NEWS of our junior resident doctors making fruitless efforts to petition the government over their five months’ salary arrears and allowances makes sad reading. Yesterday, representatives of these 300 plus doctors walked to State House to seek intervention, only to be blocked and directed to go and see the President’s Principal Private Secretary at the Cabinet Office. This is the confusion that has been caused by keeping one man in two senior government positions. These junior doctors are not the only public servants whose concerns are not being addressed by the relevant government authorities because the civil service has been left headless.

Our Opinion is that the Public Service is suffering because Dr Simon Miti is failing to satisfy the needs of both offices which he has clung on to. Dr Miti is Secretary to the Cabinet and has also remained President Edgar Lungu’s Principal Private Secretary at State House. Like we have stated in the past, these are two very senior government positions, and from a governance point of view, giving these two positions to one person dilutes efficiency. The effects of ignoring this reality is what we are seeing in the civil service.

What this has done is that it has created a disconnection between the Public and government in that to access Dr Miti you have to go through the rigorous security checks at State House or get turned away, like the case was with these doctors who have been chasing their salaries since 2019. Meanwhile, if you are lucky at Cabinet Office, the only person you may have access to is the Deputy Secretary to Cabinet Patrick Kangwa who cannot make any key decisions.

Why has the Secretary to the Cabinet, who is supposed to be a bridge between the people and the elected leadership chosen to go and join the elected rulers in hibernation? Why has President Lungu insisted on keeping this man in these two positions? Can’t he see that even permanent secretaries and other senior government officials who are supposed to have unfettered access to the Secretary to the Cabinet are facing serious challenges accessing Dr Miti?

Dr Miti should not have the cake and eat it himself. This is greed and President Lungu is guilty for allowing this to continue. This kind of greed has caused the public service to suffer because from what we see, Dr Miti seems more attached to his State House duties than his other office. We say this because today, instead of participating in most of the civil servants’ activities, he, like politicians, merely turns up for the official opening ceremonies and disappears.

Dr Miti is supposed to be supervising the whole civil service, taking permanent secretaries or controlling officers to task for implementation of government policy to ensure a smooth running of the system. We don’t understand how Dr Miti is able to supervise the civil service and also prioritise State House. You can’t serve two masters at the same time; one is bound to suffer. The civil service needs total commitment and the role of Secretary to the Cabinet is huge. It’s a very big responsibility. If President Lungu wanted Dr Miti to continue working as his Principal Private Secretary, why didn’t he let someone else take charge at the Cabinet Office? Is he telling us that Zambia is short of qualified people who can be Secretary to the Cabinet? We don’t think so.

A problem has been created now. When there are urgent matters, people in ministries send letters to the Cabinet Office and they will be told that ‘this man is not here, he is found at State House’. When the junior resident doctors follow him at State House, the security there tells them that ‘there is no Secretary to the Cabinet here, take them to Cabinet Office’. With such confusion, it’s a given that there is going to be inefficiency in the running of the public service.

The civil service is the engine of government and there must be seriousness in the leadership at the office of the Secretary to the Cabinet. If Dr Miti is busy with the President’s programme at State House, let a replacement be made. This is a fundamental issue. It may look small to others but we know that if a Secretary to the Cabinet is an absentee landlord, controlling officers who are crafty are having a field day. There is no one watching over them. It is no wonder the so called austerity measures are not working because those who are supposed to implement and monitor are busy in competing offices. How can you get rid of ghost workers in the civil service when you, as Secretary to Cabinet, are a ghost worker in your own office?

We are challenging the Secretary to the Cabinet, if he is a man of integrity, to face the President and request that he be removed from State House so that he can give the civil service direction. And President Lungu must explain why he has refused to let go of his Principal Private Secretary. What is so special about him? What is it that only he can do and not a new appointee in that office? This needs to be explained.