HH and his dysfunctional State House team

Since Hakainde Hichilema was inaugurated on August 24, 2021 by 21st March 2022, (209 days), there have been only six Cabinet meetings! It is preposterous, perhaps not; knowing how debilitated his office is. There is an agenda somewhere and there is a plan somewhere, but not quite yet.

Mr President take this advice to heart from a man who champions rhetoric with action.
Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India, once said, “If you call yourself a leader, then you have to be decisive. If you’re decisive, then you have a chance to be a leader. These are two sides to the same coin.”

Hakainde, according to his curriculum vitae, is a qualified change management practitioner. A change management consultant is responsible for implementing new concepts within an institution and helping transform the ways in which the organisation operates. The main duty of a change management consultant is acknowledging the areas where there is a need for change and assessing how this will affect the organisation.

What else does a change management consultant do? As a change management consultant, identifying which areas require change in an organisation is key; this could be employees, business systems or processes. As well as acknowledging the changes that should be made, it is also the task of a change management consultant to ensure these changes are implemented.

We took time to look at the calibre of the staff and advisors in the offices of several Heads of State (websites) within SADC, EU, USA, Singapore and other Asian tigers. In all cases they have appointed people who command respect amongst the president’s appointed ministers, bureaucrats, the business sector – people who have experience and are competent. Nowhere have we found a team of presidential advisors without experience or interns appointed as principal advisors in a president’s office. And not a single president has appointed a non-journalist as a presidential spokesperson! However, there are several cases within SADC and Asia where some have appointed sycophants.

We have spent several months talking to informed sources within Cabinet Office, ministers, civil servants who have interacted with the President and his team of advisors. They inform us, without exception, that there are silos that have been built within the team of State House advisors. They don’t necessarily talk to each other. No one makes decisions. There is no control and command structure. There is no Chief of Staff.

As one Cabinet minister, who has also served in previous administrations, said to us “the current team of advisors is the most ineffective, inexperienced team ever assembled under any President. They are constantly complaining about each other. Nothing meaningful gets done. They command no respect amongst any Cabinet minister. No one takes them seriously. They are note takers, not advisors”.
This is shocking but a factual assessment. We have also learnt of some attributes of these presidential advisors. No president anywhere in the world has ever appointed a team of principal advisors who are inexperienced and best suited to be interns.

And as journalists, we know, we often talk about the media silo at State House which can be qualified as a dysfunctional unit. The State House website is out of date, whilst the Twitter and Facebook accounts are active. In case of a Facebook account, it they are still using Hakainde’s personal account. In short, they have failed to open an official account for him. They behave as if they are still in the opposition. Very shameful!

We hear amongst the several principal private secretaries that Hakainde appointed, one stands out as a “say nothing, do nothing” character; a pretender who has assumed himself as the first amongst the equals. Ministers have told us that they have frequently written to the President and their letters remain unanswered for weeks or months on end. He is clueless. His main attribute is that he is the principal private sycophant.

The economic advisory team is ineffective and is also tainted; one with curriculum vitae fraud, and according to some ministers, and permanent secretaries he is incommunicado. He says a lot and does nothing. “He is just a public relations wannabe. All fluff and no substance” said a high-ranking government official. One IDC official said “we have been trying to engage him for months, promises he would soon, but never does”. The other economic advisor, we are told, is better suited to be a lecturer in an economics department at a university. Compare the current economic advisors with those of president Levy Mwanawasa who had Dr Moses Banda and Dr Situmbeko Musokotwane.
We also have the special projects advisor, who some say is a steady hand and the most mature of the lot, but inexperienced in affairs of the government. He is an academic qualified in clinical research, epidemiology and vaccines, who would have been better suited to head the Zambian National Public Health Institute or as a presidential advisor on health.

Then we have the political advisor who ‘implicated’ Hakainde in political shenanigans with his indiscreet phone calls. He has a tendency to call up journalists and ask them not to write negatively about Hakainde. When we asked a Minister how she coordinates policy with the President’s advisor for policy compliance, she said who is that? The man in charge of policy compliance, no one seems to know what he does.

