Somalia experienced a leadership change in early 2017. After months of parliamentary (s)elections, lower and upper house parliamentarians were sworn in in late 2016. The two chambers of the federal parliament elected Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo as the president of the state. Within two weeks a prime minister was appointed and the parliament unanimously gave him their vote of confidence. The prime minister announced a large cabinet and the parliament, as per the constitution, endorsed the government in late March 2017.
Somalia has repeatedly experienced unstable executive branch. The instability usually comes from disagreements between the president and his prime minister, which in turn affects the ministers and ministry portfolios. In the past 15 years, four Somali presidents appointed 12 prime ministers and ministry portfolios and cabinet members were arbitrarily changed. Similar squabbling could spark under the new federal leadership with the current structural problems in place.
To establish stable and functioning executive branch in Somalia, three fundamental changes should be made: reorganization of the structure of the government and distribution of the powers of the president and the prime minister, the adoption of cabinet-organization legislation and a new eligibility criteria for the membership of the council of ministers will, in my view, be a prerequisite for a stable executive at Somalia federal institutions.
The Somali provisional constitution gives considerable executive powers to both the president and the council of ministers. Somalia has been practicing this hybrid system since independence in 1960 – save during the military dictatorship (1969-1990). This system did not work well in Somalia. In the past four years, three prime ministers were appointed and sacked after disagreements between the president and the prime minister. Under the current set up, the president appoints the prime minister, but cannot fire. Therefore, the parliament has always been the arbiter and often gave a no confidence vote to prime ministers.
Different options were proposed to solve this divided executive. One solution is adopting the 1960 constitution, which gives the president the power to appoint and dismiss the prime minister. In this setup, the president should be popularly elected by the citizens, not the parliament as the case is now. Another option considered during the ongoing constitutional review process is the adoption of a presidential system with a president and vice president(s).
These proposals require further negotiations and consensus among political stakeholders, especially in the constitutional review process. However, structural change is necessary to produce a stable and effective government.
I believe that a presidential system is fit for Somalia. This system will end the recurring power struggle between the president and prime minister. It would also enable citizens to elect their president, and it will advance separation of powers, checks and balances, and accountability.
One of the challenges of a stable and functioning federal government is the arbitrary changes of ministry portfolios and the unlimited number of ministers appointed. In March this year, a large number (69 including the prime minister) of cabinet ministers was formed. Ministry portfolios were changed and a new ministry was created. This is so because there is no legislation in place defining the number of ministry portfolios. As a result, every prime minister has the discretion to form a large or a small government. For instance, Abdi Farah Shirdoon named 10 ministers, while his successor appointed 25 ministers.
In June 1962, the first Somali Republic, which prepared most of the institutional foundations of Somalia, drafted and passed the Law of the Organization of the Government. This legislation stipulated the number of ministry portfolios and the total number of ministers that a prime minister can appoint. The ministries were based on the needs and economic situation of the nation. The prime minister had a clear focus and scope of the number of individuals (s)he can appoint, and as a result, the ministry portfolios were stable.
Present-day Somalia needs similar legislation. The council of ministers could revisit that legislation, and request the parliament make an amendment commensurate with the current institutional needs. This is an institution-strengthening step that could enormously improve the future stability of the nascent state institutions of Somalia.
Membership of the Council of Ministers
The structure of the government usually determines the relationship between the executive and legislative organs of the state. For instance, the two bodies are separate in a presidential system, but in parliamentary systems, they are fused.
Since 1960, Somalia members of the parliament were eligible to join the cabinet. It is a constitutional right for the MPs to be appointed or serve as a cabinet minister. However, the fusion of parliament and cabinet has not worked for Somalia since there are no disciplined political parties.
The majority of the newly approved ministers (44) are members of parliament. They get two salaries; both from parliament and government. This, in my view, is one of the main reasons why motions against the government are highly frequent because other MPs, who are outside the cabinet, want to join the next government.
The constitution committee that drafted Somalia’s 2000 Transitional National Charter proposed a solution for this complication. They added an article to the constitution specified that any member of the parliament who joins the government would automatically lose his/her membership in the parliament. This article should be reinstated in the constitutional review process. It will improve the functions of the legislative and executive branches and will also advance accountability among state institutions.
The implementation of the three proposed constitutional and legislative adjustments, I contend, would be a prerequisite for a stable and properly functioning government in Somalia. The three proposals are based on lessons learned from past experiences that can be replicated to the present context. However, it will need the political will and commitment from top federal leaders.