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Do academics fit and excel unhindered in a political environment?

SHARE   |   Sunday, 08 March 2020   |   By Adam Phetlhe On Sunday
Do academics fit and excel unhindered in a political environment?

Under normal circumstances, it is desirable that academics from a plethora of disciplines join the civil service in order to be advisors to the politicians. Their skills and competencies are crucial to maximally operationalize the running of government based on inescapable virtues like accountability, transparency, unquestionable integrity and the rule of law. For them to reach and achieve these virtues, political interference from politicians should be at the bare minimum such that these academics do not become yes men and yes women. History tells us that there are so many yes men and women who are so terrified to call out their political principals for the fear of the unknown.  Such people would in most cases be those who are either known card carrying members of a political party in government or those who agree with the overall political and the developmental agenda of such party. Or, citizens who are prepared to be patriotic to serve their country. This conversation is motivated by the recent appointments to the civil service of Professor Mpho Molomo, Dr Gladys Mokhawa and Dr Kaelo Molefe. I am merely using these appointments to give substance to this conversation.

From what I have read and heard about these individuals, they are a breed of accomplished scholars in their respective disciplines who bring an overflowing reservoir of knowledge to the public service. I am neither aware of Prof Molomo nor Dr Mokhawa’s political affiliation but do so with respect to Dr Molefe because it is public knowledge. But this is neither here nor there for purposes of this conversation lest I become controversial. Prof Molomo has been appointed Secretary for Political Affairs in the Ministry for Presidential Affairs, Governance and Public Administration, Dr Gladys Mokhawa Deputy Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Investment, Trade and Industry while Dr Kaelo Molefe is the Director of Governance in Prof Molomo’s ministry. Before I forget, congratulations are in order to these compatriots.

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My immediate response to these appointments without suggesting by any stretch of the imagination that they are unmeritorious for they are, was whether the civil service does not have individuals with requisite and similar academic credentials who would have been promoted to these positions? I am tying these appointments to the headhunting of the Permanent Secretary to the President Rre Elias Magosi who came with such an unnecessary huge price tag to the tax payer. In the pool of Permanent Secretaries available at the time of Rre Magosi’s headhunting, was there no one among them who would have been promoted at a cheaper price tag? That said, these are normal, lawful presidential appointments made from time to time.

Let me focus on the governance portfolio of Dr Molefe as a reference point. What is really wrong with failure to achieve and implement good governance in government? Is Dr Molefe bringing new ingredients of good governance philosophy to government presumably unbeknown to the present generation of civil service gurus? What has been the role of the governance unit (assuming there is such) in the Ministry of Presidential Affairs, Governance and Public Administration over the years? My point here is that good governance has been the buzz word in almost all government pronouncements wherein lack of it has been cited as one of the causes of service delivery failures, corruption and abuse of office to mention but a few. Senior civil servants have for time immemorial and to this day, attended workshops, seminars and conferences here and abroad on good governance. Surely, the present generation of senior civil servants should not be having challenges in ensuring that good governance is in the DNA of every holder of public office. Does government require Dr Molefe to tell her that it is bad practice to have an individual serving in so many boards where government is a shareholder yet there are many Batswana with similar or better competencies and capacities? Does government require Dr Molefe to tell her that State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) are failing because both the boards and executive management are dismally failing to adhere to the bare minimum standards of accountability, ethical and moral uprightness in their fiduciary obligations? That some if not all of these SOEs have habitually failed to present audited financial books to the point that such failures have now become somewhat acceptable or better still the norm? As a former lecturer in the Department of Politics and Administration Studies at the University of Botswana (assuming he has already taken his new position), Dr Molefe would more likely have taught some civil servants in the fields of good governance.  One should believe that his former students are probably serving in the same ministry he has assumed his position. The question should be: why headhunt Dr Molefe while products from his own hands are employed thereat. Your guess is as good as mine.

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The appointment of the three individuals has been hailed as a progressive move by the President to set in motion his transformation agenda. As political appointments, these individuals will I suppose, be expected to drive amongst others, the transformation agenda of the President. But politicians in most if not all cases, prefer to do government business in a manner that suits their political agendas because they exercise the power and authority to hire and fire. One is reminded of the firing of an Air Botswana General Manager by the Minister back then when the latter directed the former to issue air tickets to some individuals without following procedure. When the former requested the latter to put the instruction on paper, the poor General Manager was fired. The propensity to do things their own way is so entrenched that it is either you shape up or ship out. Those who have followed the history of the civil service over the years can attest to this without flinching. In fact, most of the senior civil servants who have retired or have been forced out speak out about undue political interference. Consequently, upright individuals who are schooled in the proper applications of the virtues of good corporate governance, accountability, transparency and the rule of law are invariably at odds with their political principals. I am tempted to suggest that there are senior civil servants who are grounded in the strict applications of these virtues as stated above who are either side-lined in one respect or the other, have been denied promotion or are transferred to a different position they would otherwise have not.

All I am saying is that while the academics are headhunted to the civil service by the politicians and which in itself in some cases is not a bad thing, politicians expect these individuals not to follow the virtues referred to above albeit in a veiled manner. In some cases, politicians would use other civil servants to prevail over the others in wrong doing wherein they find willing partners to do so. In this respect, academics who arrive with impeccable credentials to make a difference fail to fit and excel unhindered in a political environment particularly those whose positions are intrinsically linked to such political environment. I used the example of the three esteemed individuals referred to herein to give substance to this conversation. No offence of whatever nature is intended and should I be viewed as casting aspersions on their persons, my sincere apologies. I am prepared to be persuaded otherwise as always. Judge for Yourself! Send your views to: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  



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