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Lazarus Chakwera’s new cabinet receives mixed reviews

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Mark Katsonga Phiri

While scoring highly on gender equality, President Chakwera is ‘taken to the cleaners’ for maintaining a bloated cabinet and old, familiar faces

Gender sensitive but too many deputies. Many same old and failed faces and a useless ministry.

These are some of the comments directed at President Lazarus Chakwera’s new cabinet.

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On Wednesday, the President announced the first instalment of 12 ministers in the reconstituted cabinet after dissolving the previous one on Monday.

And while the nation was fast asleep on Thursday night, Chakwera announced 17 more names, including eight deputies.

At around lunch on Friday, the Malawi nation got one more name, Agnes Nkusa Nkhoma as Deputy Minister of Gender — an appointment which Secretary to the President and Cabinet, Zangazanga Chikhosi, said had been omitted from the earlier list due to human error.

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Now the new cabinet has attracted mixed reactions from the various quarters we have spoken to.

By any account, in this cabinet, President Chakwera has scored highly on one of the long-held pushes from gender activists for gender equality in public appointments.

Out of the 29 members – which excludes Chakwera himself who is Minister of Defence and Saulos Chilima who is Minister of Public Sector Reforms — the cabinet consists of 12 women, representing 41 percent of the cabinet.

On this, Chakwera has surpassed the provision of the Gender Equality Act of 2013 which states that “an appointing or recruiting authority in the public service shall appoint no less than forty per cent and no more than sixty per cent of either sex in any department in the public service.”

And this had left people like Joyce Chitsulo, Chairperson of the Public Appointments Committee of Parliament, purring with excitement.

In an interview, Chitsulo hailed Chakwera for including seven women as full ministers in his Cabinet.

She also said it was noteworthy that the cabinet includes the Chairperson for Women Caucus of Parliament, Monica Chang’anamuno.

Public Affairs Committee (Pac) spokesperson Gilford Matonga said “the composition is fine” although they wished it was smaller in size.

He also applauded the number of women included and hoped that the old faces will improve in their performance.

The opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has also commended Chakwera for bringing more women into the cabinet.

But the President has been hauled over the coals too for the cabinet.

‘Missed opportunity’

In a statement, the DPP argues that Chakwera has missed an opportunity to appoint a cabinet that would assist him to begin to address the nose-diving economy.

“Malawians expected him to reshuffle the cabinet and drop all ministers embroiled in corruption and incompetence. This did not happen. He only recycled the very ministers that Malawians do not want to see near their public coffers,” the DPP says.

It further argues that the cabinet is not representative of the whole nation and has departed from public expectation that it would be lean.

“We in the DPP are very pessimistic of the new cabinet. We fear for Malawians. With this new cabinet we see not any light to ending the economic suffering besieging Malawians,” the DPP says in the statement signed by its spokesperson, Shadrec Namalomba.

Ministry of Unity?

Cape Town based law expert Danwood Chirwa said the introduction of Ministry of Unity has been a controversial innovation of the Tonse Alliance.

“It projects to the world that Malawi is a country at war or that it has emerged from it, or mired in deep conflict, social or political, but we are not.

“So, it sends a wrong impression to the world,” he said.

He further argued that the new cabinet is not delivering any positive message from the President.

“The President needed to take this opportunity to kickstart a renewal and send a new message. He has ignored the pandemic and stagnating economic environment and proceeded as if everything was normal. The first thing to do was to significantly reduce the size of cabinet. This would have conveyed the message that the approach has changed,” said Chirwa.

He said with the new cabinet, Chakwera seems to have been preoccupied with cutting some liabilities loose, hoping for a few months of respite from negative press around corruption.

He has cast his doubt that corruption scandals that dogged the previous cabinet would go away with the new cabinet.

On his part, political scientist Makhumbo Munthali also questioned the rationale of having the Ministry of Unity.

“In my view the national unity agenda can be mainstreamed in other ministries or if there is need for embarking on targeted programs, have a separate department within an existing ministry. Otherwise, creating a fully-fledged standalone ministry may be a waste of resources,” said Munthali

He also wondered at the sense of having as much as eight deputy ministers in a struggling economy.

‘Nothing new with new cabinet’

Gift Trapence, Chairperson for the Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC), said it is disappointing that there was nothing new with the new cabinet.

“It is the very same old faces, apart from shifting individuals from one ministry to the other. It is the very same team that has failed to live up to Malawians’ expectations in terms of delivering.

“Malawians should not expect any change. It will be business as usual. Malawians also expected a lean cabinet. That could have made more economic sense,” Trapence said.

He too said having many deputies is not economic wisdom either and that the old name of Ministry of Unity and Civic Education was making more sense than just the Ministry of Unity.

So, who is where?

Among the changes, Eisenhower Mkaka has been moved to Natural Resources where Nancy Tembo was. Tembo has taken Mkaka’s portfolio at Foreign Affairs.

Richard Chimwendo-Banda moved from Homeland Security to Youth and Sports. He has been replaced by Jean Sendeza who was Deputy Minister of Defence.

Sosten Gwengwe is now Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs, taking over from Felix Mlusu who has been sacked from cabinet, along with Rashid Gaffar, Kezzie Msukwa, Roy Kachale, Ulemu Msungama and Chrissie Kanyasho.

Abida Mia and Vera Kamtukule are among those who have been promoted to full ministers.

Some new faces

Some of the new faces in the cabinet include Sam Kawale, Minister of Lands; Mark Katsonga Phiri, Minister of Trade and Industry; Albert Mbawala, Minister of Mining; Ibrahim Matola, Minister of Energy; Harry Mkandawire, Deputy Minister of Defence; Deus Gumba, Deputy Minister of Lands; Enock Phale, Deputy Minister of Health and John Bande, Deputy Minister of Water and Sanitation.

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