The Mozambican government and the ruling party, Frelimo, have both refused to be drawn into the argument between Renamo and the independent National Elections Commission (CNE) over allegations of bias in the voter registration process. They have pointed out that the CNE is an independent body, and that it would be irregular for the government to intervene.
Renamo has rejected the CNE's plans for correcting administrative errors in the voter registration process, and has refused to register for the local elections, due to be held on 29 May.
Commentators have pointed out that during the run-up to the 1994 general election Renamo used the threat of boycott to raise funds from international donors. However, this time it seems that they have overestimated their importance and are not likely to win any major concessions.
Several minor opposition parties have joined Renamo in threatening a boycott of the municipal elections.
At a press conference on 5 March, Domingos Arouca, head of the "Alliance for Democracy" (APD) coalition, read out a statement making participation in the elections conditional on a meeting between all opposition parties and the government.
Arouca said the threatened boycott resulted from a meeting of most opposition parties, including representatives of Renamo, the previous day.
Like Renamo, the minor parties demand that "irregularities" in the November-December voter registration be corrected. However, Arouca did not suggest that the "irregularities" resulted from conscious fraud.
There is confusion over the position of other political parties. The president of the Democratic Party (PADEMO), Wehia Ripua, has taken a pro-boycott position while his party's general secretary, Gimo Guidila, went on record in Beira, disagreeing with Renamo boycott tactics, and promising that PADEMO would stand candidates in all 33 municipalities.
If Renamo are to change their mind on boycotting the local elections, they will need to get an exemption from the rule that all registrations for the local elections be completed by 26 February.
Six parties and five coalitions have registered their intent to stand in the 29 May elections.
According to a spokesman for the Electoral Administration Technical Secretariat (STAE), the electoral branch of the civil service, the parties which have registered are: the ruling Frelimo Party; the Democratic Party of Mozambique (PADEMO); the Labour Party (PT); the National Unity Party (PUN); the Green Party; the Mozambican Independent Alliance (ALIMO).
Of the five opposition parties on this list, only two existed in 1994 and stood in the parliamentary elections of that year. Both did badly - PADEMO took 0.77 per cent of the national vote, and the PT 0.56 per cent.
PUN, the Greens and ALIMO were formed since the 1994 elections, but have undertaken no campaigning work and are virtually unknown.
Most of the opposition forces that stood in 1994 have decided to contest the municipal elections in coalitions. The five coalitions are:
* Democratic Union for the Municipalities (UD/A), consisting of the Liberal and Democratic Party (PALMO), the National Democratic Party (PANADE), and the Mozambican National Party (PANAMO);
* Democratic Union (UD), consisting of the three parties mentioned above, plus the Mozambican Independent Party (PIMO), the Patriotic Action Front (FAP), the Democratic Congress Party (PACODE), Mozambique National Union (UNAMO), and the Democratic Renewal Party (PRD);
* Alliance for Democracy (APD), consisting of the Mozambique United Front (FUMO), the Mozambican Nationalist Movement (MONAMO) and the National Convention Party (PCN);
* United Resistance of Mozambique, consisting of the Progressive Liberal Party (PPLM) and the United Democratic Front (UDF);
* Coalition for Democracy in Mozambique (CDM), consisting of the Mozambican People's Progress Party (PPPM) and the Social-Liberal Party (SOL).
The fact that there are two UDs results from a dispute between the head of the UD parliamentary group, Antonio Palange, and the PALMO, PANADE and PANAMO presidents, Martins Bilal, Jose Massinga and Marcos Juma, who claim that Palange had no authorisation to expand the UD from three to eight parties.
Deputies of the Mozambican parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, on 4 March strongly supported proposals to limit the employment of foreign labour, despite a few voices warning that this protectionism flies in the face of history.
The government proposal on the matter in its labour bill, now undergoing its second reading, in essence maintains the existing rules. These are that foreign workers may only be employed if Mozambicans trained in the area concerned are not available.
Furthermore the employment of any foreigner must be authorised by the labour ministry. The bill makes it clear that this extends to administrators, managers, and even representatives of foreign companies.
Frelimo deputy Abdul Carimo, who is first deputy chairman of the Assembly, pointed out that there are overlapping and potentially conflicting ways of hiring foreigners. Thus when a foreign investor approaches the Investment Promotion Centre (CPI), one of the things he has to do is say how many workers, foreign and Mozambican, his project expects to employ.
Once the investment had been approved by the Planning and Finance Ministry, it seemed redundant to apply to the Labour Ministry for a second authorisation for the same foreign workers. Or could the Labour Minister overrule the Finance Minister, Carimo wondered.
Furthermore key areas such as banks were now under foreign control. Through their majority share holdings, Portuguese banks, such as the Caixa Geral de Depositos or the Mello Bank, could appoint a number of directors of Mozambican banks. Were these directors subject to a veto from the Labour Ministry, mused Carimo.
Sergio Vieira, rapporteur of the Frelimo parliamentary group, wanted the law to establish very clearly that there could be no wage or other privileges for foreigners. He moved an amendment stating that all workers, regardless of their nationality, would receive the same remuneration for the same work.
