Last updated on January 24, 2012
My Fellow Zambians,
I wish to share with you my views concerning the size and functions of the Zambian government following President Rupiah Banda’s announcement of his bloated 22-member Cabinet, many of the portfolios having 2 Deputy Ministerial sinecures. These portfolios are as follows:
- Minister of Justice;
- Minister of Defence;
- Minister of Finance and National Planning;
- Minister of Home Affairs;
- Minister of Health;
- Minister of Foreign Affairs;
- Minister of Agriculture and Cooperatives;
- Minister of Local Government and Housing;
- Minister of Gender and Development;
- Minister of Commerce, Trade and Industry;
- Minister of Communication and Transport;
- Minister of Community Development and Social Services;
- Minister of Education;
- Minister of Energy and Water Development;
- Minister of Information and Broadcasting Services;
- Minister of Labour and Social Security;
- Minister of Lands;
- Minister of Mines and Mineral Development;
- Minister of Science, Technology and Vocational Training;
- Minister of Sport, Youth and Child Development;
- Minister of Tourism, Environment and Natural Resources; and
- Minister of Works and Supply.
I believe a radical and fundamental reduction in the size of a national government is the only viable means by which a country can save public resources and ultimately pay off a good portion of the national debt, reduce taxes and interest rates to stimulate its national economy and job creation, improve infrastructure in both urban and rural areas, enhance safety and security in local communities, and provide adequately for the needs of education, public health, civil servants, and civil service retirees.
Tanzi and Schuknecht (1998:20), on the basis of a series of empirical studies, have, for instance, found that “countries with ‘small’ governments can provide essential services and minimum social safety nets while avoiding the disincentive effects caused by high taxes and large-scale redistribution on growth, employment, and welfare.”
Government Size versus Economic Growth
The size of a country’s government can have a significant effect on the level of its economic growth. As Barro, Gwartney and others, Smith, and the World Bank have found, there is a correlation between an expansion in the size of a government (reflected by an increase in its expenditures) and a decline in private investment and economic growth.
Gwartney and others, in a study designed to examine the impact of an expansion in the size of a country’s government on economic growth, have, for example, found that:
- An excessively large national government can have a negative effect on economic growth. Grossman, among other researchers, has found a similar correlation in his study of the U.S. government: “there [is] … indeed a negative relationship between growth in government and the rate of economic growth.”
- As a government grows in size, it crowds out investment, leads to a decline in productivity growth and contributes to a slowdown in the growth rate of its real gross domestic product (GDP). Similarly, Smith has found that “economies with large public sectors grow more slowly and suffer high rates of unemployment than those where this is not the case.”
- An increase of 10 percentage points in government expenditure as a share of a country’s GDP is associated with a decline of approximately 1 percentage point in the growth rate of real GDP. Barro has also found that a 1 percentage point rise in the share of government consumption in GDP is associated with a 0.14 percentage point retardation in the rate of growth of real GDP per head of population. Folster and Henrekson have found a similar correlation. And
- From 1980 to 1995, the world’s 5 fastest-growing economies—that is, South Korea, Thailand, Taiwan, Singapore, and Hong Kong—had total government xpenditures averaging 20.1% of GDP, and was less than half the average of ECD countries.
Similarly, a study focused on the growth of public expenditure in industrial contries between 1870 and 1996, Tanzi and Schuknecht have found that countries with relatively small governments can perform “as well or even better than their counterparts with relatively big governments.” In Middleton’s words, a “smaller, better-focused government is better able to deliver than is big government.”
Peden and Bradley, using U.S. data for the period 1949-85 to examine the effect of the size of government on economic output and productivity, have also concluded that the “level of government activity in the economy has a negative effect on both the economic base and the economic growth rate growth.”
In all, as a government grows in size and more and more resources are allocated by political rather than market forces, economic growth, as Gwartney and others (1998:3) have found, wanes and eventually becomes negative partly because the higher taxes and/or additional borrowing required to finance government expenditures exert a negative effect on the economy.
Core Functions of Government
A small government cannot promote economic growth unless governmental institutions and agencies can adequately perform their core functions (Gwartney, 1998:5)—including the following: protection of property rights and civil liberties; providing for public safety, security and infrastructure; enforcing business and other forms of contracts among individuals and/or institutions; inducing commercial and industrial activities; and facilitating the provision of quality education, training and health care.
Let us consider a few other prescriptions of the functions of government cited in the literature.
1) Amoako (2004) has cited the following as important functions which the “capable state” ought to perform: guaranteeing peace and security, providing and enabling political and legal environment for economic growth, and
promoting equitable distribution of the fruits of economic growth.
2) Anderson (1989:19-23) has identified the following as essential functions of government:
(a) Provision of economic infrastructure, including the basic institutions, rules and arrangements needed in the operation of a modern economic system;
(b) Provision of public goods and services, including national defense and security, roads and bridges, sewage disposal facilities, and traffic control systems;
(c) Resolution of group conflicts in pursuance of justice, public order and political stability;
(d) Maintenance of competition between and among economic units;
(e) Protection of the fragile natural environment against degradation and wasteful use;
(f) Provision for minimum access by citizens to economic outputs—including social security, unemployment compensation, food and housing assistance, and medical care; and
(g) Stabilization of the national economy by means of monetary and fiscal policies.
