The Presidential Years

I suggested to Mr Mbeki, just before or just after that first meeting, that, if he allows us, we would write to all the ministries to indicate that Cabinet will continue business as normal, with the exception of cabinet committees. In other words, departments and ministries should submit cabinet memoranda to the cabinet secretariat as that will enable Cabinet to start being productive with immediate effect. This was agreed to and I think that was fortunate, because at the first formal Cabinet meeting they actually had memoranda on the table and was able to start with matters of governance from the word go.

We also indicated that we (the cabinet secretariat) would draft a memorandum explaining the Cabinet system that was in place during the De Klerk era. It served at the next meeting. I drafted that memo suggesting that they give it a go ‘in view of the proven advantages of the system’. Minister Kader Asmal took exception to the word proven’. Who did it prove what to? We will decide what is proven! We also explained the suggestion that Cabinet should continue without the cabinet committees for the time being. Cabinet agreed, and then decided on the membership of the committees. Ministries were informed about this and they prepared their minsters accordingly. It was also agreed that Cabinet will function in this manner for a while and that the whole matter will be resubmitted for reconsideration.

After a period we resubmitted the guide for the drafting of cabinet memoranda, suggesting that ‘You have been using this guide for a while and you may now, if you want to, make proposals to change the format of memos and the functioning of cabinet committees.’ Cabinet subsequently reduced the committees from six to five, if I remember. The only amendment to the guide for the drafting of cabinet memoranda (which conforms to most international practices and stems from the British system) was suggested by Mr De Klerk, namely to introduce a section on constitutional Implications. This amendment was approved.

William Smith