Last week, President Peter Mutharika reshuffled his Cabinet ministers. Reshuffling of the Cabinet is inevitable; there will always be occasional resignations, illnesses and even deaths.
However, Cabinet reshuffles have become a habit in Malawi politics. We do not even wait for retirement and resignations—our greedy politicians, of course, cannot resign, even if they are failing to deliver.
There should always be a good reason for a reshuffle. No reshuffle should ever take place simply because it is assumed that there should be one.
The main reason for a reshuffle, I believe, is to allow presidents have the best possible Cabinet. Ideally, it should be about rewarding ability and performance. In reality, other factors come into play such as the need to balance governments politically.
In President Mutharika’s recent reshuffle, there is nothing new apart from dropping former minister of Health Peter Kumpalume and former deputy minister of Defence Vincent Ghambi.
Others have simply been moved from one portfolio to another. This is simply confusing the ministers and the people they work with on the ground.
Lord Turnbull, a former Cabinet Secretary in United Kingdom indicates that frequent moves cannot be good for continuity of policy and making sure that, firstly, the policy is thought through and, secondly, there is a consistent delivery.
Locally, let me take an example of how the Ministry of Labour, Sports, Youth and Manpower Development has been affected by these reshuffles.
Since 2014, the ministry has had three ministers. When Grace Chiumia was heading this ministry, she promised the quick construction of Mzuzu Youth Centre and went on to lay a foundation stone.
Before the project had even started, she was replaced by Henry Mussa who did not fulfil the promise. It is reported that the project, which could have been completed by now, will start in December this year.
However, the ministry now has another new minister, Francis Kasaila, and no one knows what will happen next on the same project.
An article published in 2013 by House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee in London titled ‘The impact and effectiveness of ministerial reshuffles’ articulates that whenever someone is moved to a new post, there will be an inevitable delay before they are fully effective.
This is the case when the new minister has no previous experience of the subject area. Ministers, especially those who have potential to do better should be left in their post long enough to make a difference.
Some of the ministers who have been dropped or moved to other ministries were performing better in their previous ministries and one wonders why the change.
During his tenure as Minister of Sports, Mussa, who was a no-nonsense person, recently, openly criticised the Football Association of Malawi leadership for purchasing seemingly low quality jerseys used by the national football team during 2017 Cosafa Castle Cup in South Africa.
Trust me, sports followers were in love with his character, but now he has been moved to another ministry. In football, they say, you do not change the winning team. The reshuffling of Cabinet now and again is like changing the winning team.
The situation is the same in other ministries. As much as we have principal secretaries (PSs) who are technocrats, we still need stability in how the ministers are performing.
As much as the President has got Cabinet appointing powers, as citizens we should be interested in who is going to which ministry, what is his experience and qualifications.
Since Mutharika assumed power in 2014, he has reshuffled his Cabinet five times. In the recent reshuffle, many expected technocrats to be drafted in the Cabinet for development to prevail. However, this has not been the case.
Commentators have all along freely contributed as far as the selection of technocrats as ministers is concerned. Perhaps, if these technocrats are given a chance, a few reshuffles could be occurring and ministerial strategic plans could smoothly prevail. n