3) Hart (1996a and 1996b) has tendered a general and perhaps more useful description of what should be among the most basic of the functions of a country’s government:
“Governments should be restricted to functions which, by their nature, are necessary monopolies in which competitive private enterprise cannot operate efficiently and in the national interest…. [It is] … determined that private monopolies are antisocial … [although] there are some functions in which monopolies are necessary for efficiency. It would be impracticable, for example, to have numerous competitive reticulated services for the supply of water, gas and electricity, etc.”
In retrospect, defining the core functions of government should be the crucial first step toward responsible governing, because delivering public services efficiently and effectively is hardly significant unless a country’s government knows clearly what it is supposed to deliver and why (Evergreen Freedom Foundation, 2003).
In this endeavour, Zambia needs to consider the prospect of creating a smaller executive arm of the government consisting of the following 10 Cabinet portfolios:
1) *Education, Training and Sport*: To be directly responsible for advising and representing the Republican president on matters and issues relating to the following: general and tertiary education; vocational training; the training of teachers; adult literacy programs; sporting programs in all Government-funded educational and training institutions; and matters concerning remuneration for educators, trainers and researchers.
2) *Public Health and Sanitation*: To be directly responsible for advising and representing the Republican president on matters and issues relating to medical care, medical research, child health and development, family planning, disease control and prevention, food safety (local and imported foodstuff), drug safety (local and imported medicines), safety of
herbal medicines, public health education, public health inspections, and remuneration for public health personnel.
3) *Agriculture and Food Security*: To be directly responsible for advising and representing the Republican president on matters and issues pertaining to agricultural development, long-term food security, agricultural incentives, agribusinesses, agricultural research centers, irrigation schemes, and the food requirements of unemployed citizens and
4) *Finance and Revenue*: To be directly responsible for advising and representing the Republican president on financial matters and monetary issues; the stock market, national debt management and external debt resolution; management of government-owned enterprises; and revenue generation through taxation, customs and excise duties, service fees or charges, and postal services.
5) *Commerce and Industry*: To be directly responsible for advising and representing the Republican president on matters and issues concerning trade and industrialization, tourism, mining, business and investment promotion, imports and exports, trade relations, registration of foreign companies, and research and development (R&D) support to local manufacturers.
6) *Defence and Security*: To be directly responsible for advising and representing the Republican president on matters and issues concerning the following: national defence and security (including matters and issues relating to the training, equipment, remuneration for defence and security personnel); and fire-arm control and registration.
7) *Works, Supply and Transport*: To be directly responsible for advising and representing the Republican president on matters and issues relating to the following: utilization and management of nationally owned pieces of land; provision and maintenance of vital infrastructure nationwide, including an efficient and inter-modal network of ground and air transportation; development of “malleable” stretches of the Kafue, Zambezi, Luangwa, and other sizable perennial rivers for water transportation; and procurement and distribution of government supplies; and construction, renovation and maintenance of government facilities and properties.
8) *Justice and Immigration*: To be directly responsible for advising and representing the Republican president on legal matters, the protection of citizens’ rights and freedoms, legal aid, title deeds, national registration, passports and immigration, citizenship and naturalization, work permits, treaties and agreements with other countries, intellectual property rights, and remuneration for judicial personnel and support staff.
9) *Culture and Community Services*: To be directly responsible for advising and representing the Republican president on issues and matters relating to the following: preservation of our national treasures (including national monuments, museums, historical sites, and cherished cultural and family values); promotion of traditional music and culture-related crafts; national emergencies; national unity and patriotism; religious harmony; national ceremonies and festivals; the operations of civil police and prisons; and issues relating to women, children, disabled citizens, and retirees and the aged.
10) *Foreign Affairs*: To be directly responsible for advising and representing the Republican president on issues and matters concerning foreign political relations; consular affairs and services; profiles of foreign countries; services and vital information to Zambians in, or travelling to, foreign countries; and publicizing of Zambian society abroad.
The Executive branch of the national government should be complemented by the work of several autonomous government agencies, as provided for in the Republican constitution, including the following: the Zambia Revenue Authority; Anti-Corruption Commission; Electoral Commission of Zambia; Environmental Council of Zambia, Human Rights Commission; Central Supply and Tender Board; Drug Enforcement Agency; Zambia Development Agency; and the National Science and Technology Council.
Such agencies need to be administered by a lean ensemble of technocrats.
By and large, civil servants in government ministries that would be abolished or merged would need to be encouraged to seek early retirement with full benefits. Professional and skilled civil servants should be re-deployed in the new government ministries and agencies.
For example, professional and skilled civil servants in the current ministries of Science and Technology and Sports and Youth Development would be re-deployed in the contemplated Ministry of Education, Training and Sport. Those in the ministries of Mines and Mineral Development and Tourism, Environment and Natural Resources should be re-deployed in the new Ministry of Commerce and Industry. And so forth.
The government would need to make an earnest effort to take good care of each and every civil servant who would be affected by the contemplated changes in the size and functions of the executive branch of our national government.
A lot of money, buildings, automobiles and other assets would be saved by cutting the number of Cabinet-level portfolios by half, abolition of the position of Deputy Minister, abolition of the position of District Commissioner, and cutting the size of the foreign service.
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