Whiplashed by the backlash to his Cabinet announced on Wednesday night, President Lazarus Chakwera is today expected to address the nation on concerns over his top personnel picks.
Chakwera, in an interview with BBC’s Focus on Africa last night, said he has taken note of the expressed worries, including those from a meeting he held with civil society groups on Thursday.
But Chakwera, during the BBC interview, sounded negative reactions to his Cabinet appointments. surprised by the largely sharp
“When I came up with the list of names, marital status was not even an issue, religion was not even an issue and these other issues that people are raising were never considered. We just wanted to look at merit.
“I will be addressing the nation tomorrow (today) and I will pretty much tackle everything because I am a listening President. As a servant I want to do exactly that,” he said.
Since announcing his Cabinet, the President has received a backlash for appointing what has been termed as an insensitive, uninspiring and disastrous Cabinet that pokes fun at lofty governance and development promises he made to improve lives of Malawians.
Some of the recurring worries include Chakwera’s appointment of family members, perceived incompetent people who have only found their way because they allegedly funded the campaign, the forgoing of gender and regional balance as well as the restructuring of some key ministries.
But Chakwera, through his executive assistant Sean Kampondeni, said on Thursday the President will be clarifying the appointments to Malawians today.
In his 31-member Cabinet released Wednesday evening, Chakwera appointed 17 people from the Central Region, seven from the South and five from the North.
Chakwera, who promised 40 percent women representation and no more than 30 members, narrowly missed his target having appointed 12 female ministers, representing 38 percent of the Cabinet. Only four females are full ministers while all eight are deputy ministers.
Reacting to the appointments, governance expert Henry Chingaipe said the Cabinet is a crisis of expectations, as it does not resonate with the expectations of a majority of Malawians who feel it is less inspiring in view of the governance and development agenda that had been set.
He acknowledged the difficulties that Chakwera may have gone through to balance competence, gender, tribe, ethnicity, but also respond to all the political players that contributed to the struggle that saw him assume power.
Said Chingaipe: “The Cabinet represents some kind of a crisis of expectation in that a good number of Malawians expected a different type of Cabinet that can deliver on the kind of agenda that had been set. Some people want inclusivity in terms of gender, region, ethnicity, tribes and all parties in the Tonse alliance.”
But he said Chakwera, on the balance of all these factors, seem to have considered political factors more than competence of people in relation to the ministries they have assigned them.
Added Chingaipe: “So, overall, the Cabinet appears to be less inspiring in view of the set agenda. On families, people hated the DPP because many people in the Cabinet were coming from the Lhomwe belt, and I tell you at tribal level it is better, but worse when it comes to families.
“So, I think the President was insensitive to this and I think they looked at factors like loyalty to the party and contributions made to see how best they can address this. This is also confirmed with how ministries have been dismantled.”the struggle, and they will have to
On his part, Political Science Association secretary general Ernest Thindwa said the Cabinet defeats the whole philosophy of inclusiveness.
He said: “If you look at the Tonse philosophy, it’s about inclusiveness, but you have a President who has a good dosage of blood ties within Cabinet instead of dispersing the appointments to reflect that philosophy, so it’s a concern.”
Charles Kajoloweka of Youth and Society said Chakwera has simply repeated what Malawians were against during the DPP regime, when party loyalists and campaign funders were being rewarded with Cabinet posts, at the expense of merit.
On his part, national coordinator of Association of Persons with Albinism in Malawi Overstone Kondowe, expressed concern at the merging of critical portfolios such as gender, disability and children, among others, into one Ministry of Community Development and Social Welfare.
In an open letter to Chakwera through his Facebook page, Kondowe urged the President to maintain the names of the portfolios because changing them was retrogressive.
He said: “Having the names Gender, Children and Disability will also help to bring the issues relating to the same to the forefront and it demonstrates seriousness in as far as these issues are concerned.”
Professor of law Danwood Chirwa, who is based in South Africa, said Malawians were being taken for granted, arguing, Chakwera has quickly transformed into a good salesman of words and rhetoric, but was failing to walk the talk.
He agreed with Kondowe, saying, restructuring of the government is irrational, as some ministries have no concrete mandate deserving autonomy while other important portfolios have been removed.
Chirwa argued: “The composition of the Cabinet reflects back room deals founded on pay for play, corruption and nepotism.
“Key ministries such as health, education, and foreign affairs need competent professionals to run them; to be sure, a medical doctor, and renowned academic, and a seasoned diplomat, respectively.”
Further, the Women’s Manifesto Movement chairperson Maggie Kathewera Banda, in a statement, expresses its disappointment over lack of commitment to adhere to the 40/60 proportion as provided for in the Gender Equality Act.
It reads: “We, therefore, demand a revision of the composition of the Cabinet to meet the 40-60 percent threshold.”
Give it time or dissolve?
Political analysts Thindwa argues it would be too early to start condemning the Cabinet, much as the image and perception set is not impressive.
He suggested: “We can’t start condemning it on the basis of its image, maybe the focus should be on whether the Cabinet can perform or not.”
Chingaipe agreed that Malawians need to borrow a leaf from what happened at the Malawi Electoral Commission, where the same secretariat that was being condemned, performed well under new leadership.
But Kajoloweka said they expect nothing short of dissolution of the same, urging Malawians to rise and hold the leaders accountable.
He argued the Cabinet was simply a climax of cronyism and tokenism, suggesting that it is an attempt to reward those who had invested in the campaign as business ahead of the June 23 polls.
On his part, law expert Chirwa said the entire Cabinet stinks of incest, as it has been set up so that some families loot not just one ministry, but two or more.
He said: “If I am being too bland it is only because I cannot believe that the new President would stoop so low and dampen hopes so quickly. We need some rest please and so do the right thing!”
Chakwera became Malawi’s 6th President, knocking out Peter Mutharika, with more than 58 percent of the vote against the then incumbent’s 38 percent.