Malawi's President Bingu wa Mutharika on Sunday dismissed his second vice president, Cassim Chilumpha, who was also Minister of Water Development, in a cabinet reshuffle that surprised some political analysts.
Although the new cabinet still has 20 ministers, the number of deputy ministers increased from eight to 12. Mutharika has not given any reason for dropping Chilumpha.
Boniface Dulani, a political science lecturer at Chancellor College, accused Mutharika of reneging on an earlier promise to cut the country's already bloated bureaucracy.
"The president is not sticking to his word - he promised to appoint people on merit, and this does not look like it. These are political appointments and the president wants to consolidate his political base - this could spell disaster for the economy," he remarked.
When Mutharika took office in May he was widely expected to tackle some of the challenges his predecessor, Bakili Muluzi, had struggled with, like rampant corruption. Muluzi named 17 ministers when he took power in 1994 but the cabinet later ballooned to 46 - the main reason for government overspending, Dulani commented to IRIN.
Rafiq Hajat of the Institute for Policy Interaction noted: "History repeats itself - it is unfortunate that mankind cannot learn from the past. This [expansion] is based on political appointments."
Although Chilumpha and Eunice Kazembe, Minister of Natural Resources, were the only cabinet members to lose their positions, several other ministers were transferred to other portfolios or demoted.
Former Information Minister Ken Lipenga - under investigation by the Anti-Corruption Bureau for his "unauthorised" commissioning of 500,000 presidential portraits that were printed at a cost of $784,000 - was moved down to head of the ministry of vocational training.
Mutharika has denied allegations that his decisions were politically strategic, saying the new appointments were based on merit.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions
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