DA has no leg to stand on in criticising size of cabinet

DA leader Mmusi Maimane alongside Solly Msimanga.
DA leader Mmusi Maimane alongside Solly Msimanga.
Image: Thapelo Morebudi/The Sunday Times

Sometimes, in sittings during the fourth or fifth administrations, the DA expressed its preference, should it ever be elected to govern, advocating for a leaner cabinet.

A governance system housed in liberalism and advocated for more vigorously by conservatives across the international political economy.

When Mmusi Maimane stated over and over during the past two administrations that the cabinet was bloated, he was articulating an ideological view his party holds.

As President Cyril Ramaphosa came into power as president, following his narrow victory at the 2017 ANC elective conference at Nasrec, and the recalling of former president Jacob Zuma, the idea of a small cabinet manifested in news media about the new dawn. It gained traction.

By May 8 general elections, this ideological concept was ubiquitous.

The diffusion of the idea of a small cabinet was propelled by an explanation advanced by opposition politicians that the bloated Zuma government was expensive to run and Zuma brought in so many ministers because it was a patronage line through which the comrades in the party were paid back for their roles in propelling the then incumbent to the high office.

This explanation may hold some truth, but at the scale that it is suggested, it is preposterous.

The concept of small government is more common in advanced economies.

The concept of a developmental state is one in which the state plays an active role in finding growth and social development.

The reason it was hard for Ramaphosa to live up to the expectation of a cabinet constituted by only 25 ministers is that public opinion, planted by the opposition, was difficult to achieve because Ramaphosa leads a developmental state where all those portfolios, including one on women, are relevant for a state such as SA.

Many of these portfolios speak to both economic and social priorities for an African economy that should encourage economic growth and social development by playing an active role.

Opposition parties successfully packaged an ideological solution and labelled it as economic logic by making it seem as if a small government or lean cabinet was the panacea for economic problems in SA. In essence, these parties wished to pull the ANC to the right of itself so that their own ideological goals can manifest in the political discourse without winning the elections and implementing those themselves.

On Wednesday night, Ramaphosa announced his cabinet, which is as lean as he could get it to be, only for many opposition politicians to express their unhappiness for not making it even leaner, by cutting it to 25 ministers.

The president merged some departments to cut the cabinet down to 28 ministers, from a bloated 36 that was inherited.

Corruption that is being dealt with through many commissions and public protector reports also emboldened opposition politicians to make statements that amounted to telling the president who to select or who not to select for his cabinet.

Appointments to cabinet are the president's prerogative and one would think he does so to advance progress in the country, including staying firm on the political ideology that won the minds and hearts of voters who gave the ANC a mandate through the ballot on May 8.

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