs of the federal government dissolving, amalgamating and establishing anew various ministries. During Tuesday’s parliamentary session the premier underscored that the cardinal considerations behind the reorganization of federal executive organs were cost-saving, efficiency and speedy service delivery. If the new ministers were nominated on account of their educational qualification, track record and integrity there is a reasonable chance that they could delivery satisfactory results. A broad consensus on their fitness for office undoubtedly goes a long way towards motivating them to excel. Anyone with an open mind appreciates the need for such consensus in view of the long- entrenched practice of ministerial appointments on a quota basis. Appointing someone on merit alone as opposed to ethnicity or religious belief should become a norm.
Pointing out that the reorganization of federal executive organs had been in the works for months in his address to parliament the Prime Minister disclosed that the exercise was instrumental in creating strong agencies. He also emphasized that the government was mindful of the fact that the public yearns peace and stability, the rule of law, respect for human and democratic rights as well as a fair share of the national cake. Furthermore, he noted that Parliament, the courts and institutions of democracy including the National Electoral Board, the Office of the Ombudsman and the Human Rights Commission would be subjected to reviews and reorganized accordingly. There is no denying the exigency to restructure organizations which are bloated, inefficient or have overlapping responsibilities. However, such process must no go on ad nauseam. If the reorganization effected now was undertaken on the back of a sound analysis it not only enables the new appointees to provide a steady leadership, but also helps the institutions concerned to emerge stronger. The constant dissolution and restoring of organizations had deleterious consequences over the years.
Coming back to the cabinet appointments the importance of meritocracy cannot be overstated. Prime Minister Abiy has acknowledged that merit is a fundamental consideration in bestowing appointments stressing that possession of the requisite educational qualification. He has also hammered home the point that the leaders of government need to be squeaky clean. Aside from these qualities political appointees have to have a commitment to public service and a cosmopolitan view fit for the 21st century. Moreover, they should be self-confident, purpose-driven, diligent and street-smart; take the initiative without waiting to be shown what to do by superiors; lead subordinated by example; demonstrate the ability to make prompt decisions under fluid situations; and obey and enforce the constitution and other laws of the land. It’s also incumbent on them to rid the flaws afflicting the government bureaucracy and thereby do their part in accelerating social justice.
It’s unprecedented in the male-dominated politics of Ethiopia that half of the new Cabinet is constituted of women. The premier has expressed hope that they would crackdown the corruption and maladministration besetting the institutions they have been put in charge of. A move which has earned Ethiopia acclaim on the international stage the appointment of women to top government posts, particularly as defence and security chiefs, not only dispels the age-old stereotype that women have no place in leadership positions, but also empowers them to take their destiny into their own hands and inspires women of future generations to emulate them. Nevertheless, given the gravity of the duties and challenges of holding high office the appointees must realize that they were not tapped solely for the purpose of giving the impression that the government is serious about achieving gender balance. All citizens desirous to see all compatriots get a fair shot at taking the reins of power need no reminding that merit must never be compromised. That is why women ministers shoulder the additional burden of silencing critics who accuse them of having fast-tracked to the pinnacle of political power. Then they can credibly convey the message that women do not require favorable treatment to succeed on their own.
One of the worst problems confronting Ethiopia nowadays is the alarming decline in the commitment to public service. The widespread habit of abusing power to advance the economic and political interests of individuals or groups sharing one’s ethnicity or religious belief needs to come to a stop. It’s suicidal to divide society between “us” and “them” for political gain rather than giving strong public servants the opportunity to serve all Ethiopians equally. What’s in the interest of the nation is to support the leadership of executive organs from the Prime Minister down to do their jobs transparently and accountably and to steer them on the right course when they go astray. Apportioning government power along ethnic or religious lines is and has been shown to be a recipe for failure. It only breeds incompetence and corruption. While Prime Minister Abiy has declared that he has full confidence in his new Cabinet time is needed to evaluate whether each and every appointee has delivered the results expected of him/her or proved to be a flop in order to take the necessary corrective measures. Cabinet members will be motivated to discharge the responsibilities entrusted to them ably when they know that they are subject to strict oversight.
Inasmuch as a raft of positive developments have taken place in Ethiopia in the six months Prime Minister Abiy has been in office a plethora of testing challenges have surfaced as well. Since the inaugural address to Parliament in which he laid out his vision for Ethiopia followed by the groundbreaking decisions he has made the PM has been riding on the crest of public support. Problems are bound to arise when any society living under repression begins to enjoy a modicum of freedom. Ethiopia can extricate itself from the political quagmire it’s bogged in and soar to greater heights through the leadership of strong rulers possessing the capacity to respond individually and collectively to contemporary challenges as well as to uphold the rule of law and deepen the democratization process. The Cabinet would be useless if it leaves everything to the Prime Minister while the rest wield power for the sake of appearances only. They have to bear in mind that the eyes and ears of the public watch their every move. It’s from this perspective that the appointment of the new Cabinet ought to be viewed.