Of cabinet sacking and collective responsibility: A clear case of self-cleansing and political survival in Malawi

On Thursday, 10th October, 2013, President Joyce Banda announced that she had sacked her cabinet amid allegations of widespread corruption, theft and fraud in government.

Since the first multi-party government in 1994, both Presidents, Bakili Muluzi and Bingu wa Mutharika dissolved and reshuffled cabinet at their prerogative as provided by the constitution.

What is unclear to Malawians is whether there are formal guidelines, a basis, criteria and or formal consideration upon which appointments into cabinet are made? It appears that the undefined ‘comfort’ of the President with an individual is the single factor. The most apparent consideration seems to be that the individual represents a politically strategic constituency and has blind loyalty.

On some occasions it is because they are a relative, a blue-eyed chum or a friend of the President or an influential politician. Whatever the case, it is clear that in Malawi dissolving cabinet or a reshuffle is more for purposes of saving the President’s face amidst some controversy and dealing with their enemies.CAbINET FIRE

It is hardly about serving public interest. Well, in the past that had been the case;. we are waiting if things will turn out differently this time around.

Over the past 20 years a group of cronies have held positions in cabinet and in strategic parastatals. The same cronies are still in play today although irrelevant, with the full consent of the Malawian voter.

Here is the picture

During the UDF government; Joyce Banda, Ken Lipenga, Henry Dama Phoya, Eunice Kazembe, Uladi ‘Chenjigolo’ Mussa and Brown Mpinganjira were all in cabinet. Again, in that era Joyce Banda was chairperson of ADMARC and MACRA, two most prominent parastatals that control food and telecommunications viz a viz radio and TV stations.

In the DPP government; Joyce Banda, Khumbo Kachali, Eunice Kazembe Henry Phoya, Ken Lipenga, Uladi Mussa, Ralph Kasambara , John Bande, Sidik Mia, Ken Kandodo Ephraim Chiume, Reen kachere and Anita Kalinde among others, were in Cabinet.

Following the death of former president the late Professor Bingu wa Mutharika in April 2012 the then out of favour, vice president, Joyce Banda ascended to the corridors of power.

In the PP government; The new president Joyce Banda, appointed Khumbo Kachali as her vice as they had been together in the political wilderness. She did not cast the net wider for her cabinet but conveniently hired Ralph Kasambara, Ken Lipenga, Henry Phoya, Brown Mpinganjira, Uladi Mussa, Sidik Mia, Ken Kandodo, John Bande and Ephraim Chiume, Goodall Gondwe, John Bande and Catherine Gotani Hara among others; the same old faces were eloped into her new cabinet.

President  Banda has throughout the PP government cash-gate scandal said that ‘corruption was there before us for a long time’. True and she has been a key member of every administration since 1994. So too have the other ministers mentioned above.

Perhaps Malawi needs a Cabinet Manual as is the case in the United Kingdom.

The UK government updated its Cabinet Manual in 2011. Several provisions in the manual are relevant to Malawi. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/60641/cabinet-manual.pdf

Take note of the following provisions in that manual. Clause 4.2 states; ‘The Cabinet system of government is based on the principle of collective responsibility. 1 All government ministers are bound by the collective decisions of Cabinet, save where it is explicitly set aside,2 and carry joint responsibility for all the Government’s policies and decisions’.

Clause 4.3 states; ‘in practice, this means that a decision of Cabinet or one of its committees is binding on all members of the Government, regardless of whether they were present when the decision was taken or their personal views.

Before a decision is made, ministers are given the opportunity to debate the issue, with a view to reaching an agreed position’.

Further Clause 5.6 states ‘in all their dealings with Parliament, ministers should be governed by the following principles as set out in the Ministerial Code 6: that ‘ministers have a duty to Parliament to account, and to be held to account, for the policies, decisions and actions of their departments and agencies’ it further states that ‘ It is of paramount importance that ministers give accurate and truthful information to Parliament, correcting any inadvertent error at the earliest opportunity. Ministers who knowingly mislead Parliament will be expected to offer their resignation to the Prime Minister’.

If these principles are a must for a true democracy as I think they are, then the entire cabinet is responsible for the cash-gate scandal.

Banda can only prove that her dissolution of the cabinet is not to cleanse  ‘kusambitsa‘ the same dirty ‘thieving’ ministers and recycle them back into office to continue the plunder if she does the following; appoint a lean 15 member cabinet that includes five technocrats who are professionals with integrity, appoint 3 ministers from the major opposition parties and appoint 8 ministers from the PP as a ruling party.

She must not hire anyone implicated in the cash-gate scandal. Be it those implicated in the press or on-going investigations. Ken Lipenga, Ralph Kasambara, Anita Kalinde and Henry Phoya being the most notable ones.

President Banda’s choice is simple, either she proves that her dissolution of cabinet is sincere through meaningful change of ministers or be doomed by sticking to the same band of thieves.

 

Maybe you can use our words of wisdom: “Look not at the length of their tongues, but at the sincerity of their hearts and soundness of their minds”

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