The Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC) yesterday left out Vice-President Saulos Chilima from the protocol list to see off President Peter Mutharika to Zambia for the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) Summit.
Written communication from Chief Secretary to the OPC Lloyd Muhara that The Nation has seen, issued on Tuesday afternoon after the postponement of the President’s trip to yesterday morning, addressed and effectively invited the Speaker of the National Assembly Richard Msowoya, Chief Justice Andrew Nyirenda, Cabinet ministers and their deputies, among other government officials, to Kamuzu International Airport (KIA).
There was no mention of the Office of the Vice-President whose holder has expressed intent to challenge Mutharika in the presidential race in the 2019 Tripartite Elections.
Reads the communication in part: “For the attention of: Right Honourable Speaker of the National Assembly; Honourable Chief Justice; all Cabinet ministers; all deputy ministers, director general for State Residences; Clerk of Parliament; the ADC; presidential press secretary, director of Public Events…”
In the past, the Vice-President was addressed first followed by other heads of government agencies, including the Speaker, Chief Justice followed by Cabinet ministers and other government officials.
The development comes barely a fortnight after Mutharika stripped Chilima of his Cabinet portfolio of Minister responsible for Disaster Management Affairs.
The Office of the Vice-President yesterday declined to comment on the development, pushing the matter to OPC.
“It [the communication] originated from the OPC. Please ask them for an explanation,” said the Vice-President’s press officer Pilirani Phiri.
But Minister of Information and Communications Technology Nicholas Dausi, the official government spokesperson, also pushed the matter back to the Office of the Vice-President, saying: “Let the office of the Vice-President respond on that matter.”
The minister, however, confirmed that Mutharika did not leave the mantle to Chilima or Minister of Finance, Economic Planning and Development Goodall Gondwe who was seen dismissing the military parade at KIA.
Said Dausi: “Protocol states that the most senior Cabinet minister should dismiss the parade and at the airport it was Honourable Gondwe. The President remains in charge of the country because, as you know, communication is very easy nowadays and he can remain in command.”
Commenting on the souring relationship between the President and the Vice-President, a Chancellor College-based political commentator Ernest Thindwa said he was not surprised with the action from OPC because by announcing his political intentions to vie for the presidency, Chilima had become Mutharika’s competitor.
He argued that considering a Vice-President in Malawi only becomes functional when he is delegated and that was no longer the case, Chilima’s position had become untenable.
Said Thindwa: “By declaring that he would contest against the incumbent, his position as Vice-President has become untenable and technically non-functional. As a matter of principle, he should have resigned. I wonder what his motive for staying on is when he is not being delegated.”
Section 79 of the Constitution says a Vice-President is elected alongside the President and “shall assist the President and who shall exercise the powers and functions conferred on the First Vice-President…by this Constitution or by any Act of Parliament and by the President.”
When the governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) sacked the then Vice-President Joyce Banda from the party in December 2010, she remained in office until the untimely death of president Bingu wa Mutharika in April 2012.
Historically, there has been tension between Malawian Presidents and their Vice-Presidents predominantly over issues bordering on succession.
Since announcing that he was leaving DPP in June this year, Chilima has not been seen at official events attended by the President, including the Malawi Investment Forum opening ceremony in Lilongwe and the 45th Independence Anniversary Celebrations in Mzuzu.