Lipenga ‘deserved’ main casualty in Malawi cabinet overhaul over ‘cash-gate’ scandal

Commentators have lauded President Joyce Banda for not retaining Ken Lipenga as finance minister, replacing him with Dr Maxwell Mkwezalamba a former World Bank economist as the new finance minister on Tuesday.

President Banda appointed a new cabinet Tuesday after staying without one since last Thursday when she fired all the ministers to save her face from the Capital Hill graft scandal that started with the shooting last September of the country’s Director of Budget in the Ministry of Finance, Paul Mphwiyo.

In her not-so-fresh cabinet appointed Tuesday, President Banda has not renewed Lipenga’s contract after he failed to steer the ministry, now trapped in grave financial plundering.

Over K2 billion is believed to have been stolen during the last few months from government coffers in a syndicate involving senior public officers and business gurus with strong links to the governing Peoples Party (PP).

Lipenga:  Fired
Lipenga: Fired
Eunice Makangala: Sacked as Labour Minister
Eunice Makangala: Sacked as Labour Minister
Kasambara: Sacked
Kasambara: Sacked

Banda has since replaced the beleaguered English language master with a seasoned economist and former African Union (AU) economic commissioner, Mkwezalamba.

Political analyst Ernest Thindwa said that Lipenga’s removal was “expected because he was at the centre of fraud and cooked revenue figures” at the treasury.

AFP quoted unamed presidential official who said it would have been “political suicide” for Banda to keep the finance minister.

“Lipenga was the head of a ministry embroiled in a fraud and corruption scandal. The head of that ministry would have to be sacrificed,” said the official.

While at the helm, the ministry of finance has been engrossed in two serious financial scams- first during the late President Mutharika’s administration where Lipenga was implicated in the K30 billion loan the ministry reportedly used the Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA) to borrow from commercial banks in order to paint a rosy picture of revenue collection to fund the infamous zero-deficit budget (ZDB).

And the second and probably the worst, is the recent and popular cash-gate scandal (Capital Hill looting) which has cost his job, but he has always denied any wrongdoing.

Just before the Capital Hill scandal came to light a few weeks ago, the former minister came under heavy attack with Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and other concerned citizens calling for his dismissal or else to voluntary resign.

Another casualty in the new 32-member cabinet is former Minister of Justice, Ralph Kasambara who has been replaced by former Director of Public Prosecution (DoPP), Fahad Assani.

Kasambara was the first senior government official to be implicated in the shooting of Mphwiyo for his alleged involvement in corrupt acts related to siphoning of government funds.

On the hand, it had been a cruel Mothers’ Day to Reen Kachere and Eunice Makangala, former ministers of Disability and the Elderly and Labour and Vocational Training respectively, who are the only two female to be shown the exit door in the cabinet.

Kachere has been replaced by new face Rachel Kachaje while Grace Maseko has taken over Makangala’s portfolio.

Maseko, who was with Local Government and Rural Development, has been replaced by Rachel Patience Mazombwe Zulu, who has been shifted from Tourism, Wildlife and Culture.

In the new cabinet, President Banda has removed one office of deputy minister and created a full portfolio under the Office of the President and Cabinet (Responsible for Good Governance) and is headed by Eunice Kazembe.

Consumer activist John Kapito said he would have “loved to see more ministers whose ministries were involved in the fraud go.”

“We are aware more ministries are involved in corruption and fraud. The whole system has been abused by politicians,” said Kapito, who heads the Consumers Association of Malawi.—(AdditIonal reporting by AFP)

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