With the Cabinet operating without four ministers, analysts have said this is a pointer that President Lazarus Chakwera’s government can operate effectively with a lean Cabinet, thereby cutting down on public expenditure.
In separate interviews this week, Centre for Social Accountability and Transparency executive director Willy Kambwandira and political scientist Blessings Chinsinga urged Chakwera to draw lessons from how the Cabinet has operated with less members.
Said Kambwandira: “Although we are not clear in terms of how much this has affected government in terms of performance and service delivery, it is clear from this that it is possible to run government with a lean Cabinet.”
On his part, Chinsinga said although having vacancies in senior Cabinet positions is not healthy for government’s success, the reduced number of ministers is proof that a lean Cabinet can operate efficiently.
Chinsinga, a University of Malawi associate professor of political and administrative studies suggested that the President can do away with deputy ministers.
He said: “I always advocate for the government to fill all strategic positions if it is to succeed. So, the four ministers should be replaced and then the Cabinet must be trimmed by getting rid of unnecessary posts.
“Having deputy ministers depends on the complexity of the ministries. But there has never been a convincing criteria to justify their appointments in this country. The appointments are a political question.”
But some analysts have cast doubt on the possibility of Chakwera opting for a leaner team should he reshuffle the Cabinet, arguing the President is compelled to appease Tonse Alliance partners.
In an interview on Wednesday, former minister Grain Malunga said the idea of a lean Cabinet is good, Chakwera cannot implement it for fear of upsetting the Tonse Alliance partners.
Chakwera, who leads Malawi Congress Party (MCP), rose to power on the ticket of the Alliance which has nine parties including UTM Party which is led by Vice-President Saulos Chilima.
Malunga said having a unity government makes it hard for the President to balance up issues related to Cabinet appointments.
He said: “As a result, you end up breaking one ministry into several ministries. I have in mind the Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy and Environment. It was one ministry which I headed, but has now been split into three separate ministries.
“All this is done in efforts to foster unity of purpose and to ensure that government is not disrupted by some disgruntled partners.”
Malunga, who served under former president Bingu wa Mutharika, added that the only time Chakwera may be free to elect a lean Cabinet is when the country is close to the 2025 Tripartite elections.
On his part, Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace national coordinator Boniface Chibwana also doubted Chakwera could opt for a lean Cabinet while in the Tonse Alliance setup.
He said: “A small Cabinet in the next reshuffle is an option every Malawian would love to see, but this may not be attained because the Tonse Alliance government is underpinned by political convenience and exigencies such that appeasement is the main determinant at the expense of the common good.”
Chibwana, however, said there is no proof that the ministries that have been operating without ministers have done so efficiently.
Asked for the President’s reaction to calls for a lean Cabinet, State House director of communication Sean Kampondeni responded: “How the President looks at these matters will be made plain when he deems it appropriate to do so.”
On why the President has not replaced the three ministers he said: “The President’s only reason for waiting for the appropriate time to fill these Cabinet portfolios is that it is what he has determined to be in the nation’s best interest.”
The country in January this year lost Minister of Transport and Public Works Sidik Mia and his Local Government counterpart Lingson Belekanyama to Covid-19.
In April, Chakwera sacked Minister of Labour Ken Kandodo after he was implicated in abuse of Covid-19 funds, and last week, Minister of Energy Newton Kambala was also fired on allegations of corruption in oil deals.
Chakwera appointed a 31-member Cabinet in July 2020 after winning the June 23 2020 Fresh Presidential Election. His predecessor Peter Mutharika maintained a team of 20 ministers during his term running from 2014 to 2019.