State President Lazarus Chakwera was on Wednesday expected to unveil a new Cabinet. At the time of writing, Malawians were still eagerly waiting to learn who will be included or dropped in this reshuffle.
It goes without saying that Chakwera’s first Cabinet was not the resounding success he hoped it would be. For starters, the Cabinet was perceptibly discriminatory with a lot of people coming from one region as well as failing to achieve gender balance.
Second, some sections of the public felt the ministerial appointments were just a gimmick to reward party loyalists and the individuals who contributed, financially or otherwise, to his rise to the presidency.
That sentiment was justified considering the presence of some party loyalists and members of some influential families with close ties to Chakwera’s Malawi Congress Party (MCP). In the court of public opinion, this was more of the same partisan politics he promised to do away with.
Not even the President’s condescending lecture on the definition of ‘merit’ was enough to appease disgruntled Malawians who fought long and hard both on the streets and at the ballot to restore some semblance of meritocracy to the Executive arm of the government.
If the outgoing-Cabinet was the best he could offer Malawians based on his operational definition of ‘merit’, which did not account much for academic qualifications and experience, how does he explain the myriad of problems that has dogged his leadership.
The first nine months of the Tonse-Alliance’s leadership brought the exams leakage saga, the controversy over the unbundling of the University of Malawi (Unima) and the ongoing strike by the Teacher’s Union of Malawi. All of this is the education sector alone!
It is frustrating that all of these happened because of factors that could have been easily anticipated. The layman has said before on this very column that Chakwera has looked like a leader without capable lieutenants to help him execute his vision of a better Malawi.
If the good President plays his cards right, the incoming Cabinet should provide him with people he can count on to solve problems without forcing him to micro-manage his way out of every little crisis.
But to do that, Chakwera will need to re-redefine his concept of ‘merit’. It is obvious that his previous iteration of the concept failed him. Perhaps it is time to relive the loyalists and let seasoned technocrats with demonstrable ability in their respective fields to lead after all.
Considering that it is within the Minister’s job description to promote the effectiveness and efficiency of government departments and agencies within their portfolio, having a technocrat with a solid background and knowledge of their sector seems like a no brainer.
It goes without saying that the Tonse Alliance-led administration has a very unique and sound vision to develop Malawi, but the layman feels that dream will not be fulfilled if the good President continues with his business-as-usual approach and keeps elevating politicians to lead ministerial portfolios outside of their primary fields of expertise.
It would be incredibly naïve to appoint a minister who does not understand the intricacies of the sectors in their cluster and expect them to successfully formulate and implement policy there.
And of course, the new Cabinet will have to be given some strong terms of reference at the time of their appointment, preferably with timelines performance indicators. This can be used to assess their performance at a later stage.
From a layman’s perspective, this would be the ideal first step to ensure improved performance in government and even complement Chakwera and his deputy SKC’s drive for institutional reforms.
The layman strongly believes this is likely a manifestation of a management problem at the top-most level. Simply put, we need strong knowledgeable ministers and deputies to preside over principal secretaries while they discharge their duties.