The wait continues! State House has again failed to say when President Lazarus Chakwera will review his Cabinet, insisting it remains his prerogative to do so whenever he wishes, as provided by law.
While appreciating that the President has such powers, political analysts have said nobody forced Chakwera to make the Cabinet promise, adding it was wrong to continue tossing Malawians with unfulfilled promises.
The President announced a 31-member Cabinet early July 2020, which was heavily criticised for having some family members and unequal gender representation, contrary to the Tonse Alliance campaign promise of making Cabinet and other appointments based on merit.
Following the backlash, Chakwera promised to review the Cabinet after five months, saying only those who would have proven their worth would cross over to 2021 with their position. Having failed to deliver on that promise, the President then said he would conduct the review by March 31 this year, but this too did not happen.
Speaking during the State House Monday Briefing yesterday at State Lodge in Mzuzu, presidential press secretary Brian Banda said the President has broken no law by not reviewing the Cabinet as it remains his prerogative.
He said: “The President is not changing on his promises, but he is exercising his prerogative because our laws gave him those powers.
“There is no timeline, there is now law which mandates the President to appoint a Cabinet within a specific time. He may say that in December, we will assess Cabinet, but using his prerogative, he may also say he won’t do that, that is his prerogative.”
Banda admitted that Chakwera said there would be an assessment after six months “but that failed due to Covid-19”.
He said: “Then we moved it to the end of the first quarter of 2021, which was March, but I wanted to say that Malawians should not get worried because we already have a Cabinet in place.
“The President can hire Cabinet ministers today, and fire all of them tomorrow, it is possible! He can also appoint a Cabinet and maintain it for five years without changing. Nobody would bring a case against the President for doing that.”
The presidential press secretary stressed that the Malawi Constitution gives the President the prerogative to hire and fire Cabinet ministers.
Added Banda: “President Chakwera recently told Times Television that there will be a Cabinet reshuffle, and I want to repeat that this will happen. As to when that will happen, it is his prerogative. The law gives him power to appoint a Cabinet at any time.”
On why the President has been making promises when he knows that it is his prerogative to hire and fire ministers at any time, Banda simply repeated that a new Cabinet will be appointed.
“We can’t be talking on how the President will do that because … he can promise to reshuffle
a Cabinet next week, but can also change his mind, and there is nothing wrong with that because that is his prerogative.”
But addressing the press on March 29 during a similar Monday State House Briefing, Banda assured that Chakwera would announce a new Cabinet “in the next two days”.
“There are two days left before the first quarter of 2021 ends and as the President promised that he will reshuffle the Cabinet at the of this month, and reshuffle his Cabinet he will do,” he said.
Banda added at the time that the President was on course with the Cabinet reshuffle after conducting assessments on the ministers with Vice- President Saulos Chilima.
He said: “The President made a promise to Malawians that at the end of the first quarter of 2021 he will review and assess each member of his Cabinet to ascertain as to who is performing and who is not.
“The process has been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, however, the President and his vice have done what was needed to be done and before March ends, a reshuffle would be done.”
Meanwhile, University of Malawi political science lecturer Ernest Thindwa has said while the President has the power to hire and fire his Cabinet, it was wrong to promise what he could not deliver.
He said: “It is unfortunate and taking Malawians for granted, and this may make Malawians lose trust in the presidency and the Tonse Alliance.
There is a need for the Presidency to fulfil what he promised.
“It is an indication of indecisiveness and boldness on the part of the President to make hard decisions. In politics, you have to make tough decisions that may not please some people. There may also be competing interests within the Tonse Alliance which are becoming difficult to reconcile; hence, these delays, but there is need for action.”
On his part, Mzuzu-based political analyst George Phiri said the continued changes on the matter are a cause for concern as Chakwera was better off not to make the promises.
He said if the President makes a promise, citizens have the right to ask why such has not happened.
Said Phiri: “Nobody forced the President to make such promises, he had the liberty not to say anything. If he says something, he should expect that people want action. People are asking because he made the promise.
“Yes, he has the prerogative to hire and fire Cabinet, but I don’t think it is his prerogative to promise something and not deliver. If you promise something and fail to do it because of prerogatives, then we are lost!”
The President in July
announced a 31-member Cabinet that included six people that are related to each other.
Then Minister of Labour Ken Kandodo, who has since been fired, and Minister of Health Khumbize Kandodo Chiponda are brother and sister, while Minister of Information Gospel Kazako is the brother-in-law of Deputy Agriculture Minister Agnes Nkusa-Nkhoma.
Chakwera’s former running mate in the May 2019 Tripartite Elections, Mohammed Sidik Mia, who succumbed to Covid-19 in January this year was appointed as Minister of Transport while his wife is Deputy Minister for Lands.
The President also came under fire from women’s rights groups for appointing few women into his Cabinet contrary to the Gender Equality Act which demands 60 to 40 representation of either gender.
The Cabinet has 12 women representing 38 percent, of whom four are full ministers while the rest are deputies.
If Chakwera reviews the Cabinet, he shoulders a great task to meet all these expectations. He is also expected to replace three portfolios—Transport and Public Works and Local Government— which fell vacant in January after their respective holders, Mia and Lingson Belekanyama succumbed to Covid-19, as well as Labour whose immediate-past holder Kandodo was fired last month for being implicated in the abuse of Covid-19 funds.
The President has since regretted his firing of Kandodo, saying the former minister was misled by officers in the ministry.