PF deputy chief whip in Parliament and Kabwe Central member of parliament Tutwa Ngulube on Sunday evening went far and wide to defend resolutions of the National Dialogue Forum but UPND elections chairman Gary Nkombo told him that his justifications cannot hold.
Ngulube, a lawyer, claims that Zambians are saying: “let us introduce deputy minsters so that in the event that the President feels that there is too much workload in this ministry, the President may appoint a deputy minister in that particular ministry.”
The National Dialogue Forum (NDF) resolved that the scrapped position of a deputy minister be re-introduced in the Constitution.
“[It’s] not that each ministry is going to have a deputy minister and also [it’s] not that each province is going to have a deputy minister,” Ngulube said on Muvi TV’s The Assignment programme.
“You’ll remember [that] since independence, the people of Zambia have always had deputy ministers and it’s only Zambia right now in the SADC region or maybe in the whole of Africa that doesn’t have deputy ministers.”
Asked by the programme host if he meant some ministries and provinces could have a deputy ministers while others would not, Ngulube answered: “yes!”
“On ministries, I’ll tell you one thing; some ministries are very small. For example, Ministry of Religious Affairs is not as busy as Ministry of General Education. Ministry of Local Government is overseeing 116 councils [and] right now we only have one Minister of Local Government. If that minister is in Parliament, there is no one to attend to his work at the office….” he explained.
“And at what point does this minister finish visiting all the 116 councils? So, it’s those ministries that are being targeted, not small ministries. The reason why deputy ministers were removed from the [2016 amended] Constitution was because we were anticipating that in 2016 the referendum was going to go through, together with the proposed amendments that had been made that ministers will be appointed from outside Parliament. Even a headmaster has a deputy, a PS (permanent secretary) has a deputy [but] why shouldn’t ministers have deputy ministers?”
But Nkombo, the Mazabuka Central UPND member of parliament, countered Ngulube’s narrative.
“The PSs (permanent secretaries) are the functional people, the heads of departments are the functional people. Give me a reason why there should be a deputy minister. To do what function? To be ceremonial!” Nkombo asked.
“The Mung’omba-led process [constitutional commission] was very wide – the Zambian people said we do not want deputy ministers. Not these 101 that he (Ngulube) is talking about that went to the Ministry of Justice to show their will that we should now introduce discretion in the law.”
He argued that a law that was discretionary was a bad one.
“My brother has said where the President feels that that ministry is too large and the minister needs help, he will then appoint a deputy minister. That’s a bad law! You cannot give law to the prerogative of the President,” Nkombo said.
“I want to make it clear, courtesy of the Zambian people, when PF leaves, we are going to scrap this again. We are going to go back to the drawing board and say we do not need deputy ministers.”
Ngulube, however, insisted that: “the issue of deputy ministers will not be a cost to government because they are already members of parliament.”
“They are already on government payroll. It’s not like introducing somebody who has never been there. When a member of parliament becomes a deputy minister, for example, what changes [are] a few conditions of service and the pay point,” Ngulube argued.
“Do you know that backbenchers earn more money than ministers? It’s more expensive to keep backbenchers in Parliament than to appoint them as deputy ministers. So, if you are talking about the expense of running government….”
Nkombo chipped in and indicated that a deputy minister position came with incentives – recurrent expenditure.
“He (Ngulube) may be a deputy minister; he will have government fuel, he will have his phone bills paid for, he will have a government house, he will have his children allocated a vehicle to take them to school. The moment a deputy minister is appointed, he has a driver…. The MP does not have all those things,” Nkombo said.
“The NDF should have realised that there is simply no way that you can put this deputy minister without a consequence on the treasury and we are dealing with a country that’s not doing so well financially.”
But Ngulube told Nkombo that the incentives he listed were removed by Cabinet Office.
“We owe the Zambian people the truth,” Ngulube told Nkombo.
On the NDF’s resolution for formation of a coalition government, when necessary, Ngulube said the concept was ideal for cost-saving purposes.
“The people of Zambia are sick and tired of spending money on general elections, by-elections and so on and so forth. So, this concept of a coalition government, if you look at the proposed amendments of the Constitution, the proposal is that if ‘president’ Nkombo fails to get 50 + 1, I fail to get 50 + 1 we are supposed to go for a runoff,” explained Ngulube.
“Those who go for a runoff are those who came out number one and number two. Now, before you go for a runoff, people are proposing that ‘why should we go all the way to go and waste money within 60 days?’ That option of a coalition government is meant to save the government money. We are talking about austerity measures….”
But Nkombo wondered how the PF government could bring in an explanation of frugality on a “one-off” coalition government when they do not care to spend on deputy ministers.
“It is surprising that my brother and his group can want to save money on a one-off event which comes every five years but they do not see that they need to save money on a monthly expenditure to pay deputy ministers,” noted Nkombo.
“Therein lies a huge contradiction! This (Ngulube’s justification) cannot hold. All the Zambian people, apart from those in the PF, are tired of by-elections.”