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Malawi President Mutharika to Swear-in New Cabinet Thursday

In Malawi, President Bingu Wa Mutharika is expected to swear in his new cabinet Thursday. The swearing in comes a day after Mutharika named ministers to help run his second five-year term.

But a change in the portfolio of the finance minister is generating controversy. Ex-finance Minister Goodall Gondwe is replaced by Ken Kandodoon who was formally in charge of the Food Reserve Agency.

Gondwe, who now heads the ministry of local government, is often credited for Malawi's recently strong economic resurgence.

But in an interview with VOA, presidential press secretary Chikumbutsu Mtumodzi, said it is President Mutharika's right to decide ministerial portfolios.

"Anything relating to the appointment or organizing of the cabinet is the sole prerogative of the president," Mtumodzi said.

He said the cabinet ministers would be first to be sworn in.

"From 9'Oclock, the cabinet ministers will be sworn in, and their deputies would be sworn in at 3'Oclock in the afternoon," he said.

Mtumodzi said the new ministers are required to begin working as soon as possible.

"The appointments are with immediate effect. They are supposed to take the oath of office and the oath of allegiance," Mtumodzi said.

Some political observers say there was a mix reaction particularly to the change at the finance ministry.

Noel Mbowela, political science professor at Malawi's University of Zomba Chancellor College said the new cabinet is generating increasing debate.

"It is a mixed reaction. Some people are happy, but some people are not very happy with the cabinet," Mbowela said.

He said President Mutharika didn't keep his promise of a lean government.

"We were told during the campaign period that the cabinet was going to be lean. But I think what has happened is the exact opposite," he said.

But Mbowela said some Malawians hailed the balance in the new cabinet.

"Those who are happy are looking at the proportion of men, women and where someone is coming from. It looks like people from all the regions have been put into the cabinet. So it is quiet representative of the Malawian population," Mbowela said.

He said some Malawians are questioning the rationale behind the change at the finance ministry.

"I think one would really not understand what the president is trying to achieve…the shifting has really raised a lot of suspicion from people to say there is no continuity anymore. And after all one would simply say maybe there is something very strange that is happening behind the scene," he said.

Mbowela said Malawians had confidence in the performance of former finance minister Gondwe.

"The former finance minister we are talking about here, it was very evident I think to all Malawians that he did a very good job. So much as the president has that prerogative, I don't think it goes with moving people anyhow," Mbowela said

Meanwhile, Goodall Gondwe, a veteran economist served as director of the Africa Department at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Vice President of the African Development Bank.

President Bingu Wa Mutharika appointed Gondwe as finance minister in 2004, a task some political observers believe he performed creditably.