The greatest concern of the government in 1997 was to persuade the country's creditors to grant debt relief, President Joaquim Chissano told the Assembly of the Republic on 13 April during his annual state of the nation address. As a result, favourable terms were reached with the main creditor nations grouped in the Club of Paris, cancelling $100 million worth of debt, and rescheduling $500 million.
The President said this was followed by Mozambique's formal admission on 7 April, by the boards of the World Bank and IMF, into the HIPC (Heavily Indebted Poor Countries) debt relief initiative. This, he stressed, would result in wiping out $2.9 billion of the debt stock, in nominal terms, as from June 1999.
As a result of the HIPC initiative, Mozambique's foreign debt, which currently stands at $3.3 billion in net current value terms, would be down to $1.1 billion by mid-1999.
"This is a significant step on the road to lift the burden of debt, and contributes to strengthening the budgetary resources needed to invest in social sectors such as health, education and water supply", stressed Chissano.
But the President added that HIPC "does not solve all our problems. Total forgiveness of the debt would have been closer to an ideal solution".
Chissano said the country could be pleased with its economic performance in 1997 with GDP growing at eight percent rather than the five percent planned. He put annual inflation at 6.5 percent
As for exports, Chissano said these had increased in value by 4 percent - and would have been substantially higher had not 1997 been a very poor year climatically for cashew nuts, one of the country's main exports. Excluding cashew, the rise in exports was 11 percent.
Imports declined slightly compared with the 1996 figure which means there was a start to the process of replacing imports by national production, especially in the area of foodstuffs, said Chissano.
The President noted that the "El Nino" weather phenomenon did not produce drought as feared. Far from a bad harvest, it now looks as though the 1998 harvest will be considerably better than the 1997 figure of 1.4 million tonnes.
The President said the "absolute necessity" of education was now well understood by Mozambicans, as shown by the growing pressure on available places at all levels of the education system.
In 1997, he said, the number of primary schools grew by 12 percent, and the number of pupils in the first five grade of primary education grew by 11 percent. But this increase by no means met the demand for education.
The state's ability to respond to this demand would be improved by two new teacher training institutes, recycling courses for existing teachers, and the introduction of distance learning, he added.
There was also "major progress" in the health sector, Chissano claimed, with the opening or re-opening of 127 more health units. "Greater coverage was achieved in the vaccination programme, and we increased our capacities in mother and child health and in family planning", he said.
Chissano warned that lack of trust in the legal system could undermine the efforts to build a society that all citizens could identify with. The government had therefore put the justice system high up on its list of priorities, "so that it will not go without the indispensable resources that allow it to carry out its duties with the fairness, competence and objectivity which should be its characteristics".
There had been "some improvements in the defence of legality, the administration of justice and legal aid for poor citizens", he said. "But given the extreme sensitivity of this sector, what has been achieved is still far from what is necessary or desirable".
It was thus urgent that the reform of the legal system currently underway should be "deeper, speedier and more far-reaching", insisted the President.
As for the police force, the plan to retrain and equip the police, funded by western donors (notably Holland and Spain) and coordinated by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), had begun.
He insisted that it was necessary to continue purging from police ranks noxious elements lacking in ethics.
Chissano stressed the challenge posed by the forthcoming municipal elections, scheduled for 30 June. He noted that some of the 33 towns and cities covered by these elections do not have the ideal material conditions to exercise their powers with the necessary autonomy.
Organised crime has managed to infiltrate the Mozambican police and the customs service, and has corrupted members of the judiciary, the interim Attorney-General, Antonio Namburete, admitted in Maputo on 20 April.
Giving his annual report to the Assembly of the Republic, Namburete declared that "day after day, examples multiply in our country of the corruption of policemen, magistrates and law officers in connection with organised crime".
His report concentrated particularly on drug trafficking. It was in 1993, Namburete pointed out, that the Dutch, Canadian and Swiss authorities detected hashish was being exported from Nacala disguised as cashew nuts or tea. Namburete estimated that since 1993 "more than 220 tonnes of hashish entered Mozambique and were re-exported to other countries".
Several major cases of drug trafficking have been discovered, notably 40 tonnes of hashish seized in a Maputo suburb in 1995, a clandestine laboratory making the drug mandrax also in 1995, and the seizure of 12 tonnes of hashish in the Cabo Delgado district of Quissanga in 1997.
The Quissanga hashish led to 19 arrests, and the trial took place throughout March and early April. The judge is expected to announce the verdict soon.
Namburete lamented that in some cases there was "negligence", deliberate or otherwise, by those involved in the investigations, including the deliberate release of suspects who then promptly fled the country.
Namburete said that hard drugs were entering Mozambique through Maputo port and airport, and even through the mail. Foreigners were involved in this traffic, he added, particularly "Nigerians, Liberians, Tanzanians and more recently Angolans".
Namburete admitted police involvement in drug dealing. In Cabo Delgado some of the policemen charged with guarding the Quissanga hashish stole 80 packets of the drug in order to sell it locally. Other policemen in Maputo had tried to sell seized cocaine. They had been detained and were awaiting trial.
