President Lazarus Chakwera has defended his first cabinet appointments tainted by family ties which include a husband, wife and cousin, a brother and sister, and a brother and sister in law.
Speaking in an interview with the BBC on Thursday, Chakwera said that he is listening attentively to the public critique about his cabinet and that he will address those concerns.
The Malawi leader said after meeting with the civil society groups Human Rights Defenders Coalition, he will see what he can do to take on board the public concerns.
“I will be addressing the nation tomorrow and I will tackle these (concerns),” he said.
Chakwera’s former running mate in the 2019 elections, Sidik Mia, will serve as the transport minister while his wife Abida will be the deputy minister for lands.
Danwood Chirwa, a professor of law at the University of Cape Town, described the nominations as “political patronage”, saying the president has “quickly transformed himself into a good salesman of words and rhetoric while serving the same stale dishes Malawians have fed on in the last 26 years”.
He further said argued that the entire cabinet “stinks of incest, and the smell is quite frankly unbearable. Not only has it been set up so that some families loot not just one ministry but two or more ministries.”
Put to him by BBC what people are voicing out about the Cabinet and in particular Chirwa’s comments, President Chakwera calmly said : “He has also not looked several factors of the youth in it , the women in it … “
In the 31-member Cabinet, the new labour and health ministers are brother and sister, Ken Kandodo and Khumbize Kandodo Chaponda while the incoming information minister Gospel Kazako is the sister-in-law of the new deputy agriculture minister Agness Nkusa Nkhoma.
“It is not a question of you appease this one or not, you know this is Malawi Congress Party whom am president and we have a Tonse Alliance which we are following Tonse philosophy,” said Chakwera.
Reacting to the issue of family members in the cabinet, such as husband and wife and brother and sister, Chakwera said the Mia family are appointed on their individual merit.
“They may have a point but you have also rightly observed both of them are accomplished politician. She is the only member of Parliament we have in the south,” Chakwera told BBC.
Governance commentator Makhumbo Munthali told Nyasa Times that it’s important that whatever was agreed in a Tonse Alliance pact should be subjected to the Constitution.
“Otherwise, simply using it as a sole a blue print (even in areas it contradicts Principles of National Policy as laid down in our Constitution) in making critical decisions may be recipe for disaster.
“Some of the mistakes made in the selection of Cabinet should have been avoided if there was some adherence to these principles. While being responsive and ‘listening’ to the people’s concerns is desirable and commendable especially if we consider where we coming from, the continued repeating of mistakes which can be easily avoided and then later reversing them after public pressure may also be a sign of weakness. It may indirectly send the message that the Presidency lacks the capacity and judgement to make right decisions. That in the short or long term may not reflect well on the Chakwera- Chilima presidency. “
Munthali said while it’s good to commend Chakwera-Chilima presidency for being “listening”, the citizenry should also expect them to be proactive in making decisive, transformative decisions which they can collectively own in public interest and within the confines of the Constitution.
“Having said that, I liked the manner in which the President responded to Professor Danwood Mzikenge Chirwa critique of his Cabinet during BBC Focus on Africa interview with Peter Okocha.
“Unlike his predecessor who when handling such criticism on international media could tag such critics as mercenaries or agents of opposition, the President addressed the issues raised (of course not to my full satisfaction) by my respected Professor without attacking the personality of the Chirwa. To me that was refreshing. Otherwise, the President handled the BBC interview fairly well.”
Social activist Mkotama Katenga-Kaunda said the move was disappointing as the incumbent had promised: “This new Malawi will get rid of nepotism and cronyism.”
“Malawians feel that these cabinet posts were not awarded to some individuals based on merit, but based on what monetary support they gave to the alliance during the campaign,” he said.
Women’s rights campaigners welcomed more women in cabinet – a record 12 of 31 cabinet positions – which is the highest since Malawi’s first female head of state, Joyce Banda, appointed eight women in her cabinet in 2012.
But they criticised removing gender as a portfolio from the ministry for children and community development and the fact most women were appointed deputies rather than as ministers.