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Saturday, 23 June 2007

Optimal size of Government?

Henry Kyambalesa writes this week on Zambezi Times Online:

The financial and material resources currently being wasted on sustaining the unproductive positions of Deputy Minister, Provincial Minister, Provincial Permanent Secretary, and District Commissioner could have been used partly on providing incentives and low-interest loans to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Merging of some of the government ministries which have similar functions would also free material and financial resources currently being allocated to the sustenance of meaningless ministerial positions.
This piece reminded me of one of the major flaws in the current Mungomba Draft Constitution . Everyone knows that the optimal size of any Government is a fluid concept. Apparently not, according to the Constitution Review Commission. They prefer to stipulate the optimal size of Government for all occassions (see sections 152 - 157). The draft makes it clear that there should be positions of Deputy Ministers and Provincial Ministers.

I would like to see some flexibility in the draft that allows any incoming Government to define for itself what it regards as the optimal size of Government - assuming it can justify those positions. Government structures need to be flexible and allow for positions to emerge as well as disappear. If Henry is right that some positions are indeed pointless, the current draft constitution does not provide the sufficient flexibility to allow the incoming Government to change things. A sentence or two needs to be added there to clarify things - better yet, the whole thing probably needs some revision. But thats another topic altogether!


  1. "A sentence or two needs to be added there to clarify things" -Cho

    I think this has already been tried by someone, which still leaves unclear exactly why there is a constitutional cap on the number of ministers at all:

    Section 164(3)(i): "The National Assembly is responsible for – approving an increase or decrease in the number of Ministers and Deputy Ministers as requested by the President;"

    "better yet, the whole thing probably needs some revision." -Cho

    Quite so! One thing that struck me profoundly on reading the american Federalist Papers and the Antifederalist is that the bit which most modern americans know and value about their constitution, the Bill of Rights, is actually the first ten amendments to the final draft produced by the Constitutional Convention.

    During the period while the draft was circulating the authors defended it fiercely in the press (Jefferson is thought to have written at least a hundred published articles and letters himself), but the antifederalists kept pointing out that there was nothing in the document which stopped the new government from treating them as badly or worse than the british had. If they had just "rubber-stamped" the convention draft, then no free speech, no freedom of religion, no protection against unusual search and seizure or cruel and unusual punishment, none of the things they now rely upon as the pillars of american society.

    Review followed by revision of draft constitutions would therefore seem to be an important step in the whole process. At least they got it right in section 2(1)(a)(c), "Every person has the right and duty – to defend this Constitution; to do all in that person’s power to secure the continuous operation of this Constitution." For this or any constitution to operate continuously over a truly national lifespan, then it must be both clearly comprehensible to the people and compatible with their traditions and aspirations. I cannot think of a better way to determine those things than asking people directly.

  2. Yakima,

    Yes they seem to have tried but still unclear. In theory may be you can ask Parliament that you have zero deputies!

    On Provincial ministers its even unclear that such flexibility exist. I mean there are nine provinces so there's not much discussion to be had there on the numbers!

    But why not just say that the President shall be free to structure the Government as he sees fit?

    Your point on "comprehensibility" is pertinent. It strikes me that this draft probably has not really been read and discussed widely. The true test therefore would be to put it directly to the people and approved via a direct referendum as and when the draft constitution is agreed. How that draft constitution is adopted is probably irrelevant.

    On the bill of rights. I see Part IV has this clearly enshrined.
    I do agree with you that whenever ANY changes are proposed the constitution should enshrine within it that it is done through a referendum of some sort, that guarantees people having a chance to define its provision.

    Incidentally the notion of the "House of Representatives" designated by an Act of Parliament as the Parliament sees fit is unclear. How did you read this?

  3. Ministry of Finance and Commerce, Ministry of Legal and Home Affairs,
    Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (incorporating Sport and Community), Ministry of Education and Technology,
    Ministry of Energy and Transport,
    Ministry of Natural Affairs (inc land, agriculture and Tourism etc...It's possible to reduce the number of truly functional ministries to 12 while provincial administration could continue under the same arrangement. I rest my case!

  4. Gershom,

    Very succinct!

    I very much like the "Ministry of Natural Affairs"

    The synergies are so obvious there. Tourism, Land and Agriculture should come under the same ministry!

    I think what Zambia needs to do is have few ministries but with lots of deputies probably within it.

    If we take the Ministry of Natural Affairs. I would have a single cabinet minister, who will then be supported by three non-cabinet deputies for Land, Agriculture,and Tourism.

    By the way I would have transport separate. Since it links in with everything. [ A reverse argument here - its synergies with all areas means that it should have ultimate focus - so it deserves to be separate]

    Also, where would you have "housing" and "mining"?

  5. Cho,

    Actually I rather like putting Transport in with Energy as Gershom has done. The two are becoming increasingly synonymous as both migrate towards the renewables paradigm.


    I like the layout of the six ministries you mention, how would you apportion the responsibilities of the other six?

