Tribal balancing in government

Tribal balancing in government

By Dickson Jere

The President had a strong team at Ministry of Finance. Very educated, competent and professional. Very strict when it came to public expenditure and borrowing. No wonder we survived the 2008 economic meltdown.

This team comprised of Dr. Situmbeko Musokotwane, MP, Minister of Finance. His Permanent Secretary was Dr. Wamundila Mbikusita-Lewanika and Secretary to the Treasury was Likolo Ndalamei. By sheer coincidence, all the top three men at Finance were Lozi from Western Province. This set-up did not go down well with some senior officials within government and ruling party – MMD. The team was infamously referred to as the “Lozi cartel” controlling the finances of our country. No one ever brought out any wrongdoing of this so-called Lozi cartel save to demand that the ministry key posts should be evenly distributed among other tribal groupings. This issue became thorny that State House aides agreed to raise it with the President. He needed to know the strong opposition within on the set-up at the Ministry of Finance.

At one of the impromptu meetings with the President, the issue came up.
“It appears some people in government are not happy with the set-up…” I reported.
President Rupiah Banda looked at me and Dr. Richard Chembe who was his economic advisor.
He then shot straight!
“Nanga mweo? Mwandandama kuno (what about you? You have also lined up in State House)” the President answered in reference to me and Dr. Chembe who hailed from the Eastern Province together with the President.
“If we are to dismantle finance, then we need to start from here!” he retorted.

Out of the six senior advisors at State House under President Banda, two were from Eastern Province – myself Dickson Jere and Richard Chembe.
He then lectured us on how this country should move above the tribal talks when it comes to government appointments. All the key people at Ministry of Finance were appointed based on their competence and qualifications and not tribe.

But this issue did not end there.
When the President appointed Charles Shawa as Provincial Minister for Northern Province, some chiefs openly protested. They wanted their “own” to be Minister in the Province.
“We have our children who are MPs, why bring us a stranger?” One of them complained bitterly.
As a result, President Banda decided to appoint “strangers” to lead different provinces in order to break the tribal issue but to no avail. People were still angry that they needed their own to run provinces. This even boiled down to Permanent Secretary positions. Some people demanded to see tribal balancing at all levels of government to reflect the “One Zambia, One Nation” motto.

You will recall that this issue also haunted President Levy Mwanawasa when he was accused of running a “family tree” because his appointments were perceived to be regional. As we look at the governance structure of our country, we need to address this elephant in the room – tribal or regional balancing in government. Should government appointments be by qualifications, competence and also tribal balanced?

Does this tribal thing really exist or is it just for political expediency? Should competent people be denied opportunity to work in top government position purely because they are from the same tribe? It is about time we confront this elephant in the room!

Food for thought countrymen and women!

Have a good week!

NB: The Deputy Minister at Finance was Chileshe Kapwepwe but like I argued elsewhere Deputy Ministers had no serious role to play in any ministry hence the abolition of that position. And the PS at finance Mbikusita-Lewanika was later redeployed into foreign service as Ambassador to Japan.

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