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The Thumb: A reshuffle that was a missed opportunity

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Cabinet reshuffle is a casual word for an event that occurs when a head of state or government rotates or changes the composition of ministers in his cabinet.

Cabinet reshuffles happen for an array of reasons. Occasionally, minor reshuffles are required to replace ministers who have resigned, retired or died.

Reshuffles are also a way for the head of state to “refresh” the government, often in the face of political, social or economic problems or poor performance by the governing party in an election.

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They are used to remove poor performers, reward supporters and punish others for various blunders. It is common after elections, even if the party in power is retained, as the head of state’s reading of public opinion through election results may require some changes in policy and direction.

After an election, cabinet reshuffles can also be used to replace ministers who have lost polls in their constituencies.

Similarly, when the head of state enters office from the same party as the previous one, he or she might change ministries to reflect a new direction in policy and priorities.

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A reshuffle also provides an opportunity for the president to create, abolish and rename ministerial posts and to reassign responsibilities among departments.

With all the problems currently prevailing in Malawi, there was high expectation that any cabinet reshuffle would bring sweeping changes in the cabinet. A number of serving members were expected to be left out completely in favour of new and fresh names.

Malawi’s current problems range from economic, energy, water, agricultural, security, information and others and I’m more than certain that a cabinet reshuffle with changes in names of ministers responsible for these portfolios would have made a lot of sense among many people in this country.

While not all the problems in the particular sectors may be a result of incompetence, in action or failure by particular ministers, the president can also use a reshuffle to jack up officials and send a strong message to the populace about his commitment to address the problems in question.

The expectation would be that new ministers would pay more attention to the issues at hand and come up with solutions to address them.

In the reshuffle announced last week, only Thyolo South Member of Parliament, Allan Chiyembekeza, was completely left out while little known Lilongwe city legislator, Aggrey Masi – who is now deputy minister of defence, was the only new face to join the cabinet.

Malison Ndau, who previously served as deputy defence minister, has been promoted and is now Minister of Transport and Works, taking over from Francis Kasaila who has been moved to foreign affairs and international cooperation.

Kaliati is now at information whose minister Jappie Mhango has been moved to Ministry of Home Affairs where its minister, Jean Kalirani has been moved to Gender and Social Welfare.

George Chaponda, who was at foreign affairs, has replaced Chiyembekeza at the Ministry of Agriculture.

If the reshuffle was Mutharika’s response to the problems prevailing in the country, then it was just a complete waste of time. This was a reshuffle where underperformers have simply been just been shifted from one ministry to another.

If Chiyembekeza was dropped because of food shortages experienced in the country, then ministers responsible for the economy, health, electricity, water, security should also have been shown the exit door.

The reshuffle as done last week will do nothing to ease problems the country is facing and only shows that the president does not believe that his government is responsible for the challenges currently facing the people in the country.

It is, however, time Mutharika took ownership of the situation and take swift action to address them. The economy is one good example where careless spending by the government has seen the budget deficit widening, thereby pushing lending rates and the cost of production in the country sky high.

Companies are closing or scaling down and retrenchments have become common place. The overspending causing these problems is taking place in the various ministries and it is ministers and controlling officers running those ministries who should be held responsible and made to account.

A cabinet reshuffle is one way of making ministers answer to their crimes. Unfortunately, the reshuffle of last week would not serve that purpose. It was a reshuffle in futility and a missed opportunity for Malawi. #ThumbsDown to the President.

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