President Lazarus Chakwera yesterday defended his selection of Cabinet, but acknowledged public grievances over some appointments and pledged to review the Cabinet after a five-month transition period.
Majority of public outrage has focused on the family connections and possible conflict of interest on some ministers, the size of the Cabinet and women representation, among others.
Among the appointments that appear to have rattled the public are the new deputy minister for lands, Abida Mia, wife of vice-president of the Malawi Congress Party (MCP), Sidik Mia, who is now also the Transport Minister; the new Minister of Industry, Roy Kachale Banda, who is the son of former president Joyce Banda.
Others are the new ministers of health and labour, Khumbize Chiponda and Ken Kandodo Banda, who are siblings and are related to Malawi’s founding president Hastings Kamuzu Banda.
But speaking after a swearing-in ceremony of the ministers, the President insisted that all appointments were made on merit alone.
He said: “I want to assure all Malawians that in making any appointments, I will never consider what family or region one comes from nor whom one is married to.
“I believe that a just society is not only one in which familial, regional and marital ties do not qualify you for service, but also one in which those ties do not disqualify you for service. The only thing that counts is merit.”
Chakwera urged the ministers to prove the doubting public wrong but warned that if they confirm public fears of incompetence he will remove them.
“I want you to hear me and to hear me clearly…You each have five months to produce results that will give Malawians confidence that change has come. Should you prove the skeptics right by being lazy, abusive, wasteful, arrogant, extravagant, divisive and corrupt, I will not hesitate to have you replaced,” he warned.
The new leader, who has pledged to be a listening president, reversed also some of his recent decisions that has attracted criticism, including the hiring of a new deputy Inspector General of police (DIG), the Commissioner General of the Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA) and deputies, which was deemed to have disregarded the law.
He said the police DIG nomination would be withdrawn while MRA bosses will work in an acting capacity until a board is appointed to hire new office bearers.
But Youth Decide chairperson Charles Kajoweleka, whose organisation was among those unimpressed by the Cabinet, yesterday insisted the Cabinet had sent a wrong signal.
“Undoubtedly, the appointments are nothing but a careless exercise of rewarding cronies, noise makers and hand clappers of the appointing authority. It appears the Cabinet appointments are the fulfillment of political ‘business deals’ made during the elections,” said Kajoloweka.
Joseph Chunga, a political analyst, yesterday said the reaction of the public is not surprising as the political atmosphere is charged for change. People fought for change. Anything that seems to suggest persistence of old systems will inevitably trigger resentment. For instance, some faces in this Cabinet, considering their political and economic interests, herald risk of State capture, which Malawians want to deal with for good.
“There are too many interests to balance. It’s a Tonse Alliance administration. All partners want a claim in the Cabinet and or other senior positions. Then, there is the issue of regional representation. While others are protesting in the name of socially desirable values like gender, age, competence etc, a good proportion of them are actually angered by regional and party considerations.
“They wanted more positions for their regions and political parties. Expectations are simply too high. People are complaining about family relations in the Cabinet. We may wish to note that these are not Chakwera’s or Chilima’s relations. We didn’t have such anger when President Bingu wa Mutharika appointed Peter into his cabinet,” said Chunga.
Chairperson for the Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) Gift Trapence whose group met Chakwera on Thursday to express concerns over the Cabinet, yesterday said the group will make a follow up on the issues.
Said Trapence: “We were very honest to the President on the concerns and he acknowledged the issues in his address yesterday. But we will make an appropriate follow up.”