Cabient ministers

It is a mark of the progress in recent years that ministries are not only well established in Somalia and Somaliland, but are showing nascent signs of building the mechanisms that allow them to function with degrees of success.  In many respects Somaliland is ahead of the game, having enjoyed relative peace for several decades and deserves credit for the progress it has made. That said, both Somalia and Somaliland share similar challenges that are impeding ministerial effectiveness. Whilst it is important that solutions be relevant to particular need what follows are a number of common areas that could easily be addressed to enhance efficiency and accountability.

1) Accessibility & Punctuality

A particular point of irritation for local citizens and foreigners alike is the fact that ministries often appear to work inconsistent hours. In an era of globalisation, air conditioning and the internet it is more than a little anachronistic that some government offices appear to shut up shop at midday having barely been open for three or four hours. Additionally as precious government resources are being expended it makes sense to ensure that time and motion studies are both undertaken and their findings acted upon.  Ministers are public servants and have a responsibility to set the tone and thus it is heartening to hear that recently in Puntland State, Somalia the State President has been eager to discover whether ministers and their staff are arriving in good time to start the day.

Whilst as a rule the majority of Somali ministers are far more accessible than comparable figures holding government offices elsewhere, perennial concerns exist about those who act as the proverbial gatekeeper, denying or facilitating ministerial access depending on clan association, favours and occasionally the greasing of palms. When it comes to any forms of access it is important that accurate records are kept with a view to greater transparency.

2) Core Values

All ministers are responsible for helping set the tone and can do so by ensuring that the ministry has an agreed Vision and Mission statement and feature prominent notices such as: ‘Please note that you are entering a corruption free zone’. Visitors connote much about the purpose and positivity of a ministry by seeing monthly targets, data charts etc. on display. Ministers should be in the vanguard of curbing the prevailing culture of patronage and monitoring clan diversity amongst ministerial staff.  Through the art of delegation ministers are in a position to help empower others and have the potential to engender greater trust and mutual respect. Commitment to gender equality, the development of the regions and such issues as improving the lot of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) can soon be gleaned from a visit to any particular ministry.

3) Communication

Whilst it is inevitable that ministerial budgets and resources (both human and otherwise) vary enormously,  ministers as trustees of government portfolios need to be ever mindful of the role of communication. Effective communication is like a lubrication that eases the workings of human endeavour. People benefit enormously from clear objectives. Inter-ministry communication is a vital component of efficient government, whilst new technology affords ministers and their staff with a whole range of means by which to communicate with various stakeholders. Sadly, there is a wealth of anecdotal evidence that certain ministers and their departments in both Somalia and Somaliland fall woefully short when it comes to responding to emails or ensuring that ministerial websites are active and up to date. The issue of scrutiny and accountability has proved a sensitive one, especially in regards to journalism and ministers need to understand that robust and responsible journalist is an important part of scrutiny and accountability in a functioning democracy.

With the status and privileges of being a minister comes a wealth of responsibilities. Holding government office is never easy and requires enormous strength of character, tempered by humility. Day to day activities can often result in some of the most vulnerable being largely forgotten. Observers of the Somali scene would do well to remember minority groups such as the Gaboye, Midgan, Tumal and Yibro. In view of the geo-political sensitivities of the Horn of Africa ministers are also expected to have dealings with the likes of Nicholas Kay, the UN Special Representative for Somalia.

As in all things it is essential that ministries are appraised regularly to see that they are fit for purpose.  This means that a strong case can be made for the rationalisation of certain portfolios and as ever it is imperative that appointments to roles are made on merit. A minister’s effectiveness is not measured by the number of international flights that they take, but how hard they work to improve the lives of the people they have been appointed to serve. With the topic of ministerial appointments a point of particular discussion at present we must hope that improving ministerial effectiveness will be a key priority of the Executive.

Mark T. Jones

International Speaker & Leadership Specialist
Twitter: marktjones500

Mark T. Jones co-authored: ‘Developing the Ministerial Mindset – A Global View’ (2013)