President Lazarus Chakwera has come under fire for his reconfigured Cabinet which observers questioning the size, re-appointment of those he fired without explanation and political appeasement.
The new Cabinet, which the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC) released around 1.30am on Wednesday, two hours after a January 31 deadline, is also faulted for mixing up some ministries.
On the other hand, some members of the Tonse Alliance who feel sidelined said they will no longer share the blame for any of government’s failures.
The 27-member Cabinet has 19 Malawi Congress Party (MCP) members, four from UTM Party and one each from People’s Party (PP) and the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
In terms of regions, there are 15 members from the Central Region, six from the North, three from the South and one from the Eastern Region. There are 10 women, representing 37 percent, slightly short of the desired 60-40 prescribed in the Gender Equality Act Reacting to the Cabinet, University of Malawi (Unima) associate professor of political science Boniface Dulani said Chakwera should have explained why he has dropped some members, but also how the new one will change the work ethic.
He said: “Looking at the new list, I was underwhelmed. He should not have put himself in a box by promising a lean Cabinet which he has not delivered, nobody told him to make it small. Mostly disappointed in local government where he has combined it with culture and unity.
“That is a really huge disservice to local government. For a long time this country has equated that Ministry to a Ministry of chiefs and this has come at the expense of critical areas of local government. The thinking here is that local government has to be closer to chiefs.”
Dulani also said it appears the President did not appoint people on merit, but on political appeasement.
He said: “Chakwera has also rewarded mostly party loyalists. The best campaign Cabinet should be the one that can deliver and people will reward it accordingly during elections. We will stand to be corrected on this cabinet.”
Governance and human rights activist Undule Mwakasungula also faulted the merging of the Ministry of Local Government, saying it was a misplaced option.
He said: “Local Government was supposed to have a stand-alone ministry. Heaping additional responsibilities of unity and culture will bring confusion and retrogression in the operations of the whole ministry.”
In a separate interview, political strategist Humphrey Mvula said he wished the Cabinet was leaner, but having many political loyalists was normal to consolidate power.
He said: “Chakwera won a government, you don’t want to bring in mercenaries to share power with you. Politics does not operate like that. You need to have your own people who have to run up and down for you.
“It sounds unfair to others, but it’s normal in politics. Chakwera is only consolidating power ahead of 2025 by appointing those who can help him do that.”
On the inclusion of Chikwawa North legislator Owen Chomanika, a DPP member as Deputy Minister of Local Government, Mvula wondered how that would be played.
On Wednesday, Chomanika said he accepted the appointment.
People’s Transformation Party president Kamuzu Chibambo, whose party is a Tonse Alliance partner, said Chakwera’s decision meant he has chosen to sideline others.
He said: “This is how the President would want to move forward. He wants to work with those in the Cabinet. All the successes that his administration will have attained and all the failures should only be ascribed to them. That applies even from the time that he went into government.
“When he brought on board Hon. Mark Katsonga Phiri from PPM, we thought that was an effort to move with alliance partners, but now PPM has been kicked out. Still, I wish the President and the Cabinet well.”
The casualties include former minister of Natural Resources and Climate Change Eisenhower Mkaka and former minister of Gender, Community Development and Social Welfare Patricia Kaliati. Ironically, the two are also secretaries general for their respective parties, MCP and UTM, the key alliance partners.
The President also sacked Blessings Chinsinga from Local Government, Albert Mbawala from Mining, Gospel Kazako from Information, Timothy Mtambo of National Unity and Mark Katsonga Phiri of Trade and Industry.
Reacting to her removal in an interview on Wednesday, Kaliati said she was grateful for the opportunity to have served in Cabinet.
She said: “It is the prerogative of the President as given by the Constitution to hire and fire members of the Cabinet. There is nothing I can complain about. I have worked with him very well and wish all those appointed and the President well.
“I haven’t quit politics, not even quitting UTM. I am still the secretary general and an active politician.”
Chinsinga, who was plucked from the University of Malawi into the Cabinet in 2022, said his next move will be known later, but was grateful to have served Malawians.
He said: “I am very grateful for the opportunity that he [Chakwera] gave me to serve the nation. I cannot trade that experience with anything else. I shall forever remain grateful.”
New Minister of Education Madalitso Kambauwa Wirima has made a comeback barely months after Chakwera fired her alongside former minister of Agriculture Lobin Lowe last October for allegedly messing up the Affordable Inputs Programme (AIP), especially in relation to a botched K750 million deal with a United Kingdom firm.
Political analyst George Phiri wondered what has changed for Chakwera to bring her back.
“What miracle has happened that she is brought back? The President needed to come out and explain to us so that we know that maybe she was not wrong in that fertiliser issue,” he said.
The other new entrants in the Cabinet are Ken Zikhale Ng’oma at Homeland Security, Uchizi Mkandawire at Ministry of Youth and Sports and Moses Kunkuyu at Information.
Presidential press secretary Anthony Kasunda did not respond to our questions on the concerns raised on the Cabinet.
In his 2023 New Year’s Day Message, the President promised to reconfigure his Cabinet with a team focused on maximizing the country’s limited resources to improve service delivery and fast-track public works projects under construction.
He said it would be a leaner Cabinet. The previous Cabinet has 30 members while the new one has 27, still higher than the 20-member Cabinet his predecessor Peter Mutharika maintained between between 2014 and 2019