President Dr. Lazarus McCarthy Chakwera on Tuesday took the trouble to clarify what he meant when he said he does not have absolute power over all government institutions.
Speaking when he opened the first-ever National Conference on the Separation of Powers in Lilongwe on Monday, Chakwera said it was wrong for Malawians to think that being the Head of State means he is the driver behind the steering wheel of a car controlling the speed, direction, movement, and destination of the machine.
Speaking at the closure of the meeting, Chakwera clarified that his statement did not mean that he was running away from his constitutionally-assigned responsibilities, as most people were insinuating.
“Yesterday, during the opening session of this conference, I spoke about the parts of Government that I as President do not control, the parts where I direct the traffic but don’t drive the institutions. In my mind, this applies to three areas of government, the first being the Judiciary, where I appoint High Court and Supreme Court Judges, but have no control over what they do with the Courts.
“The second is the Legislature, where I submit my Administration’s proposed policies, budgets, and bills, but have no control over how Parliamentarians vote. And the third is governance institutions and statutory bodies, where I appoint Boards and Heads of Institutions who are then empowered by the Constitution to function without my interference,” he said.
Chakwera reiterated his challenge to Malawians to rigorously demand accountability and coordination from those holding positions in the said independent parts of government.
He said it is a mistake and unconstitutional to only demand accountability and coordination from elected officials and leave those who hold positions of state power by public appointment to their own devices, arguing that there is no position that the Constitution does not regard to be a trust from the Malawian people, and that there is no position for which the Constitution does not demand sustained accountability to the Malawian people.
Chakwera, however, acknowledged the powers he has to delegate some of his duties to the Vice President, to appoint Ministers and Deputy Ministers to serve in Cabinet and oversee the work of various ministries; the power to convene Cabinet meetings to make government policy and resolutions.
He also mentioned the power he has to appoint a Cabinet Secretary to oversee the efficient running of the civil service and certain public institutions that affect strategic commodities critical to national security; the power to appoint the Chief Justice and other judges, the Army Commander, Malawian Ambassadors and their Deputies, the Attorney General, the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Directors General of the Anti-Corruption Bureau, State Residences, and National Intelligence, among others.
“As you can see, the primary responsibility I bear as President is the proper use of the powers conferred upon me over the Executive by the Constitution. And since there are other state institutions here present that have constitutional and state powers of their own, I wanted to close with a general word of advice about the proper use of power. My first advice is that you must remember that all the powers you hold are for service to Malawians, and so you must use power with humility,” said Chakwera.
He reiterated that he will use the powers entrusted to him with caution.
The President’s sentiments on Monday received mixed reactions, with opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) spokesperson Shadric Namalomba wondering if the President meant that he was not in control.