Saturday, July 4, 2009

Bingus Cabinet

How big should a cabinet be? A question not properly answered given that cabinets are often presidential prerogatives. Similarly, there is no rule about the number of advisors the presidency should have. Bingu Wa Muntharika after his massive win hired a “lean” 43 sized cabinet that confounded critics in a matter of ways. The size has been considered huge and the faces astounded many given Bingu’s new name “unpredictable”.
I ponder on the question of what a cabinet does. In principle a cabinet formulates policy that line ministries implement under the leadership of the elected president. Before we become overlay critical of the current cabinet it is good to consider the achievements of the previous one.
The Malawi economy has grown tremendously since 2005. Without pointing at the sources of growth, I would speculate that there was a cabinet that “crafted policies” pro-growth. I can draw critics on this one because there are lots of exogenous factors. Malawi committed itself to budgetary reforms evidenced by reduced fiscal deficits, good rains, debt relief and general confidence of the international community. To add it all Malawi had a president who was very much in tune with global politics and a finance minister who was hands on and knew exactly what to do.
Enter phase two of Bingu’s presidency. A massive change in the cabinet composition. Out goes Mussa. Phoya, Katsonga and Lipenga. Folks that stood the storm orchestrated by Bakili Muluzi and JZU with blazing horns of Nga Mtafu, Clement Stambuli and many others. Then another influx of MPs with enviable credentials. Goodall Gondwe shifts to Local government, Chaponda education, Kaliati to Gender etc. Other notable surprises include Ken Kandodo into finance, Mwanza into housing and on a lesser note Billy Kaunda pulls his own surprise.
With all these changes, one has a genuine reason to question the size of a cabinet. While it is a presidential prerogative, cabinet is run on tax payers’ money. Perhaps Bingu is being pragmatic and hiring a team that can help him realise a dream of an export led growth Malawi. We will judge him by 2014. I have always wondered whether cabinet ministers really perform. In the post 1994, Malawi, I reckon that a cabinet minister can only perform if there is a lot of political will and support from the president. Remember the 10 point Chikaonda? What about freeze sometime in Muluzi’s regime amid serious governance issues? The late night threatening calls to Chikaonda wisdom thinking about not hosting a SADC summit? I think the same applies to Goodall Gondwe. He has performed simply because Bingu gave him the support. The same Goodall Gondwe was Chief Economic advisor to Bakili Muluzi.
To coin it all we perhaps do not lots of ministers because the President basically does most of the things. Most ministers are all over familiarising themselves on those costly tours. Nonetheless, I believe Bingu will render support to the folks hired into his cabinet otherwise there might be just baggage on the tax payer. Unfortunately, the reality of a political system is that there is need to balance up genuine needs of the country and political interests given a turbulent parliament Bingu experienced. We just need to keep our eyes open to not sleep on the train and ensure that elected public officials are accountable.
When are the local government elections?

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