  6. Ministry of Defence and Foreign Relations (thik of peace keepers, they go under defence for foreign relations business), Ministry of Works and Local Government (incl housing), Ministry of Mines (as it is).... Gender and other functions can fall under the Vice President or better still Prime Minister (abolishing the former position). Maybe nine ministries could work just as well as the current 22 or 23. The freed resources from the rationalisation of Cabinet positions can then go into other areas of acute need for the people.

  7. "Incidentally the notion of the "House of Representatives" designated by an Act of Parliament as the Parliament sees fit is unclear. How did you read this?" -Cho

    It did strike me as odd, and unclear, so I've been going on my initial assumption which was that they were allowing the Parliament to conduct business in what the US House refers to as "the committee of the whole". By making a committee that includes all members, and allowing it to be used by two-thirds assent, the MPs can conduct themselves under a self imposed committee procedure instead of full parliamentary procedure.

    If it means something more than that, then I am confused and a bit worried as to who gets represented to do what precisely. I'll dig around for another reference to it and see if it has any stated powers or functions.

  8. Yakima, Gershom

    The only challenge I think with ministries is balancing synergies with ministries needing specific focus.

    So if you take agriculture, its quiet clear that it should sit with natural affairs. But equally some could well object that agriculture is so crucial to our way of life that it needs someone to be held accountable directly and has a sit on the cabinet.

    Same with tourism. If this is an area that has enormous potential and key then it requires ultimate focus.

    I think the challenge therefore is to identify areas that require ultimate focus for the nation and build ministries around them. The rest could fall within those.

    The key areas for Zambia for me are:

    1. Transport
    2. Tourism
    3. Natural Resources [Mining]
    4. Institutional and Land Reform
    5. Law and Order [Includes Defence]
    6. Health
    7. Housing & Local Government
    8. Education, ICT & Employment
    9. Finance [ Includes Trade]
    10. Agriculture

    So I guess I would structure the ministries - foreign affairs and energy will stay with the President.

    All the other areas would have to fit within those!

  9. Cho,
    For me, strengthening directorates for the "ministries" that would be abolished would do. What the political figureheads of the ministries do is merely read what the technocrats write when they sit in Cabinet. This can be achieved by employing well qualified and experienced people as permanent secretaries instead of plucking cadres from nowhere to run ministries as PSs and directors. It would be better to strengthen the Civil Service than to have a bloated political set up.
    This business of employing cadres and "bululus" has equally cost us in the diplomatic service. The nomenclature of the ministries does not really matter, but what matters is what they are able to do.

  10. Gershom,

    "For me, strengthening directorates for the "ministries" that would be abolished would do."


    "It would be better to strengthen the Civil Service than to have a bloated political set up".

    An independent civil service is the way to go. I would go as far as abolishing the active appointment of permanent secretaries by the President.

    These should be done by way of open competition and then approved by President.

  11. Yakima, Gershom

    My more detailed thoughts on public sector reform can be found here

    A key point I make in my exchange with MrK is that there's no numbers!!

    Is it possible for us to do some back of the envelope calculation on the possible cost savings that could emerge from reorganisation? Henry has not done any figures on potential savings to my knowledge. I feel that we need numbers to powerfully tell the story and encourage Government to think through such issues. I am sure the cost savings would be vast.

  12. I did find the budget for the Ministry of Science, Technology and Vocational Training, which amounts to about $23 million (at 4000 Kwacha per dollar)

    Also, here is an interesting file I came across on the budgeting process in Zambia:

    The Budgetary Processes and Economic Governance in Zambia: A Literature Review
    by Dale Mudenda, Manenga Ndulo and Mukata Wamulume
    November 2005

    " Conclusion

    " This literature review has looked at the state of play of the budgetary processes in Zambia. We looked at the budget process through the various stages. This showed that the budget framework allows virtually limitless expenditure with approval. There is too much discretion and authority given to MOFNP in the process. There is little information published for public debate. Accountability in the implementation of the approved budget is lacking. The budget process is not comprehensive. It is, for instance, confined to central government activities."

    " The revenue generating agencies, such as ZRA and the non-tax agencies seem to be performing better than the previous system. The transfer of tax administration and collection from MOFNP to an autonomous agency has improved tax administration and enhanced the collection of revenues. To make the budgetary process more effective, the MOFNP have recently introduced the MTEF. This is meant to improve the budgetary process so as to make it more consultative with other stakeholders and improve management and accountability of the budget. The MOFNP is still developing the MTEF process. Our review shows that there is need to reform Parliament so as to enhance its role in the formulation, implementation and review of the budget. Civil society need to be more involved in the budget processes. Research capacity needs to be created to support the work of the civil society and Members of Parliament. The Auditor General’s office needs to be empowered to enforce compliance and accountability in the implementation of the budget. This should include powers to penalise any individual responsible for unauthorised expenditures. "

    This is a literary review study, so they should present a major resource of data and information on budgeting in Zambia.

  13. MrK,

    Thanks for that link to the website (which I have also added on the side bar now).

    I found the 2006 budget detailed break down on the website. It has more detailed break down. Check here .

    I'll need to find the projected 2007 across various ministries detailed break down on salaries etc. This should be in the Budget.

    We need explicit assumptions on which functions are being abolished and simply moved. The staff savings will be the larger components probably.


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