Ahead of the Wednesday inauguration of his ministers and allocation of portfolios, President Muhammadu Buhari has started moves to forestall friction among the ministers, Africtv has learnt.
Buhari had at two different fora said because his administration would run with less than 36 ministries, some of his ministers would end up being mere members of the cabinet because they might not be given any ministry to oversee.
Our correspondent learnt that there are concerns in the Presidency that the development may cause friction among the ministers who may be seeing their colleagues without portfolios as inferior to them.
A Presidency source told our correspondent that one of the ways Buhari chose to address the situation was the two-day presidential retreat organised for the ministers-designate last week.
He said that was why one of the retreat’s papers was devoted to relationship among ministers on one hand and the ministers’ relationship with civil servants, especially permanent secretaries on the other hand.
Our correspondent obtained a copy of the paper delivered at the retreat to address the issue.
The paper was delivered by a former Head of Civil Service of the Federation, Ebele Okeke.
In the paper, Okeke made it clear to those who might emerge as ministers of state that they were appointed to assist the substantive ministers.
She said this notwithstanding, the ministers of state must be kept abreast of their ministries’ policies and programmes.
She said, “Ministers of state are appointed to assist ministers of cabinet rank in the discharge of the responsibilities assigned to them.
“The minister of state must be kept informed of the policy and activities of the ministry.
“The minister of state must not be impaired in discharging the responsibilities entrusted to his/her office.
“The authorisation of the minister of state to assume responsibility for certain subjects cannot relieve the minister of his/her ultimate responsibility for policy implementation or carrying out presidential directives. In the same vein, it does not relieve the Permanent Secretary of his/her responsibility for the organisation of the ministry.
“The minister of state is not subject to the direction of the permanent secretary and any conflicts between the duo must be referred to the minister for decision.
“When the minister is away from office, the permanent secretary will submit papers requiring ministerial attention to the minister of state.”
The retreat also warned ministers to ensure mutual understanding and cooperation between their special/personal assistants and officials of the ministry.
It was made clear to the ministers that the permanent secretary and directors are superior to ministerial aides “who must be made to recognise the superior status of the permanent secretary and directors.”
The retreat also warned ministers against making unnecessary demands from permanent secretaries.
They were specifically warned against asking for “money to visit my constituency for the weekend.”
The retreat identified 12 sources of conflicts in the relationship between ministers and permanent secretaries to include expectations of ministers many of which may be difficult to satisfy; official and unofficial demands which infringe on the rules/regulations and proper conduct of public officials; awards of contracts without due process as well as the creation of parallel authorities by ministerial aides through ministerial encouragement among others.
To ensure a harmonious relationship, the ministers were asked to recognise that government is a corporate business requiring complementary efforts, cooperation and understanding between ministers and career public servants.