CHARLES CHISALA, Lusaka
A MANAGER at a well-known parastatal company in Lusaka recently instructed his driver to drive his visitor from a rural district to Cabinet Office.
The driver has lived his whole life in Lusaka, but his ignorance shocked his boss.
“Where is it, sir? Where is Cabinet Office?” he asked timidly.
The driver is just one of the many Zambians who are completely blank about the location of Cabinet Office and its role in the governance of this country.
Yet its work directly and indirectly affects their daily lives.
Even some Lusaka residents, including those who were born and bred in the capital city, have not bothered to know where this important government institution is located.
The milky-yellow complex is just opposite the Embassy Park, where the remains of Zambia’s fallen former heads of state are buried in Longacres. It’s so conspicuous that it should be the easiest building to locate in this part of Lusaka.
Secretary to the Cabinet Roland Msiska presides over, perhaps, the busiest public institution and incubator of almost all government business.
It is the secretariat of Zambia’s Cabinet, which consists of the republican President as the head, the Vice-President, ministers, the Attorney-General, provincial permanent secretaries and district commissioners.
Cabinet Office is an extension of State House, which is why it is under the Office of the President.
It is for this reason the transformation to e-government has started with e-Cabinet.
Dr Msiska gave a glimpse into the delicate and facilitative nature of his office’s work in Ndola on October 17, 2017.
He was opening a training of trainers’ (ToT) workshop at the ICT Centre of Excellence for key technocrats involved in the implementation of the e-government programme.
“Government has broadly committed itself to the implementation of e-government. This e-Cabinet system is therefore part of the wider programme,” he said.
“The e-Cabinet system is a powerful tool that will be used to streamline the conduct of Cabinet business and, as such, make Cabinet processes and decision-making more cost-effective and efficient,” Dr Msiska said.
A peek into the daily business of the various divisions over which he superintends reveals that Cabinet Office is actually the nerve centre of national policy formulation, legislation and decision-making.
The secretariat is divided into the Administration Division, Management Development Division, Policy Analysis and Coordination Division, Private Sector Development, Industrialisation and Job Creation Division and the Smart Zambia Institute, which is also known as the E-government Division.
It is the seamless collaboration among these specialised units that keep State House, Parliament and all government ministries busy from January to December of each year.
Each division is headed by a permanent secretary.
Policy Analysis and Coordination Division permanent secretary Bernard Kamphasa shed some light on the role of his team.
“Our division is the hub of all government policy. It identifies policy gaps in ministries and helps them to come up with policy papers to fill those gaps using a widely consultative process,” Mr Kamphasa said.
“When it is finalised, the policy is presented to Cabinet for approval through a Cabinet memorandum or Cab memo. Once approved, it is up to the ministry to implement it with the involvement of all stakeholders,” he said.
Mr Kamphasa adds that such a policy should be backed by law.
“Once a policy has been approved by Cabinet we work with the particular ministry and the Ministry of Justice to come up with a draft bill, which is tabled in Parliament for enactment into law,” he explained.
It is a tedious process. However, Mr Kamphasa says with the introduction of e-government, work will become easier for his gallant ‘soldiers’.
“It shall be done electronically, which will drastically reduce the time for the processes. The Smart Zambia Institute has already procured 100 surface tablets. Everything will be done using these tablets, which are like mini-computers,” he said.
The entire Cabinet, starting with the President, Vice-President, Secretary to the Cabinet, Attorney-General and line ministers will be using the electronic gadgets during Cabinet meetings. No paper will be involved.
Public policy specialist in the Policy Analysis and Coordination Division Boyd Chirwa looks forward to that time when he and his workmates will not have to transport mountains of papers to and from State House during Cabinet meetings.
“When we start using the system the time for conducting business will be shorter. We will process Cabinet business electronically; the system has been digitalised,” Mr Chirwa said.
His counterpart from the Smart Zambia Institute Beaton Sibulowa, who is assistant director for consultancy and projects, says his division is facilitating the transformation to e-government through capacity building and provision of appropriate technology.
“We have a user and adoption unit which is working with various ministries to help them adjust to paperless government,” Mr Sibulowa said.
He is happy that the government has established the ICT Centre of Excellence in Ndola with state-of-the-art facilities and technology, which is making the training easy.
“We will be using this centre for the capacity building,” Mr Sibulowa said.
The office of the Secretary to the Cabinet is established under Article 53 of the Constitution of Zambia, and is responsible for the general efficiency of the public service.
Two deputies – one in charge of finance and economic development, and the other government and public service administration – lighten the burden of the Secretary to the Cabinet.
Cabinet Office’s core mandate includes, but not limited to:
• Ensuring that Cabinet decisions are translated into government policies and programmes to be effectively implemented by appropriate public service institutions
• Coordinating government ministries and institutions, and reforms to improve delivery of public services
• Monitoring and evaluating the overall performance of the public service
• Facilitating the implementation of decentralisation to improve delivery of services by local authorities.
In short, Cabinet Office coordinates all government business on behalf of the President.
Zambians will do themselves a great service by taking an interest in knowing as much as they can about this important institution.