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Saturday, June 25, 2022

May take on the new ministries under a new constitution

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In an earlier post I wrote about the drafting of a new constitution and the best approach to use to ensure that consensus is reached at an early point on the substance of the draft Constitution by all the relevant actors before the draft constitution is submitted to the Assembly for approval. It may be too early yet to raise issues that should be considered in such an exercise. However, I am in a reflective mood and I would like to share my thoughts on the issue of the number of Ministries to be established when a new Constitution is drafted. Lest I forget, I would venture to make some suggestions. In the original version of the 1997 constitution the number of Cabinet Ministers was limited to 15 including the Attorney General, similar to the provision in the USA constitution. My understanding is that this provision has been changed and it is now open -ended and the President can create as many Ministries as he deems fit. I feel though that in a new constitution, a limit should be set on the number of Cabinet Ministers the President can appoint and provision made for the appointment of junior Ministers to support the Cabinet Ministers where necessary. These non-cabinet ministers are responsible for specific policy areas and report directly to the cabinet minister. Most countries have provision for the position of Junior Ministers. Senegal our neighbour, the UK, and in the USA designated as Under and Assistant Secretaries. The idea should be explored in the context of the current Constitution as well as for the future. When I worked at the Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources many years back, the Ministry had responsibility for agriculture, water resources, animal health and husbandry, and forestry and fisheries. In this context, responsibility for some of the sub sectors could have been allocated to Ministers who report to the Cabinet Minister who has overall responsibility for that portfolio. Parliamentary Sectaries operated in each Ministry but were not assigned any substantive responsibility. The Gambia had a Parliamentary system of government then and Parliamentary Secretaries were appointed to support Ministers in Parliament. In the current set up, Ministries could be realigned, reducing the number of Cabinet Ministers to 15 or less and space given to the President to appoint non -cabinet ministers as indicated above. The cabinet would be smaller and more focused. I would suggest that the Ministries could be structured in this way.

o          VP: responsibility: public service, administrative reform, policy coordination and chair of planning commission if established as well as gender.

o          (the President should be responsible for the Civil Service but can delegate the responsibility to the VP preferably or to a Minister in the Presidency)

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o          Assisted by a junior minister with specific responsibility for administrative reform for instance.

o          Ministry of Foreign Affairs assisted by junior minister responsible for regional integration, Senegal/ Gambia Affairs, AU and ECOWAS

o          Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs assisted by a Minister with specific responsibility for economic affairs or the budget.

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o          Ministry of Interior: internal security and local government, supported by a junior minister.

o          Ministry of Education responsible for all aspects of education, supported by two junior ministers with specific responsibility for technical and skills development and Universities and research respectively.

o          Ministry of Agriculture and rural development: responsibility agriculture, Forestry, Animal Health and Animal husbandry assisted by two junior Ministers with specific responsibility for two of the sub sectors.

o          Ministry of Environment with responsibility for land, water resources, including fisheries and climate change as well petroleum and mineral exploration and extraction. Assisted by one junior minister.

o          Ministry of youths and sports

o          Ministry of Health and social welfare, including children.

o          Assisted by junior Minister with specific responsibility for social welfare.

o          Ministry of Trade, energy and digital economy and industry (I would suggest a change of name, Business or Commerce Secretary, develop relations with the business community. This Ministry should be high powered and dynamic)

o          Ministry of Information, Tourism and culture including religious affairs.

o          Ministry of works, infrastructure and transport.

Assisted by a junior minister with specific responsibility for transport.

o          Ministry of Defence

o          AG and Minister of Justice

I am just thinking aloud. My suggestions above may not be the best configuration. Government may need to mount a study to assess the government structure and concrete recommendations made accordingly. At the end of the day though the portfolio each Ministry carries rest solely on the shoulders of the President, it is his prerogative to determine the areas of responsibility he would allocate to each Minister. Meanwhile, I feel that the name of Ministry of Trade should be changed as suggested above and the Ministry given a more substantive remit.

The appointment of non-Cabinet ministers may involve some costs in terms of office space, remuneration and transport but not much in terms of personnel. There is a fairly good number of able officials at the management and technical level who can be deployed to support these new positions.

While addressing the issue of government restructuring, I would also direct some attention to the path the Civil Service is taking. The ideal is to get the service to work as a coherent and effective whole. The Head of the Civil Service should be supported in this by all Permanent secretaries. The Head of the Civil Service who is also the principal adviser to the President should also assume the role of Cabinet Secretary. I understand that many of the Ministries are hollowed -out as some of their core functions are being carried out by agencies, many executives, created through Acts of f Parliament. I also understand as well that several Directorates have been established in any one Ministry. Where operations were carried out under one Directorate before, now these works are spread out over so many mini-Directorates, each Directorate jealously guarding its space. No wonder we now have in the Service the phenomenon of super Directors called Director Generals and two Permanent Secretaries 1 and 2 in one Ministry. It is incongruous to have a Director General and a permanent Secretary in the same Ministry. Much of these developments grew out of Jammeh’s drive to create chaos and promote cronyism and nepotism in the Civil Service. It is also the case that this abhorrent practice is replicated in all our public enterprises.

The government may in the course of time look into the government structure including the large number of government agencies in operation.

Abdou Sara Jahna

 USA

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