Two days after the public uproar that accompanied the release of President Lazarus Chakwera’s full cabinet list, the Malawi leader Friday stood his ground and defended his highly contested maiden cabinet, which others had labelled a ‘family affair and an appeasement cabinet’.
Addressing the Malawi nation before the swearing-in ceremony for the cabinet ministers at Bingu International Convention Centre in Lilongwe, Chakwera said much as he noted that there is conflict of interest in his cabinet, he had conducted a background check on his selection.
Chakwera said the ministers and their deputies have been appointed in what he called a transitional cabinet to lay the ground work for a Tonse approach of governing the country.
“You each have five months to produce results that will give Malawians confidence that change has come. At the end of that period, you will each give a report to Malawians publicly on your progress in each of the key performance indicators that I will give you.
“At the start of the New Year, I will shortlist those of you whose performance I find satisfactory and include you among those who will
be publicly interviewed for a year-long appointment on my 2021 cabinet. As you already know, many Malawians are not as persuaded as I am that you are the right people for this job. The onus is on you to prove them wrong and to re-affirm in me my confidence t hat you have what it takes to deliver the Tonse Transformation that Malawians have long cried, prayed, and fought for. Should you prove the sceptics right by being lazy, abusive, wasteful, arrogant, extravagant, divisive, and corrupt, I will not hesitate to have you replaced,” he said.
Chakwera expressed confidence that the ministers have the ability to rise above the occasion, particularly those tied to the issue of conflict of interest.
“Since my cabinet appointees are accomplished individuals in their own right, it was inevitable that they would have conflicts of interest by virtue of those accomplishments; accomplishments which also form part of their qualification.
“However, rather than seeing such interests and accomplishments as a disqualifying mark, I elected to have the Chief Secretary devise a special code of conduct that will keep my cabinet members from using their public office for the advancement of those private interests. This brings me to my message to the cabinet appointees here present. I want you to hear me and to hear me clearly: I have seen each of you leading others and working hard, doing so in the spirit of serving Malawians and building the Tonse philosophy when many odds were stacked against its success,” he said.
Meanwhile, University of Livingstonia based political analyst George Phiri has said it is too early to describe Chakwera as a listening President.
“To say that he has started listening, I think it is too early… these were just first observations that people have made. There will be serious things that he has to listen to. But when we talk about a listening leader, I do not think we can base it much on the appointment of cabinet. There are critical issues coming and that will help us gauge whether he is a listening or not. Of course, this this was a crucial matter but it is too early to conclude,” he said.
Phiri equally shared observations that the cabinet is bloated, arguing the President has split many ministries that could have been left as one.
“Now we have too many ministers with little work to do. Yes, he has made those remarks as the President we need to understand that whatever he says is a policy direction,” he said.
Chakwera has since directed the Chief Secretary to rename the Ministry of Community Development and Social Welfare to include women and persons with disabilities, following the outcry on the change of name.
“Additionally, I have taken note of the observation that the women who are on my Cabinet are mostly there as deputies and will increase the number of women who are full ministers when I restructure my Administration at the end of the five months’ transition as I planned,” he said.
NGO Gender Coordination Network Chairperson Barbra Banda was among the stakeholders who had complained on the omission of the gender aspect in the ministry.
“The female ministers have got to show that while we are crying out for them to be in positions of leadership they are going to show that they can do equally well or better than men,” she said.
Leader of opposition in Parliament Kondwani Nankhumwa, who is also the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP)’s vice president for the Southern Region, described Chakwera’s justification of the cabinet as unfortunate.
“Our immediate comment is that this is unfortunate. He has gone ahead to swear in the cabinet members ignoring the outcry. He has gone against what he has always said so it is very unfortunate,” he said.
Chakwera named a 31-member cabinet on Wednesday, with a 38 percent representation of women.