President Lazarus Chakwera has come under criticism from the Political Science Association (PSA) for falling short on his agenda and commitment to reduce presidential powers.
Speaking in an interview on Monday, PSA secretary general Makhumbo Munthali also faulted the response given by presidential press secretary Anthony Kasunda on the trimming of powers, describing it as misleading.
Munthali said administrative and practical reduction of presidential powers is already provided for in the country’s laws.
He said: “For example, you cannot say the President has trimmed his powers by subjecting himself to Parliament and ACB [Anti-Corruption Bureau] for questioning, and not interfering in its work [ACB]. These are already provided for by the law.
“In addition, it is important whenever we are talking about the trimming of presidential powers to distinguish substantive presidential powers from ceremonial presidential powers. The issue of the chancellorship of universities is one example of ceremonial powers,” he said.
Munthali said while ceremonial and administrative reduction of powers may be part of the process, the general calls for reduction of presidential powers lean more on the substantive powers.
He said trimming presidential powers, both ceremonial and substantive, requires legislative and constitutional amendments such that it is essentially an issue that requires the Executive, Legislature and the general public, including the civil society to collectively work together.
“However, the Executive must be seen to be in the driving seat to push the agenda as already pledged in both Malawi Congress Party [MCP] and UTM Party 2019 manifestos,” Munthali said.
Kasunda on Monday insisted that the President has moved to trim his powers administratively by ending the practice of interfering with operations of independent bodies such as Parliament, ACB, the Office of the Ombudsman and Malawi Police Service.
He said: “Legislatively, the amendments to the law necessary for ending the President’s chancellorship over public universities is already underway through the Ministry of Justice.”
Kasunda further insisted that the President has also “greatly” reduced his powers by subjecting himself to the constitutional provision to appear before every session of Parliament as well as his move to avil himself before ACB investigators.
However, Section 89 (4) of the Constitution provides that the President shall be called to Parliament to answer questions at such times as may be prescribed by the Standing Orders of Parliament on a motion of the National Assembly or Senate.
In a September 6 2020 national radio address, Chakwera said it is not possible for a President to be the appointing authority of many offices without at some point coming face to face with a conflict of interest and further stressed that too much presidential powers has been causing problems in the country.
Political commentator Humphrey Mvula described Chakwera’s September 6 2020 as a statement of intent that was just to impress Malawians who voted for him in the June 23 2020 Fresh Presidential Election.
He said reducing presidential powers means the Constitution going through serious reforms which would be difficult due to vested political interests, as such, it remains a complicated matter.
Chakwera, who is MCP president, won the court-sanctioned fresh presidential election after partnering with Vice-President Saulos Chilima of UTM Party and seven other political parties to form the nine-party Tonse Alliance.
The alliance ousted the now opposition Democratic Progressive Party led by Peter Mutharika.