This is the team that Hakainde has assembled, which advisors are supposed to function as the main liaison among Cabinet members, Cabinet Office, ministries, parastatals and other government institutions and foreign visitors to State House. This is the team that includes the President and his principal advisors who have never previously worked in government. With such an inexperienced team, how is it possible for the President to get focused and get things done? Who’s driving the agenda? The presidency or the bureaucrats? This dysfunctionality probably explains why there have only been six Cabinet meetings to date.

Yes, we all know and Zambians appreciate the increased Constituency Development Fund, removal of school fees, recruitment of teachers and medical staff and many good deeds. But the fight against corruption is in chaos. Job creation strategies remain academic. We still have a love affair with foreign investment and citizens’ empowerment initiatives remain non-existent! Debt negotiations with the Chinese have been mishandled, instead of sending the Minister of Finance to China, the Minister of Foreign Affairs with the Secretary to the Treasury went instead. The love affair with all things “West” at the expense of enhancing and resetting relationships with China and other Asian countries is going to be a costly adventure in time to come. PF cadres remain in civil service and our foreign missions. Six months later we still have an acting Secretary to the Cabinet. How does Hakainde expect to reorganise the civil service with a supervisor whose mandate is temporal?
There are boards which still have to be reorganised with new appointments. It took nearly six months to appoint the new IDC board and controversially the President has remained its chairman, going against the very tenets of good corporate governance when the companies Act requires full accountability of all appointed directors (A President has immunity from prosecution). KCM and Mopani issues remain unresolved. There is no comprehensible economic policy implementation plan nor a roll out of legal reforms on matters of good governance. The 8th National Development Plan remains a document of wishes with no implementation plan, just like the 7th National Development Plan under Edgar Lungu. Procrastination and indecision have gripped the presidency. Like many of his Ministers, though not required by law, Hakainde is yet to declare his assets and liabilities and yet he demands accountability from others.

Instead of modernising the presidency, senior people still parade at the airport for every presidential departure and arrival. Lusaka residents have to bear road rage at closing of the roads every time the President travels. What is he changing?

Having finally established the Forum for Public Private Engagement almost a month ago, things remain dormant and confusing. In December 2021, Hakainde appointed Professor Oliver Saasa as the chairman of the Advisory Council, (now renamed) yet the press release by the Minister of Information and Media on the Cabinet approval at the sixth meeting of Cabinet on the establishment of the Forum states that the Forum will be chaired by President Hakainde Hichilema! We are perplexed. The list is very long. But these are the very issues that an effective team of presidential advisors can help correct, let alone let these oversights happen. There is also simply too much chatter and focus on nonsensical issues like why the President won’t stay at Nkwazi House.

If the President cannot see the serious problems of internal conflicts and inadequacies of his team of advisors, as Ministers and civil servants have observed, then the advisors should do the President and Zambia a favour and consider to tender their resignations and save the President from further embarrassment. We all want Hakainde to succeed, but then again, no one can help him if he cannot help himself.
Mr President we, and a lot of well-meaning Zambians, want you to succeed. Plan for what you want to create, don’t focus on things you want to avoid. Good leaders know that good people want to be part of something exciting. They inspire with a winning plan, creating a strategy that enables individuals to become mentally and emotionally invested. Leaders should be masterful at creating a clear vision and enrolling others for the exciting journey. Leaders should learn how to laser-focus and establish boundaries that keep themselves and their team on track. Good leaders listen and accept criticism from within their teams. Good leaders avoid sycophants like a plague. At least learn one lesson from Edgar’s costly experience!

Good leaders are magnets for people they want to attract. There are a lot of experienced Zambians, who are supporters of the UPND and want to see success. You may know many of them or have even worked with them before. Find them and appoint them. Good leaders reach out. They don’t close themselves out – insulating oneself from so-called outsiders! Good leadership requires you to surround yourself with people of diverse perspectives who can disagree with you without fear of retaliation. Appointing individuals with toxic egos is not a good strategy. Procrastination is a flaw. Thinking that you are being methodical but instead inadvertently being unmethodical leads to chaos. The person that challenges you, holds you accountable, respects you more than the person that watches you stay the same and settle for mediocrity. That’s the team of advisors you and Zambia desperately need in these times of grave economic crisis. Admit you have a problem. Take stock. Make the hard decisions. Regroup and move forward. It’s human to err. Be decisive and fix it and fix it now. Remember, perception has been the downfall of many a good man.


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