Preserving lean cabinet when vultures fly


You ask many parents today the reason they fully agree to the government plan of not siring as many children as nature allows them.

Many will tell you it is because of the economy. They can no longer sustain large families and, as such, they painfully give themselves in to family planning to ensure they have lean families.

But if there were any chance to ask the potential unborn babies locked in the underworld because of family planning, they would answer most assuredly that, they too, would like to be borne and live despite of the burden they will add into their families.


It does not matter that their would-be parents would abandon them to growing up in rugs and scrambling for crumbs.

This is the story of a president and the potential ministers – the flying vultures. Almost anyone who did a great service to a political party eagers for the ministerial appointment as the last reward for the risks they took during campaign. The president would always want a lean cabinet while the party loyalists would want their way to any portfolio regardless of the burden the appointment would put on the economy and the country’s taxpayers.

You wonder why Dunduzu Chisiza had cried for not being drafted into president Hastings Kamuzu Banda’s first cabinet. Perhaps it was because he shared the same space with Banda at Gwelo Prison. He fought with Banda side by side to win Malawi’s independence. For that matter, moreover, a trained economist that he was, in an essay written while in prison in 1959, before anyone else, he offered a brilliant analysis of the consequences of independence in African states. With uncanny accuracy, he plotted in general terms, the course his own country would follow in the years ahead.


Now it was a great embarrassment for him not to feature anywhere in Banda’s first ‘Gwelo’ cabinet. Chisiza must have been eyeing the Finance portfolio.

Some of the ministers in Banda’s earlier cabinets included Kanyama Chiume, Augustine Bwanausi, Willy Chokani, Colin Cameron, Henry Chipembere, John Msonthi – who was mysteriously dropped off at the time of independence, Orton Chirwa and Gomile Kumtumanji.

Banda’s independence cabinet was very lean.

Again, when Bakili Muluzi took over power in 1994, he promised a leaner cabinet.

He did and his first cabinet had around 20 names including deputy ministers. He resounded hope in Malawians by pledging that his cabinet will be guided by ‘service to the people with commitment’.

With the lean cabinet, Muluzi said he want to “cut government expenditure, especially on the use of public vehicles”.

Most of the names that featured in his first cabinet were those that fought with him side by side in the United Democratic Front (UDF) to win Malawi a democratic government.

Some of notable names were Aleke Banda, Tim Mangwazu, Brown James Mpanganjira, Harry Thomson, Wenham Nakanga, George Mtafu, Edda Chitalo, Patel, Catherine Chipembere, John Nankumba, Patrick Mbewe, Ziliro Mumba, Sam Mpasu, Cassim Chilumpha and Peter Fatchi with Alfred Upindi as secretary to the cabinet.

In reacting to Muluzi’s first cabinet, The Daily Times of May 24, 1994, carried a story on its front page ‘Crumbs’ to refer to the new cabinet members.

The paper argued that “the mediocre of the cabinet line-up has resulted because of the president’s refusal to cast eyes beyond his immediate sycophants”.

“For the rest of the cabinet, it is common knowledge that the president’s inexperience in putting up a team that serves the nation should not be done without fear or favour in the case of sacrificing natural enthusiasts.”

While Muluzi’s cabinet was described as lean but it was full of crumbs in that those that had no required knowledge and skills for the ministerial functions bought themselves a cabinet position.

Later, Muluzi failed to maintain a lean cabinet. What happened? Over the years, the cabinet kept on expanding. Muluzi growing infatuation with powers led to an infatuated cabinet. It expanded to the breaking point and, at its peak, it had 28 full ministers and 15 deputies.

And when Bingu wa Mutharika took power, he found a ballooning cabinet. Listen to Mutharika speaking on the 40th independence anniversary celebrations on July 6, 2004.

“As you will recall, I also pledged to appoint a lean and competent cabinet. I am happy to report to the nation that I have delivered on this pledge. I have reduced the cabinet from 28 full cabinet ministers to only 19 and deputies from 15 to only eight. In keeping with my pledge, I appointed to the cabinet essentially on merit and I have no doubt that my ministers will faithfully and effectively implement our collective vision with a sense of patriotism, dedication and urgency. I can, therefore, assure the nation that the cabinet will indeed deliver. It will also operate with one purpose and one voice.”

Earlier, on July 29, during the State of the Nation Address at the opening of the Malawi Parliament, he said, “I am confident that this is a cabinet that will efficiently deliver the programmes that I have set out for my government.”

Bingu left not with a so much expanded cabinet as it was with Muluzi. When Joyce Banda took over from Bingu, she almost maintained the same figures. But her cabinet was full of crumbs as Muluzi’s. We cannot know until we know the real reason she lost power in the elections.

Enter President Peter wa Mutharika. He is the only President in modern times who has stayed longer with a very lean cabinet. Mutharika has since taking office, not lived with a more than 20-member cabinet. Are the vultures not flying on his head?

Speaking in a State of the Nation Address during the official opening of the 2015/2016 budget session of the Malawi Nation Assembly, Mutharika vowed that his government will maintain lean cabinets because “the lean cabinet has so far performed well and achieved its main objective of minimising government expenditure.”

Maybe he knows his is a cabinet not full of crumbs.

Mutharika’s predecessors have been victims of time and growing pressure. The trend is that the new president starts with lean cabinet and end up with an expanded version of the same. The cabinet expands with the growing presidential powers as years pass by. The reason is that when more vultures keep flying on the State House in search of a fortune- ministerial job, the president of a little heart keep listening to the demands.

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