Hon. Folks, here is my take on APM’s Cabinet reshuffle on Monday. Kudos to him for maintaining a thin 20-member Cabinet but the new team is no better than the old one. More importantly, the shake-up is most likely to yield one undesirable result for democracy—boot-lickers to boot.
Paul Chibingu said in a radio interview his dismissal as Minister of Lands, Housing and Urban Development took him by surprise. Some political analysts use the no-smoke-without-fire logic to suggest Chibingu and his “comrade in grief” Trasizio Gowelo, who was Minister of Local Government and Rural Development, may have blundered.
I beg to differ. If blunder was the cause, they—or at least Chibingu—would not have been surprised. APM would have summoned him, pointed out the mistake and, in the name of “natural justice”, heard him out on the issue. What has happened can only mean APM did not even have the courtesy to inform him about his fate before going public.
There is no denying the President has the authority to hire or fire members of his Cabinet, except the Vice-President, but these appointees assume constitutionally stipulated positions of power over us. They deserve better.
The remnants too, particularly people such as Jean Kalilani who has been moved from Health, a portfolio of her competence to internal security (as a medical doctor she may have no clue on what it takes to catch a thief!) should have been communicated to and their views sought before going public with the Cabinet reshuffle.
Am I expecting too much? Not when the same government APM heads exacts the same standards of employee treatment from the rest of us. You cannot get away with firing a house help without notification and stating the grounds for it, can you? What more with a Cabinet Minister?
But there is another reason APM may wish to exercise his prerogative to fire ministers differently—to avoid turning the remnants into jesters who survive by playing the cheerleader for the boss without adding value to the “serious business” of steering Malawi out of poverty and economic stagnation.
All self-acclaimed democratic presidents that preceded APM—Bakili Muluzi, Bingu wa Mutharika and, to an extent, Joyce Banda—treated members of their Cabinet much the same way as did Kamuzu Banda who headed a one-party dictatorship.
They sought less of good ideas and more of unflinching loyalty to them personally from their appointees. Don’t elders say you don’t bite the finger that feeds you? Why keep in your Cabinet a minister who dislikes your ideas even if they are warped?
Stories were told of how, during the Kamuzu era, chauffeurs would, upon hearing on the car radio about the dismissal from the Cabinet of their boss perched on the back-seat, stop the car, remove the flag and tell the distressed bwana to let go of the VIP treatment by sitting on the front passenger’s seat.
The multi-party political dispensation demands transparency and accountability from the privileged who exercise “power of the State” (in the letter and spirit of Section 12 of the Constitution). Ironically, the former heads of State strongly felt an exception to the rule was when it came to invoking Section 95 (2) which empowers them to remove Ministers and Deputy Ministers from their posts.
They never bothered to justify their action, not to the electorate nor the “dethroned” folks. A spin-doctor for Muluzi argued that the President did not have to justify the exercise of his prerogative. That spin-doctor ended up serving Bingu as well!
But what did we get in turn? Ministers who were ready and eager to sacrifice our best interests as long as the dream of living in Area 10, protected by a police body-guard and being chauffeur-driven in the Toyota Prado VX could continue a little longer. They did this by condensing the whole s.96 (1) and (2) of the Constitution which outlines their duties and functions to telling the President the truth that he or she would like to hear.
Remember the UDF regional Governor for the South who aptly encapsulated the lap-dog status of Ministers then, saying at a presidential rally to a deafening applause that they are mere chaff (madeya), who had no life of their own unless they supported Muluzi’s unconstitutional bid for a third term?
That clown’s low opinion of ministers was reflected in the manner Bingu treated members of Cabinet. Using the so-called presidential prerogative, he enjoyed playing god by hiring and firing them at will, in the process inculcating in the remnants so much fear that, they simply rubber-stamped bad laws and bad policies that characterized the tragedy of Bingu’s second term.
When reflecting on things he did while serving as a minister in Bingu’s Cabinet, a certain respectable citizen of this Republic only concluded: “the devil must have urinated in my eyes!” Did I hear APM say he wanted to trim excessive powers in the presidency? How about starting by justifying the exercise of the presidential prerogative?