In a seemingly sign of stamping authority over his ‘rebellious’ deputy, President Peter Mutharika on Friday directed that the Department of Disaster Management Affairs and National Public Events, previously under the office of Vice-President Saulos Chilima, to be under the Office of President and Cabinet.
This is the second time Mutharika has stripped Chilima of a portfolio. Last year, he transferred the Public Sector Reforms Programme (PSRP) from Chilima’s office to OPC at a time many people thought the reforms were working better under the Vice-President’s watch.
In an interview on Friday, Chilima, through his spokesperson Pilirani Phiri, said the Vice-President was thankful to have been given an opportunity to serve Malawians.
“It is the prerogative of His Excellency the President to assign and reassign ministries and departments. The Vice-President is thankful for the opportunity to have served Malawians in that capacity as Minister of Disaster Management Affairs,” said Phiri.
State House, on the other hand, has said there are no personal positions in government.
State House press secretary Mgeme Kalilani on Friday said the Constitution empowers Mutharika to run the country on behalf of and in the best interest of Malawians.
“He [Mutharika] makes decisions in that spirit from time-to-time. The realignment you are asking about has been done with the same spirit. There are no personal positions in the government.
“To assume that only certain individuals deserve to be assigned certain government functions is tantamount to trivialising the sanctity of government; such thinking should not be encouraged,” said Kalilani.
In a statement communicating the transfer of Dodma to OPC on Thursday, Chief Secretary to Government Lloyd Muhara also said Mutharika has exercised his constitutional powers.
He said: “His Excellency Professor Arthur Peter Mutharika, President of the Republic of Malawi in exercise of powers conferred upon him by the Constitution has directed that, with immediate effect, the functions of the Department of Disaster Management Affairs and National Public Events be under the Office of the President and Cabinet.”
The decision to take over the Dodma portfolio, comes at a time when Chilima has publicly expressed dismay over growing levels of corruption in government, deteriorating standards of living among Malawians and hooliganism orchestrated by the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) youth cadets.
Chilima, apart from dumping the DPP at a time some party gurus were asking him to challenge Mutharika at the recent [July 1-3] convention, has also hinted at challenging Mutharika in next year’s Tripartite Elections.
Dodma has been on the spotlight lately when it raised an uproar in Parliament as opposition legislators queried a K7 billion allocation for relief food in the budget line, fearing that it can be politicised.
The budget for relief maize has gone up from K3.3 billion to K7 billion in the proposed 2018/19 National Budget.
The MPs wondered why the funding for maize was going to the Dodma office when K20 billion had already been allocated to State produce trader Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (Admarc) for buying maize.
For instance, Dowa East MP Richard Chimwendo Banda (Malawi Congress Party-MCP) said the additional K7 billion to the office for food procurement meant that government was allocating K27 billion for maize purchases. Other MPs simply had problems with allocating the large amount of money to the office due to the political situation Chilima is in.
In an interview on Friday, political and governance analyst George Phiri of the University of Livingstonia said the decision to remove Dodma from Chilima’s office smacks of politics of hatred.
“Taking away the department from Chilima does not mean changing the situation for the better. He has performed well in that capacity as overseer. Malawians have a testimony of this; hence, Malawians should learn how politics of hatred works in the country.
“Chilima’s stand to resign from DPP is likely the cause of this removal, but it is a common Malawian who will subsequently suffer from the consequences. It is imperative that leaders should differentiate between politics and development. Hating one should not cause suffering of the other,” he advised.