Saturday, August 19, 2017
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Puntland: The time of reckoning has come for the part-time president of Puntland and his weak cabinet

By Abdirizak Abdulle Farah

Amid a skyrocketing inflation, widespread insecurity, months of unpaid salaries, severe drought effect and declining public confidence in the administration, the Puntland state parliament has finally awakened from the induced coma and acted on behalf of the people passing a timely motion of no confidence against Gaas’s cabinet over incompetency.

Puntland leaders are accountable to the public through the state parliament and it seems that the recent demonstrations of people from multiple towns about the effect of inflation on their lives among other things have not fallen on deaf ears, prompting the parliament’s quick dismissal of government.

Gross inefficiency, financial malfeasance and lack of budget frugality, ubiquitous corruption, nepotism and favoritism, and negligence of duties on the executive side coupled with the total lack of interest in holding the government accountable on the legislative side culminated in the current sorry state of the state of Puntland. Governance is not an always self-correcting system that is why branches of government and properly functioning checks and balances are created and essential for good governance.

The people of Puntland are known to be patient enough and generous enough to grant their leaders a complete and uninterrupted chance to govern despite their failures, but their patience is not limitless. The parliament’s extended patience with this administration might have reflected that tradition. However, when there are warning signs that indicate a near collapse, patience alone is not enough and will not get you anywhere, action is needed. This most recent action of parliament was long overdue, but better late than never.

The dissolved cabinet (the largest ever in Puntland) was an ever-expanding quantitatively improved, full of accomplished grovelers and largely out of touch individuals, where many of the respected and able people had already departed and the few good men still remaining were powerless and marginalized. Thus, while the dismissal of the cabinet of underachievers is seen as a welcoming and necessary first step towards government accountability and genuine improvement, in Puntland power revolves around the presidency. Therefore, the real focus should be on the president himself who is the under-performer-in-chief.  The buck stops with him. He is ultimately responsible for every aspect of the failure.  Changing or rearranging the crew is not enough when changing the captain is required.

Gaas came into office promising the moon but delivered little. Promising to fix the broken system of governance in Puntland, but he only brought it into a complete paralyze.

Perhaps among the factors that have contributed to the parliament’s overall dissatisfaction and ultimate dismissal of the cabinet was the president’s sense of lack of urgency and low energy approach to run the affairs of the state more effectively.

Frequent and unimportant presidential travel which would have amounted to a negligence of duties in a normal country has become the norm in Puntland and is also believed to have played a role in the parliament’s decision to intervene.

In the year 2016 alone, as widely reported in the media the number of days Gaas spent outside of Puntland reached 166 days! That is nearly 50% of the whole year, or differently stated being outside the state every other day. How can a leader of a state at a very troublesome period be absent from his office that often that long? There is only one way:  If you are careless enough and not accountable to anyone.

Not only does the president’s frequent trips and lengthy absence from Punltand constitute negligence of duties, but the extraordinary cost associated with the presidential travel also becomes a huge financial burden which the state cannot afford. The president’s itinerant lifestyle and extravagance spending does not match the tenuous financial situation of the state.

Gaas may have hinted his part -time approach to presidency in a speech given during the election campaign in 2013.  Speaking at a campaign event in Dubai, he spoke in detail of his previous academic job, highlighting its benefits and work flexibility just to stress the personal sacrifice he intended to make for the sake of improving the lives of Portlanders. His credulous and unsuspecting audience applauded his remarks.  No one knew at the time, Gaas wanted to keep his flexible working hours even though the flexibility and light schedule of his old job was not completely interchangeable with the work load of his future job.

Unfortunately, nearly four years later, the people of Puntland and their parliament have learned through the hard way that the arduous tasks of the presidency cannot be adequately performed on part-time bases even at the minimum level the job requires.

One might argue that the president’s regular travel is essential and justifiable for the promotion and advancement of the state interest outside Puntland and abroad.  However, when the travel costs obviously consume more resources than it generates, the cost benefit ratio becomes too high, especially at a time when belt-tightening austerity measures were required.

When the finance needed to provide the basic security services is sometimes cut or unavailable due to financial difficulties, one should ask why the same was not applied to the state house budget where spending always exceeds the total allowed budget while vital security operations and staff are under-paid or unpaid.

During the election campaign, then-candidate Gaas was also encouraging people to break the silence and hold the previous administration accountable. Gaas said in one such speech, nothing will happen if you remain uninvolved and silent and you don’t need to beg you rights; you need to demand your rights. Well, that advice is well taken and now people need and demand more than ever accountability, efficiency, transparency, effective leadership and focus.

The parliament’s continued silence and lack of action despite the deteriorating situation of the state, would have been a complete disservice to the people whose interest they represent and would be viewed a total betrayal of public trust had they not acted.

Gaas will go on the record as the first Puntlad leader whose cabinet has been dissolved by the parliament due to incompetency. No self-respecting leader should stay in office under this circumstance. By dismissing his cabinet the parliament is clearly providing him with the opportunity of a more dignified exit. To gracefully resign from office rather than face the humility of possible removal from office should he miss to see the writing on the wall? With numerous irregularities, negligence, constitutional violations and failures under his belt which are serious enough to launch an investigation for possible grounds for impeachment charges, the choice is really his. Remain in office as a politically weakened and dead man walking for the remainder of his twilight presidency or leave graciously and save whatever little credibility he had left

Finally, whatever comes out of the current political show down between the fully awakened parliament ready to flex their legislative muscle and the besieged, lame duck president, time will tell. But, one thing is for certain: the moment of reckoning for this administration has just begun.

In the meantime, maybe it would be good idea to include “Part-timers Need Not Apply” in the presidential job description just to keep the future aspirants for the job from repeating this habit.

 

Abdirizak Abdulle Farah

Concerned citizen in Puntland


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