Updated: Jan 21
It’s 2018, and one would think our politics ought to have grown up a little.
This website has twice written about how our politics cherishes loudmouthed politicians in advancing a party’s political agenda and denouncing critics (see this, and this). The ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is no exception. And this past week, the ruling Party took to embracing an outspoken human being who proves such a role ought not be unique to females.
President Peter Mutharika has reshuffled his cabinet, sneaking in Charles Mchacha as Deputy Minister for Homeland Security, a role that will ironically oversee disaster management once performed by United Transformation Movement (UTM) Party leader Saulos Chilima. Mr. Mchacha is known for not very much except an unmatched ability to project a voice that demonizes the newly-formed UTM Party, displaying excellence at such aptitude for unashamed naming of opponents. He is not a close relative of rationale either.
But just as the same DPP has rewarded Patricia “Akweni” Kaliati, Nicholas Dausi and Griselda Jeffrey wa Jeffrey, Mr. Mchacha will now enjoy the privileges and perks that a Deputy Minister is given for service to government and the people of Malawi. Thanks to his loud mouth, he will wield more power as he sits closer to the apex of government, making key management decisions and resource allocations concerning our national security, immigration and prisons, three among many of the things his political career demonstrates a lack of knowledge about.
Mr. Mchacha is right to assert that he is in no mood to mellow his political utterances that have elevated him to a comfy government seat as the 2019 general elections campaign heats up a notch. This is because, in this context alone, he comprehends well how his strategy of setting himself apart by using an approach so unique to a few yields recognition at the highest levels. There is a personal gain for all the intellect it takes to invest in a gimic so bizarre and the requisite sweat that results from barking to usually unfortunate ears. To those fixated on reason, hearing Mr. Mchacha is never short of phenomenal amazement. To the rest, it may be the function of folly that could well win some votes for the DPP in 2019, a point on which Mr. Mutharika counts as he intensifies his own bid for re-election.
The appointment of government positions like Mr. Mchacha’s reeks of random justification for rendering unequivocal, unquestioning loyalty to a political Party a rewardable enterprise. Zealots that demonstrate a willingness to do whatever they can to, as Mr. Mchacha puts it, “defend” their party, will always be guaranteed reciprocation from their superiors who themselves have little capacity to risk their reputations on gibberish. But for what it takes, the learned Mr. Mutharika can permit himself to bend on credibility and appoint a misnomer to take up a role they would never really accomplish as long as the loyalist can perform on the podium under the puffery that comes with a ministerial tag to their name. Such a move jeopardizes very little. If Nicholas Dausi is anything to go by, his lengthy enrollment in Mr. Mutharika’s cabinet has proven that government can still function even when the top-most seat is as technically vacant as the brain that occupies it. We mention “function” with a pinch of salt.
As long as politics in Malawi is played on an issueless platform, there will never be a way to reconcile political prostitution as Mr. Mchacha, Mr. Dausi or Mrs. Kaliati have shown (although Mr. Mchacha does not quite perceive himself to be a political harlot of the DPP for his actions himself) and the appointed public responsibilities they are bestowed with. For instance, it was quite apparent that Mr. Dausi’s role at the National Intelligence Bureau (NIB) did actually lack “intelligence” itself to it. And it was not very clear whether the years of Mrs. Kaliati handling of the Information Ministry went far beyond her verbal baking of political opponents at the DPP podium. In similar vein, it is quite expected that Mr. Mchacha’s service will exclusively be directed towards the interest of the DPP as a party and not as a government.
Although we talk of government Ministries being able to “function” under absentee leadership, the occupancy of ministerial positions by unqualified candidates creates inefficiencies that result in remunerating laxity on the part of Ministers while overworking the technical staff that know something about running the affairs of government. It creates the belief that one requires little knowledge about a subject matter to perform a critical strategic function, itself a mentality that degenerates into the appointment of junior-level staff on bases of political alignment and not merit.
As for qualified civil servants, spreading them too thinly as they become preoccupied with drafting Ministerial speeches and accompanying Ministers on political missions, instead of doing “real” work at the office, compromises the accomplishments of the Ministry in general. Too many times we’ve seen the very common spectacle in Malawi of a Principal Secretary or Department Director panting in the corridors of Ministries and other official arenas carrying the Minister’s handbag or briefcase. With appointments as Mr. Mchacha’s or Mr. Dausi’s, Malawi is not on a path to slow down on mediocrity soon.
Such appointments are costly to the country, even though they are made by those we trust to be enlightened enough to govern. However, in spite of civil society calls for government to reverse some appointments, including a recent one by the Women Lawyers’ Association calling attention to gender parity in cabinet, the political pragmatism of ministerial appointments will remain something to contend with. At the end of the day, Mr. Mutharika’s decision to ride with the sentiment echoed by voices of reason must correlate with the political cost of his compliance. His mathe
matical calculation of this correlation is to take its negative form.
So, juggling political gains versus prudent governance, Mr. Mutharika is unlikely to heed the calls for Mr. Mchacha’s redeployment.