President Peter Mutharika yesterday dissolved his Cabinet in a move some commentators have described as a little too late, but would go a long way to save public resources with five days to election day.
Section 95 (2) of the Constitution mandates the President to remove ministers and deputy ministers from office at any time.
But the law is silent on the dissolution of the Cabinet prior to elections, although it automatically stands dissolved on the eve of polling day.
In 2009, then president Bingu wa Mutharika dissolved Cabinet three days before polling day, on May 16, while president Joyce Banda dissolved her Cabinet two days before the May 20 2014 Tripartite Elections.
Previously, this arrangement has begged the question of fairness during campaign period when Cabinet ministers are also contesting as parliamentary or presidential candidates because they use public resources such as vehicles, security and even allowances.
In an interview yesterday, a political commentator George Phiri said dissolving the Cabinet at this time will have no effect on the ministries because principal secretaries and chief directors are the core technocrats not the ministers.
“Government operations will still carry on without ministers because there are senior public servants within these ministries who are operational managers. With this dissolution, public resources will be saved,” he said.
Phiri observed that much as there were only a few days remaining to the polls, this still gave an opportunity to ministers who are contesting to spend government resources in the campaign.
“There is not much work that requires the Cabinet so although it is late, some savings will still be made.”
Governance commentator Henry Chingaipe also indicated that some savings of taxpayers’ money would be made in the short period to polling day.
On whether Mutharika could have done this earlier in the campaign period, Chingaipe said since ministers serve at his discretion, an early dissolution was dependent on him.
He also observed that when the Cabinet is dissolved, all political powers revert to the President and by extension the other last standing member of Cabinet, the Vice-President.
Mutharika and his estranged Vice-President Saulos Chilima have not had a working relationship since June last year and Chilima has not been attending Cabinet meetings.
The Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC) has gone as far as removing him from the protocol list of communications from the office.
To his credit, Mutharika has for the past five years maintained a lean Cabinet of 20, including the President and Vice-President, as he promised in his 2014 election manifesto.
In February 2014, Mutharika, then in opposition, picked Chilima, who was a private sector executive who rose to become Airtel Malawi’s first Malawians managing director, as running mate in 2014 and eventually the country’s Vice-President.
In Tuesday’s election, Chilima is facing Mutharika and five other presidential candidates in a poll that will test his UTM Party launched last July after ditching Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).