Mogadishu — Prime Minister Abdiweli Sheikh Ahmed nearly tripled the size of the previous cabinet and retained only two sitting ministers, yet observers say the newly sworn-in ministers may face the same problems that led to the ouster of the previous government.
Ahmed named the nominees for his cabinet of 25 ministers, 25 deputy ministers and five state ministers on January 17th. Parliament overwhelmingly approved the nominees on Tuesday and the entire cabinet was sworn into office Wednesday (January 22nd).
Many members of parliament were appointed in the new cabinet, and will serve both their ministerial and parliamentarian duties.
Observers wonder, however, whether the new cabinet will be able to stand firm against the accusations of failure levelled against the previous government.
Former Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdon’s administration, which comprised ten ministers, lost parliamentary confidence in December after it was accused of failing to perform its duties, with lack of progress in security being the foremost concern.
Among other issues, a power struggle between Shirdon and Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, as well as wrangling over alleged corruption, personal loyalties and clan politics, were the basis for why lawmakers ousted Shirdon.
But the new cabinet members were not selected for their knowledge or expertise, said Abdishakur Sheikh Hassan, director of the Somali Centre for Education and Research. Rather, they were selected in an effort to appease various clans and gain their support, which is the reason the number of ministers has swelled, he said.
“The new cabinet does not seem to have the capacity to tackle the tough situation the country finds itself under because it includes members who do not have the level of education that ministers should have,” Hassan told Sabahi. “This contradicts Article 98 of the constitution, which states that any individual selected for a ministerial post has to have an undergraduate university degree.”
“I know the deputy ministers personally, and many of them do not have a high school diploma,” said Hassan, who served as the general director of the Ministry of Education under the administration of Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed.
Larger cabinet, more problems?
In addition, the new cabinet has created more inefficiency in the government with the creation of unnecessary ministries that have overlapping duties, he said.
“For example, two ministries were created for education. One would have been sufficient,” he said. “And the [former] ministry of natural resources was also split into several others, where one or two [at most] would have been sufficient.”
Hassan also took issue with the appointment of sitting members of parliament to ministerial posts, and said the constitution should be changed to prohibit that.
“At the very least it should have been that a member of parliament would immediately lose that position if appointed to a ministerial post,” he said. “However, if a member of parliament and a minister are the same person, who will be held accountable?”
At least ten of the 25 new ministers are lawmakers and were able to participate in the vote to approve their own nomination on Tuesday.
Simultaneously serving in the cabinet and parliament are: Minister of Interior and Federalism Abdullahi Godah Barre, Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Farah Sheikh Abdulkadir Mohamed (who served as a state minister in previous government), Minister of Information Mustafa Ali Duhulow, Minister of Sports and Youth Khalid Omar Ali, Minister of Commerce and Industries Adan Mohamed Nur, Minister of Public Works and Reconstruction Nadifo Mohamed Osman, Minister of Women and Human Rights Khadijo Mohamed Diriye, Minister of Environment and Livestock Salim Aliyow Ibrow, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Religious Affairs Ridwan Hirsi Mohamed, and Minister of Energy and Water Jama Ahmed Mohamed.
More than 20 of the newly appointed deputy ministers are also lawmakers who will be retaining their parliamentary seats, including Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation Mahad Mohamed Salad and Deputy Minister of National Security Ibrahim Yarow Issaq.
In Shirdon’s government, only one minister — Minister of Justice and Religious Affairs Abdullahi Abyan Nur — concurrently served in parliament.
When contacted to comment on the conflict of interest that members of the new cabinet might face, government spokesman Abdirahman Omar Osman Yirisow declined to comment and told Sabahi to “ask the prime minister”. The offices of Speaker of Parliament Mohamed Osman Jawari and Prime Minister Abdiweli Sheikh Ahmed however did not return Sabahi calls for comment.
The expanded cabinet will also require a much larger budget to pay the officials and their support staff, said Abdikamal Mohamed Sheikh Abdullahi, who teaches at the faculty of economics and management studies at Mogadishu University.
“The size of government will increase expenses that the government cannot afford to shoulder. There will be a need for more offices, more employees and other responsibilities that will require funding,” he told Sabahi. “The government does not receive taxes, it does not generate enough revenue and is solely dependent on foreign aid.”
Citizens voice mixed opinions
Hamdi Maalin, a 24-year-old resident of Mogadishu’s Daynile district, said she was really disappointed when she saw the list of the new ministers.
“The previous government failed in the area of security and made progress in foreign affairs, therefore it is surprising that the minister who succeeded was sacked and the one who failed was retained,” she said, referring to Minister of National Security Abdikarim Hussein Guled who has stayed on and former Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Fowsiyo Yusuf Haji Aadan.
“The fifty-five ministers were named individually [but] were voted in as a group,” Maalin said. “It would have been better if they were approved individually so that the good ones could be approved and the bad ones rejected.”
Abdi Ahmed, a 30-year-old resident of Mogadishu’s Hodan district, said there was a lack of transparency in the nomination process.
“We do not know the new cabinet members and their biographical information is not public so that we can understand what they are capable of achieving,” he told Sabahi. “Therefore, I have no confidence in them.”
“At first [members of] parliament claimed that they wanted to put the public interest first and that they would appoint a competent government, but it is clear now that they were fighting to be appointed [to ministerial positions],” Ahmed said.
Nonetheless, lawmaker Mohamed Abdi Yusuf, who was a minister in Mohamed Siad Barre’s government, said it is necessary to give the new ministries time to prove their capabilities instead of rushing to criticise them.
“We were 21 ministers when Siad Barre’s government [was toppled],” he told Sabahi. “Current conditions have necessitated this structure, so let us wait so that the country does not fall into political crisis once more.”
Hamar Weyne resident Hussein Arabow, 54, agreed that the new government should be supported so that it can succeed.
“The parliament has approved the new government and it has gone through the legal process,” he said. “Therefore, the public has to support it. If we oppose it, we will just waste more time.”