A second Vieira amendment sought to establish that, in any company, a minimum of 80 per cent of managerial positions should be held by Mozambicans. Companies would be given varying lengths of time to attain this figure, depending on how long they had been established in Mozambique.
Vieira's proposals brought forth strong applause from deputies from all three of the parliamentary groups - but a handful of Frelimo deputies had serious reservations.
Amade Camal, himself a prominent businessman, said "We can't tell investors to come here and appoint Mozambicans. We have to leave open the possibility for each investor to manage in accordance with his own business culture".
He protested that "this bill is excessively protectionist towards workers, but there's no work without investment".
Former Prime Minister Mario Machungo, who now heads one of the country's new private banks, warned against taking decisions on the basis of emotions. "Let us take care that we do not endanger the country's future", he said.
"The tendency today is for free, unfettered movement of capital and labour", he stressed. "We are increasingly involved in a regional market that demands mobility of capital and labour".
"Companies are increasingly globalised", Machungo pointed out. "Today it's not nationality that counts, it's commitment to the company. We are not isolated from global trends".
Ali Dauto, chairman of the Assembly's Legal Affairs Commission, backed up Machungo, and doubted whether the proposal that 80 per cent of managers in all companies should be Mozambican was viable.
The Assembly set up a working group to reshape the articles on foreign workers, taking Vieira's proposals as the starting point.
Deputies of the former rebel movement Renamo had quite a different objection to the government's proposals: they were all in favour of discriminating in favour of Mozambican workers, but argued that the Labour Ministry's bureaucratic procedures were ineffective, and merely led to corruption.
Gulamo Jafar protested that there was "a thriving business" in issuing work and residence permits for foreigners, and Jeremias Pondeca claimed there was "no control" over the issuing of permits.
The first sitting of the Assembly of the Republic began on 27 February with the expulsion of a Renamo deputy.
The Assembly's chairman, Eduardo Mulembue, announced that Joao Lopes, a deputy from Nampula province, has lost his seat for his continued failure to attend sessions.
Under the Assembly's standing orders, any deputy who misses 45 days' sessions in a row, without justification, automatically loses his seat.
Lopes is the first deputy to be expelled from the Assembly. He is replaced by the next name on the list of Renamo Nampula candidates, Pedro Ussene.
The Social Affairs Commission of the Assembly of the Republic on 4 March called for a drop in the country's retirement age to 55 for men and 50 for women, based on the fact that life expectancy is less than 50.
Currently retirement age is 65 for men and 60 for women, and the government's labour bill, now under debate in the Assembly, proposes reducing it to 60 for men and 55 for women.
Sergio Vieira, rapporteur for the ruling Frelimo Party's parliamentary group, criticised the "excessive generosity" shown by the Commission. He noted that retirement pensions only exist for waged workers, who are a minority: there was "no social security scheme at all", for the peasant majority of the population.
Luis Boavida, a Renamo deputy on the Social Affairs Commission, claimed that when workers reach the age of 50 "they don't have the energy to carry on".
Jeremias Pondeca, also of Renamo, alleged that rubbish is left uncollected on the streets of Mozambican cities because the crews of the garbage trucks are too old to undertake heavy work.
Labour Minister Guilherme Mavila, who is steering the government bill through the Assembly, said that currently there are five employed workers for every pensioner: it would be disastrous to reverse this proportion so that there were five pensioners for every worker, he warned.
Nonetheless, the Social Affairs Commission refused to withdraw its amendment, which will be voted on later in the parliamentary sitting.
The Assembly of the Republic on 3 March discussed articles in labour legislation regulating the right to strike. Most of these articles simply incorporate the 1991 strike law in to the country's labour code.
The most controversial item concerned those areas in which, while strikes are permitted, workers must maintain a minimum level of services during the strike.
The government bill included among these areas the distribution of "basic necessities". The Assembly's Legal Affairs Commission objected to this, pointing out that, under a market economy, the state no longer had any monopoly over this distribution.
When Luis Boavida, a deputy from Renamo, asked what institutions the government had in mind, Labour Minister Guilherme Mavila suggested that even supermarkets would be covered by this restriction.
"You're saying that anyone involved in selling food has no right to strike", exclaimed Boavida.
Teodato Hunguana, of Frelimo, also regarded this as "a strong limitation" on the right to strike, and said "in other countries, supermarket workers do go on strike".
Hunguana protested that the concept of "basic necessities" was far too vague. At no point in its bill did the government list what these were.
The government was not prepared to change its formulation, nor would the Legal Affairs Commission withdraw its amendment removing the reference to "basic necessities". The matter will therefore be voted on later in the parliamentary sitting.
Frelimo has chosen the current mayor of Maputo, Artur Canana, to head its list of candidates for the capital in the municipal elections scheduled for 29 May.
Canana has only been mayor since November, when President Joaquim Chissano sacked his predecessor, Joao Baptista Cosme.
In the southern province of Gaza, a local businessman Faquir Bay, who has been administrator of various Gaza districts, was elected the Frelimo candidate for the mayor of the provincial capital, Xai-Xai.
