President Lazarus Chakwera has distanced himself from Minister of Energy Ibrahim Matola who on Monday told him to disregard his critics on reducing travels as part of austerity measures to stabilise the economy.
Presidential press secretary Anthony Kasunda said in a written response yesterday that despite Matola uttering the sentiments, the austerity measures remain in force.
He said: “The austerity measures as announced by the President during the press conference were very clear, remain unchanged and are in force.
“There is nothing that the Minister of Energy said on Monday that is contradictory to the austerity measures.”
Kasunda, however, did not respond to why the President has not reprimanded Matola, who is secretary general of People’s Party, which is part of the nine-party governing Tonse Alliance.
The President last week announced austerity measures to stabilise the economy amid devaluation of the kwacha that, among others, include restricting foreign travel to a maximum of three trips per year.
But during the commissioning of the $33 million (about K33.1 billion) 20 megawatts (MW) JCM Golomoti Solar Power Plant on Monday, Matola said Chakwera should not listen to ‘frogs’ in reference to his critics and should instead proceed with his trips so that he is seen to be governing.
The sentiments have since sparked fury from the public with political commentators describing them as a sign of executive arrogance and an indication that the Tonse Alliance administration is pulling in different directions.
In a telephone interview yesterday, politician-cum-analyst Humphrey Mvula said it is a bad omen for the minister to express such sentiments when in essence he is supposed to be in the forefront implementing the measures.
He said: “It means that the President is left alone in driving implementation of the austerity measures. It also shows that he [Matola] doesn’t have the buy-in on implementing the measures and it speaks badly for him.”
Mvula, however, said it should not have taken long for the President to censure Matola for his sentiments, especially in describing the critics as frogs.
In a separate interview, Mzuzu University based political analyst Chrispin Mphande said it is unfortunate that politicians only think about political visibility instead of reality on the ground.
“Politicians should learn that when they are on the podium they should not get carried away. They should learn to tame their political language. They are public figures, they will get quoted,” he said.
Former Minister of Finance Goodall Gondwe said in an interview last week that the austerity measures will only make a difference if the lack of discipline in the civil service is addressed.
Meanwhile, the Centre for Democracy and Development Initiatives executive director Sylvester Namiwa has asked Matola to apologise to Malawians for his sentiments and that Chakwera must discipline him.
But our efforts to speak to Matola proved futile as he did not pick up our phone calls on numerous attempts, and neither did he respond to our WhatsApp messages.
PP president Joyce Banda, speaking through her spokesperson Arnold Mnelemba in a telephone interview yesterday, said she would not comment on Matola’s sentiments as he was speaking in his capacity as minister.
In March 2020, Banda admonished Matola for uttering derogatory remarks against former Malawi Electoral Commission chairperson Jane Ansah during a National Elections Consultative Forum meeting in Blantyre.