Noting that last year 1,012 drug addicts were treated in Maputo Central Hospital alone, Namburete warned of "a sombre future for our young people, the main consumers and passive victims of drugs, and for society in general".
Namburete also noted that Mozambique does not yet possess legislation to deal with the laundering of money from the drugs trade or other illicit activities.
The joint operation by regional police forces against car theft in 1997 resulted in the seizure of 230 vehicles and two motorbikes in Mozambique - but most have been handed back to the people claiming to be their owners, while investigations continue.
Namburete said the operation had involved the Mozambican, South African, Malawian, Zambian and Zimbabwean police forces.
Of the 75 vehicles seized in Maputo, only three were returned to their rightful owners in South Africa. 30 were given back to Mozambicans who could prove that they had acquired them legally.
Ten cases have been sent to court, but the other 33 cars have been returned provisionally to the buyers, while attempts to establish the real owner continue.
In Inhambane province, four stolen vehicles were returned to their legitimate South African owners. Elsewhere the vast majority of the cars were simply handed back to the Mozambicans who claimed to have purchased them in good faith - largely because the police do not possess car parks where the vehicles can be stored.
The South Africans who claim to be the rightful owners want their cars back, and so the authorities have come under pressure from their South African counterparts. As a result "the cases will be brought to trial under the current conditions, regardless of whether all those who sold and resold the cars can be questioned, and the courts will decide freely on the basis of the evidence", said Namburete.
But he warned that in some cases insurance fraud was involved. South Africans had sold their cars to Mozambicans who purchased them in good faith. But the South Africans had then reported their cars as stolen in order to collect the insurance money.
Namburete also noted that car thieves had acquired documents from customs indicating that the vehicles had been imported legally, and had acquired from the Mozambican traffic department the paperwork allowing them to acquire Mozambican number plates.
The major economic crimes under investigation by the public prosecutor's office in 1997 resulted from the loss of over 176.5 billion meticais ($15.3 million), according to Antonio Namburete.
Namburete said that by far the largest such crime was the theft of 144 billion meticais from the Commercial Bank of Mozambique (BCM), in the run-up to its privatisation in 1996.
In the period covered by the report there had been 179 armed robberies. In only 83 cases (46 percent) had the gunmen been identified, and charged.
One of the key weaknesses of the legal system is the slow pace of the undermanned and underfunded courts. Namburete said that the public prosecutor's office had sent 6,819 cases to the courts in 1997, of which only 3,456 had come to trial. The backlog of criminal cases was now over 21,700: the vast majority of these cases (94.5 percent) are in Maputo.
The tripartite negotiating forum between government, trade unions, and employers' associations has failed to reach agreement on an increase in the statutory minimum wage, which is currently 311,974 meticais ($27) a month for industrial workers.
After meetings on 16 and 17 April, the unions and the employers had narrowed the gap between their positions, largely by the unions giving ground. But they could reach no final agreement, and eventually left it up to the government to decide between their proposals.
The unions started with a demand for a 40 percent rise in the minimum wage to restore purchasing power lost since an IMF and World Bank supported structural adjustment programme began in 1987. The unions reduced their claim to 17 percent, but the employers would not go beyond 13 percent.
It is likely that the government will split the difference between the two proposals and increase the minimum wage by 15 percent.
Prime Minister Pascoal Mocumbi confirmed on 17 April that there have been further arrests in the arms trafficking case involving South African Foreign Ministry official Robert McBride, who has been detained in Maputo since 9 March.
Earlier this week the Mediafax claimed a demobilised lieutenant-colonel, Sabadito Placido, a demobilised captain, Rui Greia, and a member of the Presidential Guard, Joao Escola, had been detained in connection with the case.
The Prime Minister confirmed that the McBride case was leading to the dismantling of a network of traffickers. "This is an organised crime, and it is necessary to dismantle the networks involved", he said.
As for McBride himself, neither Mocumbi, nor any other government official, will say anything other than that the investigations are continuing.
Prime Minister Pascoal Mocumbi warned on 17 April that if Renamo did not agree to allow its security force to be recruited into the police, it will be dismantled.
He was expanding on his statement to parliament the previous day that the Renamo force, mainly stationed in the central districts of Maringue and Cheringoma, was "illegal and unacceptable".
Renamo justifies the existence of its security force (which supposedly acts as bodyguards for Renamo leaders) by citing the 1992 peace agreement. Mocumbi said this was simply irrelevant: "As from 1994, there has been a legal and constitutional framework in place that must be respected by all" he stressed.
The government on 16 April approved the general lines of PROAGRI, a five year public investment programme for agriculture.
Deputy Agriculture Minister Izidora Faztudo said that PROAGRI is intended to establish conditions for private investment in such profitable areas as cash crop production.
The programme is divided into eight components: namely, institutional reform, agricultural research, agricultural extension, support for crop production, livestock, irrigation, land, and forestry and wildlife.
Faztudo said that institutional reform would begin this year, analysing the role of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries itself, and defining its "core functions".
