TOUGH JUSTICE : In politics of firing, therein lies the risk of misfiring

Monday January 16 2017



President elect Donald Trump

President elect Donald Trump 

By Justice Novati Rutenge justice@idev.co.tz

Recently, the world seems to have been getting more hard-liners in top leadership positions.
As Manu Bhagavan, Professor of History and Human Rights at Hunter College in the US remarked in an article published in March 2016, global authoritarianism is rising at a chilling scale.
Prof Bhagavan cites heavy-handedness, disdain for opposition and critical press in Turkey, Japan, India, Israel, Russia and Myanmar among other places, as activities pointing to the fact that the world is getting more authoritarian leaders. The professor’s argument cannot be stressed further than looking at the election of Donald Trump almost half a year after he (Prof Bhagavan) made his observations.
The newly elected president is famous for a catch phrase he used as host of a reality TV series, The Apprentice. The no-nonsense Trump eliminated people from the show with a dramatic phrase: “You are fired!”
In a famous video produced in 2012 but aired only a few months leading up to the November US election, Trump plays a boss who has summoned Obama to go through his performance as President. Mr Trump lists all of Obama’s shortfalls as President and eventually fires him.
Will Mr Trump run the country in similar fashion? Well, we have a few days or months to find out. But what we can clearly see now is that the proverbial “leader of the free world” is a man with a strong obsession for dismissing or firing subordinates.
Elsewhere also, the act of ‘firing’ seems to have crept its way into politics as the world gets more and more hard-liner leaders.
In Philippines, the new president, Rodrigo Duterte is firing guns at suspected drug dealers. This move has made him highly unpopular among the international community due to concerns over human rights abuses.
Back home in Tanzania, President Magufuli is famous for firing top level government officials—thankfully not in the style of his Philippine counterpart.
Reasons for dismissals are not always openly stated, but are thought to range from gross inefficiencies or insubordination to more serious cases misconduct.
Different commentators have split opinions about this style of governing, but it seems highly favoured by the masses who are never hesitant to shout resounding yeses when they’re asked in public meetings if a government officer should be ‘shown the door’.
But even without the full knowledge of the ins and outs of the dismissals, why do we celebrate them? Are there any positives for the country in this style of governance?
One of the advantages that quickly come to mind is the potential to enforce accountability within government. Things that were often taken for granted will no longer be taken for granted because inefficiency finally has strong repercussions. Most people have reported noticing fewer empty public service chairs and a general improvement in the quality of service.
Also, these dismissals could have the effect of getting government institutions in sync. Although there have been cases where government officials have issued conflicting statements in public, on a bigger scale, it does feel like the leadership is marching together, following the directions of an able ‘parade commander’.
This, compared to the laissez-faire approach that characterized the previous regime, is likely to yield better results.
However, there could be also be a few risks of ‘misfiring’.
Governance by firing could have the effect of cultivating fear and indecisiveness, and this may end up stifling creativity in government.
Experts need not have their hands tied by politics. They need the autonomy to do what will take their institutions forward even if it is in stark contrast with what is politically correct.
Also, what the dismissals translate to is a high turnover rate for the top offices in public and civil service. This could have the effect of making key government positions unattractive to some of the best qualified people.
Finally, there is obviously a certain amount of time that has to pass before a new appointee can effect change in an institution. A high turnover rate often translates into poor continuity in government plans and programs.
Is there a need for a new approach?
Maybe stern warnings and other professional disciplinary actions would achieve better results than dismissals would in some cases.
Our leaders need to find that delicate balance in dealing with public and civil servants that will allow them to institutionalize accountability while ensuring sustained optimal efficiency.
Said simply, leaders should be watchful that they are not falling into risks of ‘misfiring’ by firing needlessly.