President Lazarus MacCarthy Chakwera (LMC) yesterday named a five-member partial Cabinet that gives a glimpse of his policy direction and sheds light on the power-sharing structure with his partners in Tonse Alliance.
The President has given former Airtel Malawi managing director and now Vice-President Saulos Chilima an expansive portfolio covering economic planning, development and public sector reforms.
Former private sector hand Felix Mlusu—who used to run multinational conglomerate Nico Holdings plc as managing director and chief executive officer—is now Malawi’s Minister of Finance, which Chakwera has delinked from what in the Peter Mutharika days used to be called Finance, Economic Planning and Development.
The President has also tapped respected private practice lawyer Modecai Msisha—who was his lead lawyer in the presidential election nullification case that gifted him the presidency—to be Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, succeeding Mutharika appointee Bright Msaka.
Chilima’s ally and lead lawyer in the same case, Chikosa Silungwe, is the new Attorney General, replacing Kalekeni Kaphale who the courts chided for being partisan, especially in his handling of the presidential election nullification case.
The two key justice sector appointments cement a governing pact that Chakwera—the head of Malawi Congress Party; and UTM leader Saulos Chilima—forged out of political necessity, but became more binding in the courtroom.
By publicly declaring that he made the appointments in consultation with Chilima, Chakwera also signalled that the Vice-President will be a governing partner in the true sense of the word, a move likely to reassure the UTM camp.
The President has also appointed firebrand Dowa East legislator MCP director of youth Richard Chimwendo Banda as Minister of Homeland Security, a pragmatic move reflecting the realities of party politics and appealing to the base where Banda is a popular figure.
So far, there is no name from other Tonse Alliance partners such as People’s Party, Freedom Party and Petra in the appointments.
In entrusting economic planning and fiscal policy to two former business executives, Chakwera is signalling a private sector-centric formula to the country’s prosperity.
Chilima was the architect of Mutharika’s public sector reform agenda whose implementation floundered when he fell out of favour with his then boss and lost the portfolio. Thus, he is likely to pick from where he left on the reforms.
It is the economic planning and development task that could prove a challenge given that Chilima, while he is a trained economist, has not practised the art at macro level.
The Vice-President is now the line Minister for the National Planning Commission—a powerful new government agency that overseas not just implementation of long-term vision and strategy, but is also responsible for formulation of the country’s flagship projects and programmes for implementation.
Through the commission’s grip on the Public Sector Investment Programme, Chilima could have sway on which projects proceeds and which ones fall by the way side.
That also goes for the national budget that the Minister of Finance formulates as it has to be vetted by the commission to see whether it reflects the national vision as well as medium-term plans.
As for Mlusu, who has little public finance management experience, he will have to learn to teeter between supporting the private sector as the engine of economic growth and reducing the gap between the rich and poor.
But in an interview yesterday, Mlusu said he will consult widely before executing policy measures.
“I am greatly humbled that I have been given this responsibility. This obviously shows the trust and confidence that the President of this country has in me. It is too early to talk about the strategy that I am going to put [to reduce poverty and ensure economic growth and development], but one of the things that I will have to rely on is to consult widely from both within and outside government,” he said.
One of the people who worked closely with Mlusu for years at Nico Holdings, Vizenge Kumwenda yesterday described Mlusu as a decisive, yet inclusive leader who listens to everyone.
Said Kumwenda, a Mlusu protégé who also succeeded the new Finance Minister at Nico Holdings: “He is interested in making the best decision in every situation and believes in getting the best out of people.”
The President also made other appointments crucial to the smooth transition of government operations.
Chakwera has hired former principal secretary Zangazanga Chikhosi as the new Chief Secretary to replace Lloyd Muhara, a judge who will now have to return to the Judiciary and face colleagues he was accused of trying to intimidate when he headed the civil service.
The President has also picked former Solicitor General and director of the Government Contracting Unit Janet Banda as Deputy Chief Secretary.
Former Farmers Union of Malawi chief executive officer Prince Kapondamgaga has become the new Chief of Staff at State Residences, replacing Peter Mukhito, a top aide to Mutharika.
Speaking at the swearing-in of tow of the ministers in Lilongwe, Chakwera said he made the appointments in consultation with Chilima.
He said his Cabinet will have not more than 30 people, of which 40 percent will be women.