While many may have lost count of how many times President Mokgweetsi Masisi has chopped and changed his commandants, a sixth sense suggests that the game of hiring, firing, resetting and tailor-making positions is far from over. Having cut a picture of a besieged president who so far has only managed to prove his eloquence and a rare ability to sell empty promises, many are now asking the question, when will he walk the talk?
The latest entrant to the roadmap is Boyce Sebetela, a former minister and MP for Palapye who comes in through a newly created public service position of Chief of Staff in the Office of the President, whose core responsibilities have been the preserve of the Permanent Secretary to the President (PSP).
The Public Service Act describes the PSP as the head of the public service whose responsibilities are to administer the public service and be the secretary of cabinet. Already there are murmurs in the corridors of power that the appointment of Sebetela to the highest office in the land is a classic case of a leadership running in circles. The opposition sees this as a loud vote of no confidence in Vice President Slumber Tsogwane, PSP Emma Peloetletse and others who surround the President.
The main purpose of the Chief of Staff, we are told, is to direct and oversee implementation of national priorities in alignment with political pronouncements made by the President, with the following key outcomes of the job: successful achievement of government priorities and alignment of government machinery and political interest of the government of the day.
While it is clear that the Chief of Staff is answerable to the President, there is confusion regarding seniority between this position and the PSP.
Government spokesperson Andrew Sesinyi is not much help either as he says Sebetela is indirectly accountable to the PSP, Emma Peloetletse, who is currently facing corruption charges. Those close to power are worried that the unending changes have rendered the civil service volatile while the new position has rendered some positions and departments redundant.
Indeed there is too much overlapping of roles which observers say will throw the already confused civil service into more confusion. The greatest trouble, it seems, is with the centre – the Office of the President (OP) – which cannot hold. The key departments, the National Strategy Office (NSO), the PSP, the Government Implementation Coordination Office (GICO), the National Vision Council and now the Chief of Staff, are all about implementation and providing a bird’s eye view of operations of the administration.
“This move is a breeding ground for power struggles, counter blames and sabotages. It’s a classic case of too many hands in the same plate. The end result is that it will be counter-productive. It is a repeat of a tragedy that has befallen our health system in so far as fighting the COVID-19 pandemic is concerned where two centres of power are pulling the president asunder,” said an insider who warned that a Commander who changes and fields new soldiers during a war is a disaster.
His view is that the many changes suggest that there was never a roadmap from the start. “Look at it this way: For any roadmap, there are leaders or troops and we cannot say you have started building anything when you are still chopping and hiring,” said the highly placed source within the OP.
He reminded this writer of renowned author Chinua Achebe’s book, “The Trouble with Nigeria,” where Achebe states: “The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership. There is nothing basically wrong with the concept Nigeria, or the land of Nigeria, or her climate, nor water, air, or anything else. The problem of Nigeria is the inability of her leaders to rise to responsibilities, to the challenge of his/her self-interest to the common good, which is the hallmark of leadership.”
His views are that President Masisi should fold up his sleeves and get his troops to implement his promises and abandon his merry-go-round tactics to justify and defend his failures.
But what can be expected of Sebetela?
Despite being dismissed by many as recycled material, Sebetela is widely acknowledged as a pragmatist who may just be what the President needs, should he remain true to his nature and not succumb to temptations of politics of the belly. Indeed, there has been confusion between Masisi’s political and technocratic pronouncements, the latest being what led to the Kgatleng land board conflict where the President made some land use reform promises that never turned into reality. The people took up the opportunities as pronounced by the President but found out that they were not backed by the law.
For a president who has cut a picture of a man who is only good at talking, Sebetela – who comes as an implementing machine – may have come at the right time as a man to account for the President’s empty promises. Sebetela is known for his critical views of the former president Festus Mogae as a legislator who was always in trouble for speaking truth to power and may just be what the doctor has ordered for the country’s situation.
His radical views during his days in Parliament earned him a name as a rational and principled man who was never ready to tow the line. Yet others warn that an entirely corrupt system has no place for good people. They say the fabricated cases before the courts about innocent citizens point to an administration which is not up to any good and which no good person can thrive in.
When former PSP and now ambassador at large Elias Magosi was recruited from the Southern African Development Community (SADC), a lot was expected from him as a no-nonsense man. But he failed dismally to have any impact on the public service and was even declared an absent PSP by his juniors. His goodwill, many say, was overshadowed by his cousin, Brigadier Peter Magosi, whom insiders say is busy trying to settle scores with the past administration and costing Masisi a lot.
Just when Elias had exited, many thought his experienced deputy, Thato Raphaka, would succeed him. But that was never to be as Raphaka was quickly and mysteriously transferred a few months after his transfer to the OP.
Insiders say the public service will only function well if the President decides to close the door for the train to move, undisturbed by boarding and disembarking along the way.