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why Banda dissolved Malawi’s cabinet

10 October 2013
by

Just a couple of hours ago, Malawi President Joyce Banda dissolved her cabinet. The official statement read:

“Her Excellency Dr Joyce Banda, President of the Republic of Malawi, in exercise of the powers conferred upon her by Section 94 (1) and Section 95 (2) of the Constitution of the Republic of Malawi, has today, 10th October 2013, dissolved Cabinet. Following the dissolution of the cabinet, all ministerial matters will revert to the Presidency through Controlling Officers. Her Excellency the President will announce a new Cabinet in due course.”

The dissolution of cabinet occurred the same day there was a demonstration in the capital, reported in The Nation (Malawi’s major daily newspaper):

The marchers carried placards with the words ‘Joyce Banda walephera kuyendetsa dziko la Malawi’ [Joyce Banda has failed to govern this country] ‘Mphwiyo chira msanga uzafotokoze’ [Mphwiyo should explain the looting] ‘Akulu a boma onse apume panthawi imene kubaku kukufufuzidwa’ [Top government officials should resign to pave way for investigations] among others.

The dissolution of cabinet and the preceding protest followed revelations of a corruption scandal, starting in late September about cash being stolen from government. To give some background, Malawi uses an Integrated Financial Management Information System (IFMIS) payment platform, and it is alleged that through this platform, government accountants had been making fraudulent payments and stockpiling cash in their homes and vehicles. The scandal is referred to as “Cashgate“, and has been widely reported on in Malawi in the past few weeks.

Prior to arrests associated with the Cashgate scandal, Malawi’s Budget Director Paul Mphwiyo was shot on September 13, after having received numerous death threats in connection with his cracking down on fraudulent government contracts and embezzling loopholes. Mphwiyo was only appointed budget director in July of this year.

Much of these developments surrounding the Cashgate scandal unfolded during President Joyce Banda’s 23-day trip out of the country, partly spent at the UN General Assembly meeting. During her absence, news and rumors circulated that the corruption of the Cashgate scandal reached high up into the administration, and there were reports that President Banda had known about the embezzling as early as five months ago. A major opponent for President Banda in the upcoming May 2014 tripartite elections, MCP Presidential Candidate Lazarus Chakwera, publicly called for her to cut her trip short and return to Malawi to deal with the Cashgate saga. The civil society leader who organized today’s demonstration had also previously called for the President to return home early, and even went so far as to call for her resignation.

There was pressure from donors to do something about the Cashgate scandal as early as the days following the shooting of Budget Director Mphwiyo. In a jointly released statement, major donors — including the British High Commission and the US Embassy — said:

We are greatly concerned about the reported events surrounding the shooting of the Budget Director Mr Paul Mphwiyo. These are worrying developments that potentially risk Malawi’s stability, rule of law and reputation. We urge swift and credible investigations that leave no stone unturned, allowing the investigating authorities to act without fear, intimidation or hindrance. Should the Malawi authorities require international assistance to their investigations into this and other cases, we are willing to respond.

There has been growing concern in Malawi about corruption. We welcome the government’s acceptance that much more needs to be done. We encourage further political will to support the determination of those prepared within government and in state institutions to act against corruption, building on the recently announced measures to strengthen accounting systems and controlling measures. We encourage a strong coalition with others in Malawi society to ensure success and confirm our continued support to them in order that we achieve results.

The European Union is set to release $39 million in budget support to Malawi in December, but warned the government that it would not release the funds before these budget concerns were dealt with. The German ambassador warned his country was closely following events to determine future support.

In sum, it is not at all surprising that President Banda dissolved cabinet. There was pressure from donors, civil society, ordinary Malawians, all while her political opponents have been using the scandal to demonstrate her weakness in governing the country in the run-up to the elections. If the EU payment does not come through in December (the start of Malawi’s hunger season), Banda stands no chance of winning the elections in May 2014.

The question is, where does she go from here? Malawian academic Boniface Dulani had already pointed out Banda’s original cabinet was largely a recycling of ministers from previous administrations. Though sacking her cabinet is one step in the right direction, it will certainly not be sufficient to appease civil society, donors, or ordinary Malawians. She will have to make haste in resolving the Cashgate scandal, especially if she expects to stay in office come May.

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Writer Jimmy Kainja participated in the demonstration that preceded the cabinet dissolution. He posted a photo of his own placard to Twitter.

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. James permalink
    12 October 2013 12:59 am

    Dissolution of the cabinet came at a wrong time when in most of her responses during the press conference she had upon arrival from the UN General Assembly clearly showed that she wasn’t ready to take swift action and the blog is right that it is only pressure that has forced this decision. Second, they have already gone out there to defend themselves that the surfacing of the cash gate scandal shows that her administration is serious about this and it has been able to flash out the thieves. I shared this sentiment with Stephane and he told me that that is politics if thieves don’t get caught, they say we have managed to lock all the loop holes where monies could slip through and if the catch them they say we are cleaning the system. My other point is all this came to life after we nearly lost a life, top officials were mentioned like the the Justice Minister but nothing happened with them. I was chatting with Boniface yesterday on the same and i told him that i am actually a bad citizen because it seems i will not vote next year since i haven’t registered. He told me you are not just a bad citizen but i don’t know if i should continue talking to you right now because this is the worst thing you have done because you have already elected someone we don’t want.

  2. 12 October 2013 3:02 am

    Its weird to me all this. Malawians have always had a pretty sober understanding of the high levels of corruption within their government. Cashgate is not really that shocking. Obviously Mphwiyo tried to rock the boat too much. But I’ll bet the guys who ordered the hit are thinking that they made a bit of a strategic mistake. Far from silencing the issue it has blown up bigger. But then if you are in opposition to Joyce you are actually happy about “cashgate” because previously there wasn’t much to throw at her even though she remains stubbornly unpopular in the South and Central regions. Which really annoys me. Granted she hasn’t been transformative, but she did what she had to do to brink the country back from the brink after Bingu and that should be enough imho. And what thanks does she get?It looks like Chakwera might go from zero to hero and be the surprise upset next May. Joyce is too unpopular in the South and Central, Peter has (thankfully) become too soiled, and young Atupele never really had a chance. Will the MCP rise again? Who would have thought?

    • James permalink
      12 October 2013 3:46 am

      In my opinion KIm, the worst strategy to silence your critics is to reply to their accusations on the podium during rallies because in the abundance of words, another blunder would ensue. If she stuck to cleaning up the mess Bingu and his DPP left, i am sure she would have been a no match come next year. MCP has been a party that has strived over the years i feel grounded on the principles Kamuzu laid down but were being abused by Tembo. Now with him no longer at the helm, people feel its better to associate with a party that can survive turbulent times.

      on the soberness of Malawians, yes it is true they are but to some extent i feel it was fear coupled with natural humility but the 20 July demonstrations removed the fear from most Malawians because if they braved the gun shots then, saw fellow friends die well it is better to be next on the line for a good cause.

      I feel IKI made a strategic blunder (including the donors) not to do the political polling survey because now we would have been very popular with them with these developments.

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