Human rights activists and political analysts say President Lazarus Chakwera’s delays in filling vacant Cabinet positions is creating unnecessary tension among Tonse Alliance partners which may derail their political agenda.
There are currently three vacant positions in Cabinet, including that of Minister of Transport Mohammed Sidik Mia and his Local Government counterpart Lingson Belekanyama who both died of Covid-19 on January 12 this year, as well as Minister of Labour Ken Kandodo was fired in April this year.
Asked when Chakwera would fill the vacancies, Presidential Press Secretary Brian Banda told The Nation of May 11 2021 that it is the President’s prerogative to hire and fire ministers.
In an interview yesterday, Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) chairperson Gift Trapence expressed disappointment that the appointing authority is taking forever to fill these positions.
“We can understand the position of Attorney General, it’s not too long ago, but for these ministerial positions it’s something else, especially when the President spoke of reviewing his Cabinet back in December,” he said.
The President fired Attorney General (AG) Chikosa Silungwe on July 21 this year after serving one of his three-year contract.
But Trapence cautioned Chakwera to be mindful that most of these positions are crucial to the effective operation of government machinery and delivery of Tonse Alliance campaign promises.
He argued that although the Solicitor General can step in to make some decisions when the AG’s office falls vacant, the exigencies of the two offices combined becomes a tall order.
On his part, University of Malawi political analyst Boniface Dulani also said the vacant ministerial positions would have been filled by now, arguing much as there are principal secretaries (PSs) as technocrats; ministries are lacking political leadership to advance the Tonse Alliance policies.
“The President should have by now chosen capable people with relevant qualifications to fill these positions. This used to happen during the administration of Peter Mutharika, and we thought we’re past this, but here we are, same indecisiveness when it comes to making critical decisions,” he said.
Dulani described this situation as disappointing to people who supported change of administrations.
He said the removal of Cabinet ministers is better managed through mini Cabinet reshuffles than firing one Cabinet minister and leaving the gap forever, adding it is suicidal for any administration to entrust PSs, who are technocrats and apolitical, to guide the political agenda of a ministry in absence of the political leaders, the ministers.
Explained Dulani: “The delays to make replacements bring all sorts of speculation, politicians angling themselves for those positions, using their boys, may throw one or two disinformation materials on social media and all that.
“The rumours we hear about cracks in the Tonse Alliance may appear real and there’s just that too much room for speculations. In a situation where no official information is available, it becomes fertile ground for speculations.”
Another Unima political scientist Mustafa Hussein said it was worrying that nothing is being said when the President had promised a Cabinet reshuffle some months back.
He said such indecisiveness gives credence to speculations that the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) is trying to dominate Cabinet positions which may create mistrust between the alliance partners, specifically top gurus in MCP that surround Chakwera and his vice Saulos Chilima of UTM Party.
“These rumours are creating cracks in the alliance and we cannot just dismiss them,” said Hussein.
But Banda was quoted in The Nation of May 11 2021, saying Chakwera should not be pressurised to fill the vacancies, arguing he will do so at the right time he will do so.
“As to when that will happen, it is his prerogative. The law gives him power to appoint a Cabinet at any time,” said the presidential press secretary.