Joyce Banda's presidency will ultimately be judged on her ability to turn around Malawi's ailing economy. It is just as well, because if she were to be judged by the caliber of her first cabinet which was announced on Thursday, April 26th, she would get a fail grade from this blog. Looking at the long list of recycled individuals in the supposedly new cabinet, we could not but help think the UDF or the DPP are back in power. And then it dawned on us that the People's Party (PP) of Joyce Banda is really nothing more than the DPP which was itself nothing more than UDF.
We must confess at this blog to being underwhelmed by the cabinet names that came out of Mudi House last Thursday. Only 13 names in the 32 member-cabinet are holding ministerial positions for the very first time. The rest, including President Banda herself and Vice president Khumbo Kachali – have either served in the Muluzi or Mutharika administrations. Meanwhile, eight of the 'new' ministers have served in both the Muluzi and Mutharika cabinets.
While this gives Banda's cabinet a heavy dose of experience, it is not the kind of experience that inspires this blog, given the performances of our recent cabinets. Indeed, of the 19 members with prior ministerial experience, 15 have served, or were still serving in the late Mutharika's cabinet. Can we now expect these individuals to become better "performers" simply because their former mentor is no more? We have serious doubts about that. Already, in the week before the late Mutharika was put to rest, one of his ministers who has retained Joyce Banda's confidence, was out on the streets closing shops and issuing threats to grocers for the pricing of sugar. If this is how the new cabinet is going to operate, we doubt the Joyce Banda administration is going to be much different from the previous administrations.
And that is before saying anything about the group of opportunists that joined Banda's People's Party in the morning to be rewarded with cabinet seats in the afternoon. Apparently, one of the new PP members, a former party president, never even bothered to inform his Secretary General before he went on air to claim that he and all the members of his former party had decided to join the PP. We seriously doubt such individuals are in government for anything other than their own personal interest. This is not the recipe for Government of National Unity as many a people have termed this cabinet. We see instead a lot of opportunistic handclappers who will mislead the new president or fail to offer her sound advice so long as they are assured of benefiting from state resources.
Over the past couple of weeks, many a person has spoken about some names carried over from the DPP of not having been part of the excesses of the Mutharika administration…they are said to have been quiet and /or came out quickly to speak out about the proposal to hand the presidency over to Peter Mutharika after Bingu's death. Others have said that well, some of these were Banda's informants in the DPP. Well, if they were quiet, can we expect them to be outspoken now that they are in Joyce Banda's cabinet? And if they informed on a government they served in without resigning, doesn't that show their lack of moral character? What we see are individuals that have so perfected the art of 'not being outspoken' and double-dealing that they are able to glide from one government to another with ease. That to us is not something to be rewarded. It is called cowardice.
Mrs. Banda's saving grace might be that she does not have to do a lot to win over the love of the Malawi public. Already, she has reached out to donors and renewed friendships with neighboring countries in ways that represent a departure from the late Mutharika's personalistic style of leadership. If truth be told though, these were always going to be the easiest things to do, a kind of picking the low-hanging fruit so to speak. The more pressing challenges will involve getting the economy back on track and reviving public confidence in government. Seeing some of the main architects of the disastrous economic policies of the recent past, including the faces of the zero deficit budget and its punitive tax regime, it is hard for us at this blog to be optimistic about the future. We will of course gladly revise our estimation of the new cabinet if it can prove that our fears are unfounded. But until I then, excuse us for being very skeptical.
The new Cabinet in full (an asterix after a name denotes individuals who have never served in cabinet before)
|President & Minister Responsible for Public Service||Joyce Banda|
|Vice President & Minister Of Health||Khumbo Kachale|
|Foreign Affairs||Ephraim Chiume|
|Energy & Mining||Cassim Chilumpha|
|Economic Planning||Atupele Muluzi*|
|Justice & Attorney General||Ralph Kasambara|
|Water Development||Ritchie Muheya|
|Local Government||Grace Maseko*|
|Home Affairs||Uladi Mussa|
|Environment & Climate Change||Catherine Gotani Hara|
|Youth & Sports||Enock Chihana*|
|Economic Planning||Khwauli Msiska|
|Local Government||Gracewell Mtendere*|
|Environment &Climate Change||Ibrahim Matola*|
|Foreign Affairs||Rachel Mazombwe Zulu*|