It is said that when the truth finally dawned upon him regarding the Bay of Pigs debacle, John F Kennedy asked himself time and again, “How could I have been so stupid?”.
It was way too late when President Kennedy finally discovered that he had been led down a garden path by his advisors and assistants; too late to do anything about what was the defining moment of his presidency. He had been, as a more perceptive writer has since put it, “wounded in the house of his friends”.
In this, my first letter to you, sir, my sincere hope is that you will not confirm the allegations of those that claim that there is a puppet-master behind your throne and that someone else is controlling your presidency. I am certain that you know me better than most people in the party, and that for this reason, you will not blindly join the chorus of the so-called puppet masters and call me disgruntled and frustrated as they would want you to, and disregard this letter. Rather I am confident that you are your own person and not a puppet, and that you will find time to objectively consider what I believe are some issues that might help your presidency.
There are so many matters to discuss. Bearing in mind however that you have a country to run, I will keep my letters concise, and write them at reasonable intervals, touching only one subject at a time, so as to give you the time to think through the contents and consider whether there is in my sayings matters you would like to take on board as you govern the nation. Let me make it clear that you are very free to disregard the thoughts that I express in this and any future letters. It would be presumptuous of me to think I could give you directives. My thoughts are simply humble ideas, and truths that I believe you are being shielded from knowing.
In this spirit, allow me, your Excellency, to go straight to the first of the matters which is close to my heart.
Are you aware, your excellency, that your desire to reform the country’s public service, the reforms that you and I discussed many times during your late brother’s presidency, have been hi-jacked and are being sabotaged for cheap political machinations from right inside your house and your office?
I am aware that the vice President came to you with the idea of public service reform, which you readily agreed as it was something that you had already planned to do and you had promised the nation in your manifesto.
Unfortunately, those close to you have seized the opportunity to undermine the vice president by ensuring that the reforms are not as far-reaching and as bold and innovative as they should be. On the contrary, what the vice President is being allowed to reform are petty matters that will not achieve the desired results and whose only real result will be to leave the vice presidency without any political capital in the form of solid achievements in these reforms.
Your Excellency, you will recall our many discussions during your late brother’s presidency that if any public service reforms are to make any sense at all, such reforms must begin in the office of the presidency itself. I remember you agreeing with me that the country’s political and administrative system needs to be reformed so that the presidency is able to tap fully into the advice of professionals that are capable of analyzing policy and political issues dispassionately, rather than being advised mostly by political sharks that are simply thinking of advancing their own mostly financial agendas.
It was our consensus then that creating a public service that fosters economic growth means reducing political influence in the public service and especially ensuring that there’s no political and administrative influence in industry and commerce, that it is necessary for the president’s powers of appointment to be curtailed, ensuring that appointments are based only on merit and not political patronage.
I am certain that these were the reforms you readily approved for the vice President to champion. Why then is it that the reforms that have been proposed thus far have failed to reach this mark? The answer is simple: someone in your administration, someone close to you, sir, has an agenda that necessarily requires ensuring that the vice president is seen as a failure. That someone has ensured that the thrust of the reforms fail to reach their mark, that all the important, impact-making proposals are quashed, and left the vice president with reforms that are essentially pointless.
I am inclined to even venture to suggest, your Excellency, that it is the same self-serving political agenda of those around you that have persuaded you to make a reshuffle to move the mining minister from that ministry to the ministry of home affairs. The thinking is that with your administration struggling to deal with internal security challenges because of financial problems, this particular minister may further damage his political capital there, and not be able to pose a serious political challenge when the moment comes.
Your Excellency, sir, I wish to remind you that although the public service reforms are championed by the vice president, they are still your reforms, and that those that are undermining the vice president are essentially undermining your presidency. The question then is that are you not going to realize this until it is too late? Like John F Kennedy, could you be in the process of being wounded in the house of your friends and only exclaim later: How could I have been so stupid?
I promise, your Excellency, to write again soon informing you about other matters, and remain:
Your most loyal and patriotic citizen,
Z Allan Ntata