By Prof Danwood Chirwa- Law Scholar, University of Cape Town
Malawi’s euphoria of political change has today ended in a sharp anti-climax when the country’s newly elected President Lazarus Chakwera gave an impassioned defence of his widely criticized cabinet, which some have labeled an appeasement or incestuous cabinet.
Many watched the much-anticipated press conference in disbelief as the President drew on his oratory prowess, hewn from years spent on the pulpit, to redefine merit to suit his obviously perverted benchmark for suitability for ministerial appointment.
With every public act the new President seems to undercut his own previously publicly stated beliefs at such an alarming rate that one wonders what value to attach to any words he so craftily utters.
A few days ago he said, to international acclaim, that he would end the history of family dynasties; today he said family connection aren’t relevant consideration in his appointment philosophy.
In his inauguration speech, which has also received universal applause, he said he will end nepotism, today he defended a cabinet reeking of nepotism.
Previously he has proclaimed his unquestionable commitment to combating corruption, today he justified a cabinet in which known and experienced looters and crooks congregate.
The President has received praise for his acknowledgment of all Malawians for the role they played in bringing about change; today he cast aspersions on Malawians who have asked questions (exercising their full birth rights) about his decisions.
By any definition the new President wishes to conjure up, his notion of truth seems to change according to the demands of the occasion of his immediate speech.
His flip-flopping this week is analogous to the behaviour of many reverends I know from young age that preached one thing in the morning and did exactly what they had condemned in the afternoon.
Today there can be no doubt about the true colors of the new man leading Malawi. He is clearly beholden to vested interests and incapable of breaking loose of the heavy bonds of indebtedness he’s wrapped himself in. That he professes not to know that he is so beholden makes one even more worried.
To suggest that the end justifies the means is to distort the basic tenets of moral and political judgements.
Each public act must be analyzed by an appeal to principles and values derived from the Constitution, other laws, common sense and other sources of value.
It is no answer to appoint a criminal to a ministerial post by saying that the person won’t commit criminal acts again, that he will now perform or that a man wearing a clerical collar will sit at the top of the table in cabinet.
It is naive, if not dishonest, to ignore Malawi’s history of corruption, cronyism, family dynasties, nepotism and tribalism and claim a commitment to an obscure and bogus standard of merit.
It is certainly unfair and inconsiderate to those who have been appointed as ministers and deputies to be subjected to an arbitrary so-called probation period when they have to divest themselves from all their existing business and other commitments in order to serve the nation, which requires that they commit all their time and energy into (re) conceptualizing their departments and bringing about the much needed change.
To subject them to such a short period of probation is to exert undue pressure on them to perform, which will compel them to seek short-term results at the risk of neglecting medium- and long-term solutions.
It is, in short, to keep them enslaved to the master, the new President. You cannot expect any of these individuals to provide independent and truthful criticism or advice to the President.
Far from proving himself to be a listening President, today Dr Chakwera refused to withdraw completely his unlawful appointments to certain public offices, even as he acknowledged the illegality of his actions. Where he got the legal justification for the so-called interim appointments is anybody’s guess.
The disregard of the law and abuse of presidential powers so common during the DPP era has been continued seamlessly. The willingness to arrogate powers to the office of the President has been revealed.
Just five days ago, Dr Chakwera swore an oath to defend the Constitution and all the laws of Malawi. By the fifth day he has already forgotten the words that constitute the oath and their meaning.
Looking forward, Malawi is, like many other African countries, facing a protracted pandemic which has decimated markets and destroyed any chance of a quick economic recovery.
The economy will continue to stagnate, if not worsen in the coming months. The revenue will plummet and there will be no significant aid as each country retreats into its own shell for cover.
The new government needed something significant to show to mark a decisive break with the past regime. Making economically sound decisions concerning the size of the cabinet was one. Following the law in making public appointments was another.
Appointing an inclusive, gender balanced and competent cabinet devoid of obvious and direct vested interests was probably the most important.
These failures have sent shockwaves across the country and the continent, and will no doubt define the terms of future engagement with this government.
Let it be known that I have officially switched from the optimistic mode to the default pessimistic mode; all of which means the burden is now on you Mr President to prove me — a devout Malawian citizen — wrong!