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GOVT MUST PROVE ‘CAGEY’ POLITICAL WILL

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On Thursday, I joined other members of the fourth estate who took part in the Editors Forum Breakfast Meeting with the Prime Minister, Russell Mmiso Dlamini.

This being the first breakfast meeting with the newly-appointed PM, I was obviously excited as this is an opportunity that allows journalists to seek answers on pertinent national issues that touch on various sectors including health, education and how to take the country forward in general.

In particular, the session allows for much-needed engagements plus feedback on what government was doing to address the many concerns of the people. The PM was able to give feedback on issues including the drug shortage which has become a pandemic in our country. He updated the media on interventions that are already in place to strengthen controls at the Central Medical Stores and across all public health institutions.

From the engagements, I could tell that this is a man who means business. Honestly, I even forgot that some years ago he told me straight in the face that he was not going to respond to a question I had posed to him after a COVID-19 press conference that had taken place at Cabinet. His worry, he calmly stated on that particular day, was that the media had a tendency of misquoting people.

During the breakfast meeting on Thursday, I noted that he is a man who conducts research on a variety of issues and makes sure that he is well-prepared for whatever event he has to attend the following day. Surely the task of being a pastor fits him so well! I also got a chance to understand that he is actually an intellectual and one who loves analysing things.

Commitments

My favourite moment was when he requested cameramen to step aside and not obstruct his view as he wanted to face the people he was engaging with. I wish the session would have taken the whole day, just so he could give broad responses to some of the questions posed to him but sadly he had to rush to attend to other commitments.
This is not to suggest that he evaded the questions but basically, some of them touched on issues that are even taller than he is and needed broad responses.

One of the questions raised at the session was whether government did have a political will to get to the bottom of the drug shortage issue. Had there been enough time, I would have requested the microphone to ask the PM to first tell me his definition of a political will. I know that being the intellectual that he is, he would have given me a perfect definition and I would have enjoyed that moment.

Many scholars define a political will as the extent of committed support among key decision makers for a particular policy solution to a political problem. In many instances, lack of political will is often blamed for unresolved national or political issues. They argue that lack of political will is often invoked as a reason for failure of anti-corruption reforms and a major obstacle to economic performances and the achievement of development goals.

Sustaining reforms

Political leadership and a commitment to fight corruption at the highest levels is a pre-requisite for initiating and sustaining reforms over time, until results are achieved. In my understanding, due to the complexity of the concept of political will, finding evidence of political will is challenging. This is because political will can hardly be observed separately from the action it supports, making it hard to measure directly.

But it is vital that one when leaders speak of political, they ensure that it is demonstrated. When the question was posed to the PM, he boldly responded by saying, ““Yes, there is political will. That’s why currently some of the issues have been resolved. We are looking for permanent solutions to the issue”. What I liked about this question was the fact that it had actually been posed in Parliament the previous day by the outspoken Mbabane East MP Welcome Dlamini.

The MP, who was also in attendance at the Editors Forum Breakfast Meeting, asked Minister of Health Mduduzi Matsebula if there was a political will to implement the report that has recently been tabled in Parliament following an investigation by the Auditor General Timothy Matsebula.

Back to the PM, I will not be harsh on him and say his response was not satisfactory, after all I did acknowledge that there was little time for him to expand or invite follow-up questions. However, I am writing this piece today to tell the premier that his response gave hope. But again, we have been given hope before so at this point it is harder to believe him. Honourable PM, I am sure you are aware that this is not the first time that government has had to conduct a probe of this nature. It happened some years ago during the era of former Principal Secretary Prince Sikelela Dlamini, may his soul rest in peace.

Irregularities

Interestingly, the names of some of the individuals who were part of the probe committee with the late PS feature prominently in the irregularities that have been uncovered in the recent probe. But well, that is a subject for another day.The point is that despite that findings and recommendations were made by the late PS and his committee, nothing much has happened.

The only thing is a legacy as we now tell our children that there is a document lying somewhere in drawers called the Prince Sikelela Report, because that is what we ended up referring to it.  Also, we have witnessed in the past government allocating funds for forensic audits or probes to be instituted but again, no action was taken despite that findings and recommendations were made.

That is why even now, even if the PM can go on national radio and scream the words ‘Yes there is a political will’ every five minutes it will not be easy to believe him.But like I said, him being a seemingly dedicated intellectual who loves research perhaps he needs to provide guidance to his Cabinet on how best government can show that the political will is indeed there and this should happen quickly.

As a nation, we have had enough of hearing one and the same words and promises, we want action. Yes it is good to hear the PM giving assurance that the political will is there but the most important thing is that such should be demonstrated.

The PM and his government must prove that the political will is there and this it can do by ensuring that those implicated, and there is enough evidence, are made to account.This is crucial because here we are talking about am issue that has led to loss of lives.

Yes lives were lost in our hospitals because there were no drugs and also, millions of Emalangeni have been lost.
It is good that the MPs themselves have posed the question on whether the political will is there or not because Parliament also has a role to play. The report is currently waiting to be debated by the same MPs and we do not know if they will eventually adopt it or not.


We have seen incidents where probe reports ended up being withdrawn after being tabled and as a nation we are just crossing our fingers on this one. Already, we have heard reports that there are certain individuals who are allegedly untouchable and we wonder if they are not among those implicated in the drug shortage report.

Assurance

All in all, the report itself and the assurance by government is a big test for both Parliament and the PM and his Cabinet. As a nation, we expected that the ‘nkwe’ approach should be taken when handling this matter. While it is important to do things thoroughly and conduct the proper investigations to obtain all the evidence, we do not want to witness a situation where we will, after five years, be asking ourselves why there were no arrests effected.
We also do not want a situation where five years down the line we will, as a nation, be complaining about drug shortages.

We do not expect to go to Sibaya and raise the same issue as this will be a sign that instead of going forward, we are going backwards as a country. We have suffered enough.By taking decisive action, government will be demonstrating that indeed, its stance on intensifying the fight corruption is right on track.

It is a fact that without political will, anti-corruption laws will remain empty shells and anti-corruption authorities will feel abandoned. For now Mr PM, the political will sounds cagey but you and your government can do a lot to demonstrate that it is there. I trust you!

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