Functions that are not "core" could be "tertiarised". said Faztudo. She insisted that this was not simply a synonym for privatisation - it could also mean making some of the ministry's subordinate institutes autonomous bodies, responsible for raising their own income.
Although PROAGRI is national in scope, in each of its components there would be particular geographical areas to which the government would pay special attention due to their agro-ecological conditions.
Thus interest in grain production would be concentrated on the fertile provinces north of the Zambezi. The livestock component would concentrate on the southern three provinces (Maputo, Gaza and Inhambane) for cattle, and on the western province of Tete for goats.
"Development companies" would be established to run irrigation schemes, Faztudo said. Efforts would be concentrated on "small scale irrigation", doubtless because the huge irrigation scheme at Chokwe, in the Limpopo Valley, is virtually bankrupt.
Minister in the Presidency for Economic and Social Affairs, Eneas Comiche, expressed concern on 8 April over the fact that neighbouring countries (notably South Africa and Zimbabwe) are planning and carrying out work on the river basins that they share with Mozambique without coordinating with the government.
Comiche noted that Mozambique shares nine major rivers with other countries. Failure to develop water resources jointly "may put at risk the availability of water in our country and restrict our future development", said Comiche.
He added that the current situation of Mozambique, in terms of water resources, is not good, because only one third of the population has a guaranteed supply of clean drinking water, a figure Comiche regarded as "very low".
The Democratic Union (UD) opposition coalition has ignored calls by Renamo to boycott the forthcoming municipal elections.
The UD, which holds nine seats in the Assembly of the Republic, registered for the local elections on 16 April, the last day for candidates to submit their nomination papers. UD say they are standing against Frelimo in most of the 33 cities and towns where elections will be held on 30 June.
There are independent candidates in nine municipalities. In Maputo, there are three independent candidates for mayor of the city - Philippe Gagnaux, Alice Mabota and Neves Serrano.
Gagnaux is the Mozambican son of a very popular Swiss doctor and missionary, Rene Gagnaux, who was murdered by Renamo in 1990, during the war of destabilisation. His campaign is backed by several Frelimo dissidents, including former deputy agriculture minister Paulo Zucula, and former secretary of state for technical education, Maria dos Anjos Rosario.
Alice Mabota is the chairperson of the Mozambican Human Rights League (LDH), and an outspoken critic of government institutions, particularly the police force.
Mabota is also one of those who have openly opposed the Frelimo candidate, the current mayor, Artur Canana, on ethnic grounds. She believes that the mayor of the city ought to be a native speaker of the local language, Ronga. Canana is born in Nampula province.
Serrano is perhaps the most eccentric of all Mozambican politicians. In 1992, he set up the Progressive Liberal Federal Party of Mozambican Religious Communities, and within a year he was claiming a membership of 3.8 million.
He changed his party's name to the Progressive Liberal Party, took 50,000 dollars from a UN-run trust fund for Mozambican political parties standing in the 1994 elections - and then failed to put up any candidates. He did not return the money and has never accounted for it.
In Beira, the former governor of Sofala province, and former member of the Frelimo Central Committee, Francisco Masquil, is running. He resigned from Frelimo to stand as an independent, with the tacit backing of the Catholic Archbishop of Beira, Jaime Goncalves.
It is expected that Renamo will urge its members and supporters to vote for Masquil.
In Nampula city there are two lists of independent candidates. One is headed by Agueda de Sousa, the president of the provincial football association, who recently resigned from Frelimo. The second list calls itself the Organisation of the Nampula Unemployed.
There are also independent candidates in the ports of Nacala and Angoche (both in Nampula province), in the northern city of Pemba, and in the southern municipalities of Inhambane, Chibuto and Manhica.
It is possible that other independent lists registered at the last minute in the north of the country. When AIM spoke to the Electoral Administration Technical Secretariat on 17 April, it did not yet have up-to-date information from all the STAE provincial branches.
Representatives of 15 extra-parliamentary parties who are boycotting Mozambique's forthcoming municipal elections on 17 April met with the Renamo leader Afonso Dhlakama at his residence.
They announced their boycott 24 hours before the close of nominations for the elections, leading many observers to assume that they had been unable to complete all the necessary paperwork.
Prime Minister Pascoal Mocumbi revealed on 17 April that a donor is prepared to make money available to Mozambican political parties - but only to those who participate in the forthcoming municipal elections.
The Prime Minister said he was aware that, thanks to an initiative by the government, there is now one donor "who is prepared to give a modest sum to those parties who want to participate". Mocumbi declined to name this donor, on the grounds that the donor would make his identity known in due course.
The mayor of Nacala city, Geraldo Caetano, has accused Renamo of hindering the current process of reconstituting lost or mutilated electoral registers.
Describing Renamo methods as "anti-democratic and inhuman", Caetano accused some Renamo members of seizing voters' cards and discouraging people from going to the registration posts, so to prevent them from participating in the process.
He saw Renamo's action as a way to attract international attention to try and get financial benefits as in 1994.
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