Political and governance commentators have said the appointment of advisers and assistants to the President are a mockery to the austerity measures President Peter Mutharika has been preaching since his election in May.
Mutharika has a Cabinet comprising 20 members, including deputies as part of the fulfilment of a Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) pledge for a lean Cabinet, but he has gone on to appoint 15 advisers in various capacities, including the level of principal secretary (PS) in the public service.
Among the advisers at P2 level, for which they are entitled 500 litres of fuel a month (about K400 000), a vehicle which they drive themselves, medical scheme and airtime on top of a salary of close to K500 000 per month, are chief adviser on communication and strategy Bright Malopa, chief adviser on economic affairs Collins Magalasi, his brother’s widow Callista Mutharika as chief adviser on safe motherhood, population and HIV/Aids management and chief political adviser, Francis Mphepo.
Other advisers including Symon Vuwa Kaunda on national unity and parliamentary affairs, Annie Makuta (women affairs), Nick Masebo (youth) and Wictor Songazaudzu Sajeni (capacity building) are on P3 grade which is equivalent to a director at a ministry.
President Mutharika also has a special adviser Ben Phiri who has been with him long before his election in May.
But political and governance commentator Chris Chisoni said the large number of advisers does not augur well with the austerity measures and restructuring which the new government has touted, especially when the advisers are duplicating roles of directors and principal secretaries at ministries.
“These advisers are an unnecessary expenditure considering that we have principal secretaries, directors and technical directors in ministries whose role is to advise the Executive. This tradition [appointing advisers] is entrenched but it doesn’t make economic sense,” said Chisoni.
He said most of the advisers, comprising DPP functionaries in the current crop, were too close to the President and could not give constructive advice as expected of career civil servants in ministries and government departments.
“Most of these advisers have no physical offices, their terms of reference are never made public. Because they are so close to the President, they can amass powers equal to that of the President which is not good for the separation of powers,” said Chisoni who is also national coordinator for the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP).
Chisoni proposed a legislation to limit the number of advisers a president can appoint but also a job description which would be different from that of directors and principal secretaries of line ministries.
The advisers are appointed by the President as per Section 89 (d) of the Constitution “as may be necessary in accordance with powers conferred upon him or her by this Constitution or an Act of Parliament.”
The number of advisers and assistants to the President has also shocked the Consumers Association of Malawi (Cama) executive director, John Kapito, who questioned the value they will bring to the office of the President “apart from gossip.”
He concurred with Chisoni that the high number of advisers would cause confusion in the running of affairs by the Executive arm of government due to the duplication of roles.
However, Elias Wakuda Kamanga, who was adviser on political and communication affairs in the government of Joyce Banda and was on P3 grade, said he could not fault the appointment of the advisers because “each administration has its own agenda…to fulfill.”
Apart from advisers, Mutharika has also appointed assistants who include a press secretary and his deputy, four press officers, a special assistant to the President on non-governmental organisations and a personal assistant on international affairs, among others.