OPC has said it did not call for any ministersâ€™ meetings or sanction a succession statement read by Information Minister Patricia Kaliati at a news conference on Friday night.
In the statement, Kaliati said the former Vice-President, now State President Joyce Banda, could not take over from the late President Bingu wa Mutharika, arguing she did not belong to the then ruling DPP.
The OPC statement, released on Sunday, contradicts claims by some Cabinet ministersâ€”including Energy Minister Goodall Gondwe, who chaired the meetingsâ€”that the sessions were sanctioned by the Cabinet secretariat.
Deputy Secretary to the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC) Necton Mhura said the countryâ€™s Constitution does not empower the OPC secretariat to call for Cabinet meetings or make any Cabinet decisions.
Said Mhura: â€œIt was not the secretariat that called for a meeting. It is the ministers themselves that called for the meeting. The ministers agreed on their own to meet. The secretariat simply services the meetings and gets instructions to implement.
â€œThese are matters of national importance and should not be twistedâ€¦Categorically; it was not a Cabinet meeting. It was a meeting of the ministers and deputy ministers.
â€œIt should never be regarded at all as Cabinet meeting and that was made clear from the very beginning.
Only the President and the Vice-President have powers to sanction Cabinet meetings, explained the deputy SPC.
While saying the secretariat did not sanction the news conferenceÂ Kaliati and other ministers held to argueÂ thatÂ Banda cannot assume the presidency, contrary to Kaliatiâ€™s claims on Zodiak Broadcasting Station on Sunday, Mhura refused to comment on the agenda for the ministersâ€™ meetings and issues surrounding the press conference, saying they were matters of confidentiality.
Said Mhura: â€œThe secretariat cannot sanction. The secretariat does not make any decisions. It just implements. It just takes notes and instructions to implement and if there is a statement that was made, it wasnâ€™t the secretariat that did it. That statement was sanctioned by the meeting that took place.â€
However, Mhura said the nation should appreciate the smooth transition of power that has taken place in the country.
â€œThe transition that has taken place has taken place smoothly. The transition has been managed maturely by the nation,â€ he said.
But Gondwe insisted the Cabinet secretariat convened the meetings.
â€œI did not convene the meeting. I was made presiding minister. The secretariat did [convene the meetings],â€ Gondwe said on Sunday.
He said the meetings did not draw any resolutions on Mutharikaâ€™s succession and refused to comment on the agenda.
He, however, said all ministers have pledged loyalty to Banda and hope that their working relationship with the new President will not be spoiled by the meetings they held before Banda took over the presidency.
â€œAll that is now behind us because the President called a Cabinet meeting and we pledged our loyalty to her,â€ said Gondwe.
Kaliati on Sunday withdrew the statement she made on Banda and stressed that it was not her own. She said she felt betrayed when other Cabinet ministers later distanced themselves from the statement on Saturday morning.
Said Kaliati: â€œI could not do that alone. The unfortunate part is that as Minister of Information, I speak on behalf of government and Cabinet. Though some Cabinet ministers were saying this and that, they were part and parcel of that [statement]. Even the chief secretary was there.
â€œThe nation should not look at it as Patriciaâ€™s statement but it was the Cabinet statement. We are happy that the President has forgiven us as Cabinet ministers and for the statement that we made.
â€œWe have withdrawn that. I think other Cabinet ministers and the chief secretary will also [state] that statement is being withdrawn.â€
She said the statement could have resulted from lack of proper thinking because of the crisis.
â€œ[People] must also understand that that thing was done during the crisis with the sudden death of the late Ngwazi.
â€œLet me take the blame, but people should know that I was not speaking on my own behalf. I was given that statement to read. Thatâ€™s why I refused to be alone and asked to be accompanied by other ministers,â€ she said.