President Peter Mutharika yesterday announced a 32-member Cabinet with largely familiar faces, but has made room for alliance partner United Democratic Front (UDF) and long, time political foe Henry Chimunthu Banda.
But as he did previously when he fell out with State Vice-President Saulos Chilima, Mutharika has again omitted Chilima although Section 79 of the Malawi Constitution provides for the Vice-Presidents inclusion in the Cabinet.
The President has also reneged on his 2014 promise to maintain a 20-member Cabinet. Inclusive of Chilima, the new Cabinet has 33 members.
In the new Cabinet, Mutharika also appears to reward loyalty by promoting controversial Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) regional governor (South) Charles Mchacha, from deputy minister of Transport and Public Works to Minister of Irrigation and Water Development.
The President has split several ministries to accommodate alliance partners and some officials from the governing DPP including newcomers Chimwemwe Chipungu as Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Food Security and Grezelder Jeffrey as deputy minister of Local Government and Rural Development.
Mutharika has hired Kondwani Nankhumwa as Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation. Nankhumwa’s former Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development has been split between Mchacha and Francis Kasaila, who is now Minister of Agriculture and Food Security.
The Head of State has maintained dethroned vice-president Everton Chimulirenji, who appears second on the list, as Minister of Disaster Management Affairs and Public Events.
The President has kicked out Bintony Kutsaira, whom he also fired this week as DPP regional governor (Centre), as minister of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining and has split the ministry.
Mutharika has given the newly-created Ministry of Energy to UDF leader Atupele Muluzi while the Ministry of Natural Resources and Mining has gone to Chimunthu Banda, with Werani Chilenga, making a comeback as his deputy.
Jappie Mhango has been maintained as Minister of Health, while newcomer Mary Makungwa becomes Minister of Population Planning and Social Welfare.
To further accommodate UDF, Mutharika has replaced Martha Lunji with Lilian Patel as Minister of Labour, Skills and Innovations while Clement Chiwaya becomes Minister of Persons with Disabilities and the Elderly.
Another beneficiary of the alliance is Ishmael Mkumba, Blantyre Malabada legislator, who is now Deputy Minister of Education, Science and Technology, a ministry whose head remains William Susuwele-Banda.
Another newcomer is Kamlepo Kalua as Minister of Lands, Housing and Urban Development.
Others who have been maintained are Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister Bright Msaka, Local Government and Rural Development Minister Ben Phiri, Finance, Economic Planning and Development Minister Joseph Mwanamvekha, Transport and Public Infrastructure Minister Ralph Jooma, Gender, Child Development and Community Development Minister Mary Navicha and Information, Civic Education and Communications Technology Minister Mark Botomani.
Karonga Nyungwe legislator Kenneth Ndovie, who was under fire last year for joining DPP after he was elected on an independent ticket, is now Deputy Minister of Industry and Trade.
Another new face is DPP Zomba Malosa legislator Grace Kwelepeta, coming in as deputy at Gender Ministry.
Mutharika has highly compromised on gender, appointing only seven women out of the 32 members, with only three being full ministers.
There is noticeable mix up in the Cabinet announced whereby the tourism portfolio has been allocated to two ministries of Environment, Tourism and Wildlife headed by Symon Vuwa Kaunda and that of Industry, Trade and Tourism given to Salim Bagus.
Meanwhile, political analysts have described the new list as a “Campaign Cabinet”.
University of Malawi’s Chancellor College political science lecturer Mustafa Hussein said the campaign Cabinet has been made to cement DPPs alliance with UDF.
He said: “The Cabinet has been formed to accommodate the alliance and individuals, but fundamental reason is to ensure he has a team that will help campaign and attract votes from districts and constituencies.
“The President has tried to rope in people he knows would help him during the campaign when all is set for the fresh presidential election. This has forced him to bloat the Cabinet as he tried to reach far and wide.”
Hussein said people applauded the President from maintaining a lean Cabinet but this is a disappointment considering the poor state of the country’s economy.
On the exclusion of the Vice-President, the political analyst said it was not surprising looking at their relationship, but argued that constitutionally, a Vice-President should appear on the list.
Another Chancellor College political analyst Joseph Chunga also criticised Mutharika’s departure from his commitment to maintain a lean Cabinet, saying it is a move to cater for his campaign interests.
“This is purely a campaign Cabinet potentially to give the governing DPP votes,” he said, adding the exclusion of the Vice-President, following Chilima’s reinstatement as State Vice-President by the Constitutional Court, is tantamount to contempt of court.