Malawi must move away from favouritism, nepotism to merit

By Burnett Munthali

_”With rampant nepotism, appeasement policy, tribalism and regionalism practised by the Tonse Alliance regime in accessing opportunities, Malawians are not united contrary to MCP Hi 5 slogan.’_

My teachers and fellow pupils in primary and secondary always chose me to read a passage in English or vernacular because I was exceptionally very good. I read to impress myself and everyone listening to me. They chose me based on merit but my secret was always to try hard and read just like Ben Kangwa of Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation.

When I was in college, I was at the top. One day, I was called at the college administration and told my assignments and projects were simply the best. Even after graduating from college, I have continued to work very hard and be at the top of my job performance. I recently got an award in 2023 on merit. I was recognised for doing a great job.

From Favouritism, Nepotism To Merit

Merit means “worthiness or excellence.” If you receive a certificate of merit in college, you are being recognized for doing a great job. Merit means “deserve. If you judge something or someone on merit or on their merits, your judgment is based on what you notice when you consider them, rather than on things that you know about them from other sources. Everybody must be selected on merit. Each case must be judged on its merits. The merit system is the process of promoting and hiring government employees based on their ability to perform a job, rather than on their political connections. It is the opposite of the spoils system.

Spoils system

In politics and government, a spoils system (also known as a patronage system) is a practice in which a political party, after winning an election, gives government jobs to its supporters, friends (cronyism), and relatives (nepotism) as a reward for working towards victory, and as an incentive to keep working for the party as opposed to a merit system, where offices are awarded or promoted on the basis of some measure of merit, independent of political activity.

In memoriam civil service as it was, a political cartoon by Thomas Nast showed a statue of Andrew Jackson on a pig, which is over “fraud”, “bribery”, and “spoils”, eating “plunder”. Included in Harper’s Weekly on April 28, 1877.

The term “spoils system” was used particularly in politics of the United States, where the federal government operated on a spoils system until the Pendleton Act was passed in 1883 due to a civil service reform movement. Thereafter the spoils system was largely replaced by nonpartisan merit at the federal level of the United States.

The term was derived from the phrase “to the victor belong the spoils” by New York Senator William L. Marcy, referring to the victory of Andrew Jackson in the election of 1828, with the term spoils meaning goods or benefits taken from the loser in a competition, election or military victory.

Similar spoils systems are common in other nations, such as Malawi, that traditionally have been based on tribal organization or other kinship groups and localism in general. In one of the write ups, Bashir Al Bashir says,”When Chakwera came, we thought its the end of nepotism considering how bitterly he preached against it only to be proved wrong. Chakwera wasn’t bitter about nepotism, he was just jealousy that the beneficiaries were not his children nor his relations. Today, Nick’s wife is Director in the Office of the First Lady, Violet has a government job in UK, his other daughter’s husband is Director of Communication. Every house of a child of Chakwera there is one earning salary from Malawi government and or driving a government vehicle. Devastating nepotism.”

Another writer, Twinkspurgej Jones Gadama argues, “President Chakwera’s administration has faced severe criticism for its alleged practice of nepotism. The appointment of close relatives and associates to key government positions has fueled public discontent. Chakwera owes it to the people to explain why such blatant favoritism exists within his administration and how this aligns with his promises of meritocracy and fair governance.”

Social and political commentator Rick Dzida says, “With rampant nepotism, appeasement policy, tribalism and regionalism practised by the Tonse Alliance regime in accessing opportunities, Malawians are not united contrary to MCP Hi 5 slogan.

It is true that regionalism has taken the centre stage under the tutelage of Reverend Dr Lazarus Chakwera. Most cabinet ministers, Principal Secretaries, Board Chairpersons and Chief Executive Officers of Statutory Corporations come from the Central region.”

Civil service, also known as the merit system, was created to assure that the recruitment and retention of a qualified work force, and, the selection and promotion of employees providing public services and compensated by tax is conducted in a fair and impartial manner and in a competitive fashion.

A merit system is a type of civil service system designed to reward and recruit talented individuals based on their abilities and qualifications, not only only just qualifications but *abilities,* rather than through patronage or nepotism.

We’re talking about the group of people who run the show in government. Collectively, the Ministers are the cabinet. Each minister is responsible for a specific area of government such as Finance, Justice or Foreign Affairs. They oversee everything that happens in their particular governmental department and they drive the agenda of the government.

Together, they can even pass certain regulations that do not need the approval of Parliament. It’s pretty important stuff. So this cabinet business matters to all of us as Malawians.

Who gets to be in cabinet?

The President, who is the leader of the political party that won the most amount of seats in Parliament, determines which Members of Parliament will be in the cabinet. Typically most cabinets will have around 30-40 ministers. These ministers are simply called cabinet ministers.

Once the President has chosen who will be in the cabinet, they will be sworn into their cabinet position. Cabinet ministers must be sworn in and take an oath because they both wield a great deal of political power, but also deal with state secrets that are not revealed to the public due to a potential effect on national security.

What does cabinet do?

Collectively the cabinet will meet often (usually on a weekly or bi-weekly basis) and discuss how their government departments are doing. Think of the cabinet as the board of directors of a large corporation and the President as the chair of the board.

In 2023, President Dr Lazarus Chakwera announced a new cabinet with a reduced number of cabinet ministers to 27 as other ministries were removed or got combined.

Reverend Chakwera and Vice President Dr Saulos Chilima are not holding any ministerial positions. Ministries of Local Government, Unity, and Culture were combined and the number of deputy ministers was reduced. Zikhale Ng’oma, Uchizi Mkandawire, and Moses Kumkuyu are the new faces in the cabinet.

Findings from Afrobarometer’s 2022 survey show that citizens overwhelmingly see their  government as failing on economic issues and believe that their country is going in the  wrong direction. Few are optimistic that things will improve in the near future.