The Frelimo candidate for mayor of Inhambane is Victorino Macuvele. He is a civil servant, a past mayor of Inhambane, and the secretary of the Frelimo provincial verification committee (the party's disciplinary body).
In Maxixe, the Frelimo candidate is Narciso Pedro, the party's first secretary in the town.
The Frelimo candidate for mayor of the provincial capital, Nampula city, Dionisio Cherewa, was elected unopposed. He is currently the provincial director for the environment, and has previously served as director of education in Maputo city. He is also secretary-general of an important local NGO, the Association for the Development of Nampula (ASSANA).
The Frelimo candidate for mayor of the port of Nacala is the current mayor, Jose Caetano. His previous jobs include that of administrator of the Nampula districts of Meconta and Angoche.
Jose Constantino, who will run for mayor of the fishing port of Angoche, is a businessman and football coach.
Abacar Naimo, running for mayor of Mozambique Island, works for the People's Development Bank (BPD). Daniel Bento is the candidate for mayor of Monapo.
The former secretary of the Mozambican Association of Demobilised Soldiers (AMODEG) in the Nampula province, Estevao de Fatima, has announced that he is running as an independent for the post of mayor of Nampula city.
Also standing in Nampula city is Alves Machanguia, of the tiny Democratic Party of Mozambique (PADEMO).
The Health Ministry has announced that at least 500,000 Mozambicans are carriers of the cholera vibrio: ie. they are infected with the bacterium that causes cholera, but they do not show any symptoms of the disease.
Speaking in Maputo on 6 March deputy National Health Director Avertino Barreto said that these people may develop the disease any time. He said that the vibrio can stay inactive in the human body for months or even years.
Barreto revealed that since the first case was diagnosed on 13 August 1997, the death toll had risen to 575. The total number of diagnosed cases is 20,938.
Barreto estimated that about $1.5 million has been spent in the fight against the epidemic, which has affected five provinces: Maputo, Gaza, and Inhambane, in the south, and Manica and Sofala in the centre of the country.
Meanwhile the European Union (EU) has approved a $400,000 donation for the fight against cholera in the port city of Beira, the capital of Sofala province.
According to Michel Pire, head of the EU delegation in Maputo for the Health, Education, Culture and Social Issues sector, the donation will cover four areas, namely staff to help organise cholera wards, acquisition of medicines, disinfection of wells and distribution of clean drinking water in the areas affected by the disease in Beira.
Pire said that there is enough stock of the intravenous rehydration solution, and that is why "the quantities that we are going to buy are not large, they are just to ensure the balance of stocks".
Pire added that in January his organisation donated $800,000 for the fight against the epidemic in Maputo.
He explained that this aid was requested by EU partners, namely the NGOs Medicins Sans Frontieres and Action Against Hunger, to confront the alarming scale the epidemic had reached.
"We are studying the possibility of a future support worth $2.2 million to Mozambique to prevent the outbreak of cholera in the provinces where it has not yet reached, namely Tete, in the central region, and the whole of the northern region", said Pire.
The Minister of Public Works and Housing, Roberto White, has accused the municipal authorities in the central city of Beira of mismanaging funds meant for the maintenance of the city's sanitation system.
He blamed the continuous degradation of the sanitation system, one of the major factors contributing to the current cholera epidemic in the city, on this mismanagement.
White said that Beira city council should be allocated 2.5 billion meticais (about $180,000) every year for the maintenance of the sanitation system. This is money paid by city residents: 20 per cent of the rents paid by tenants of state-owned housing, and 15 per cent of the money paid in water bills is earmarked for the sanitation system.
So rather more than 200 million meticais a month should be channelled, as a matter of routine, into Beira's sanitation: but White was informed that, in reality, the sanitation services only receive about 20 million meticais, a sum regarded as insignificant.
The Beira sanitation system comprises 46 sewerage pumps, of which only 19 are operating, and even those have serious deficiencies. The rain water drainage system is also in a very poor state of maintenance.
The Mozambican police restructuring project is functioning with only $11 million, compared with the $32 million originally budgeted for a three year period, according to Colonel Jose Carijo Tudo, of the Spanish Civil Guard, director of technical assistance for the project.
Speaking during the visit of European Union (EU) representatives to the Michafutene police training centre in Maputo Carijo said that the initial budget for the project had been estimated at $62 million for a seven years period.
But difficulties in obtaining this money led to a reduction in the duration of the project. So the lifetime of the project came down to three years, costed at $32 million.
But there are only two donors, Spain and Holland, who have pledged $11 million dollars between them.
Thirty members of the Spanish Civil Guard are currently involved in the project, which Carijo described as "very important" for the development of the Mozambican society.
The first course for instructors, that started on 15 January, and is scheduled to end in mid-April, includes 80 policemen, 50 of whom will be selected to remain at Michafutene and assist the Spanish instructors in running a recycling course for the Mozambican police.
Police national deputy Commissioner Eduardo Mussanhane said that the Mozambican government has contributed 23 billion meticais (about $1.9 million).
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