Mozambique News Agency

No.145, 20th October 1998


New constitution to reduce presidential powers

Draft constitutional amendments, produced by an ad-hoc committee of Mozambique's parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, envisage substantial changes in the country's political system, with a reduction in presidential powers and an increase in those of the prime minister, and parliament.

Up until now, the President of the Republic has been head of state and government, and has chaired cabinet meetings. The amendments change this and make the Prime Minister the head of government.

The President would still appoint and dismiss the Prime Minister - but only after consulting the political parties represented in parliament. No such limitation is placed on presidential power in the current constitution. In practice, this means that the President will appoint the person suggested by the majority party in parliament.

The President cannot override a parliamentary majority, as the draft amendments also give parliament the right to sack the government through passing a motion of censure. Thus any attempt to impose a prime minister who was not acceptable to the parliamentary majority would run the risk of incurring a censure motion, and the automatic fall of the government.

The amendments also take away the president's power to appoint whomever he likes as a minister or deputy minister. The president will still appoint or sack the other members of the government - but only on the proposal of the Prime Minister.

The importance of such amendments is that they open the path for a President and a government drawn from different parties, and set the ground rules for cohabitation between them, drawing parameters to avoid conflicts.

Assembly to get greater powers

The amendments also strengthen the Assembly's powers over the government. Under the current constitution, the Assembly can only get rid of a government by rejecting its programme twice.

The constitutional amendments dramatically increase the Assembly's powers. If the Assembly rejects the government's programme, the government will not be granted a second chance: it falls automatically.

Furthermore the amendments introduce the concepts of votes of confidence and censure motions. The government may request a vote of confidence from the parliamentarians "on a declaration of general policy, or on any matter of public interest". However, if the government loses such a vote, it falls.

Censure motions have the same result. A censure motion, which can deal with any matter "of public interest", must be signed by at least a third of the members of the Assembly. If the vote is passed by an absolute majority of members of the Assembly, then the government falls.

As for the dissolution of the Assembly, the amendments propose that this can only happen "in the event of an institutional crisis that does not allow the formation of a government, or the approval of the state budget, for a period of 90 days".

Even in the midst of such a crisis, the Assembly cannot be dissolved if it was elected less than a year earlier, or in the year prior to presidential elections, or during a state of siege or state of emergency.

Council of State to be formed

The amendments introduce an entirely new body, a Council of State, which is a consultative body to advise the President. It must be consulted on such matters as sacking the government, dissolving the Assembly, and declaring war or a state of emergency.

In addition to the President, the Prime Minister, the Ombudsman, and the speaker of parliament, the Council of State also includes any former presidents or speakers, the runner-up in the presidential elections, four persons "of recognised merit" appointed by the President, and seven persons elected by the Assembly on the basis of parliamentary representation. This mechanism guarantees that the political opposition will hold seats on the Council of State.

A further novelty in the amendments is the possibility of impeaching the President. Under the current constitution, the President enjoys immunity from any civil or criminal proceedings connected to activities linked to the discharge of his duties.

This immunity is swept away by the amendments, which would make it possible for the Assembly to have the President tried on criminal charges before the Supreme Court.

It would take at least a third of the Assembly's deputies to start impeachment proceedings, and the motion demanding a trial of the President would need to be carried by a two-thirds majority. Should the Supreme Court find the President guilty, he would be removed from office and could not stand for any elected position.

Dual nationality on cards

Draft constitutional amendments propose to allow Mozambican citizens to hold dual nationality.

In the parliamentary debate around the nationality clauses in the 1990 constitution, it was made clear that there could be no dual nationality, and anyone wishing to acquire Mozambican nationality must renounce their previous nationality.

The amendments remove this condition. Those wishing to become naturalised will no longer have to abandon any other nationality they possess. However, the Mozambican domestic legal order will not recognise any other nationality held by Mozambican citizens.

This means that Mozambicans may not invoke dual nationality to evade military service, or any other obligation imposed by Mozambican law.

Under the amendments, Mozambicans who have lost their nationality will be able to re-acquire it without renouncing whatever other nationality they may have acquired in the meantime. One restriction is that holders of dual nationality cannot stand in presidential elections.

To be naturalised as a Mozambican citizen a foreigner must be over 18 and have lived in Mozambique for at least 10 years. He or she must be able to guarantee their own subsistence, and must have a sufficient knowledge of Portuguese or of a Mozambican language. Naturalised citizens will be forbidden access to careers in the diplomatic service or in the military.

Rights and freedoms enshrined

The draft constitutional amendments strengthen guarantees of press freedom.

The amendments lift key concepts from the 1991 press law, concerning the independence of the publicly owned media, and elevate them to the level of constitutional principles.

Thus, if these amendments are passed, the state will be constitutionally obliged "to guarantee the impartiality of the public sector media, as well as the independence of journalists from the government, the administration and other political powers".

The amendments also state that in the public sector media "the expression and confrontation of ideas of various currents of opinion shall be guaranteed".

The exercise of press freedom shall be regulated by law "on the basis of respect for the constitution and for the dignity of the human person". The current constitutional need for the press respect "the mandates of foreign policy and national defence" will disappear.

The amendments also deprive the government of the unfettered power to appoint the directors of the public sector media. Instead it must now pay attention to the views of the Supreme Mass Media Council (CSCS), a constitutionally enshrined watchdog on press freedom.

The CSCS consists of two appointees of the President, five members elected by the Assembly, three members elected by journalists, and one representative of media companies or institutions.

A complete innovation in the amendments concerns computerised data held on citizens. These clauses strengthen the right to privacy, and prohibit "the use of computers to register and process data on political, philosophical or ideological convictions, religion, party or trade union membership, or private life, where the individuals concerned can be identified".

Personal data held in computerised form shall be protected, and there shall be legal guarantees concerning access to data bases, and the use of such data by public or private bodies.

The amendments not only maintain the ban on capital punishment, but extend it to outlaw life imprisonment. Punishments and security measures that restrict freedom in perpetuity, or for an unlimited or undefined period are prohibited, states the relevant amendment.

As a corollary, no-one can be extradited to a country where he may face the death penalty, life imprisonment, torture, or other forms of cruel or degrading treatment.

As for imprisonment, a new requirement is that "persons deprived of liberty must be immediately informed, and in a manner that they understand, of the reasons for their arrest, and of their rights".

The amendments also specify that any evidence obtained through torture, coercion, "abusive intrusion into private or family life", or illicit phone tapping, shall not be admissible.

The right to defence is strengthened, so that suspects "have the right to choose freely their defence counsel, and those who for economic reasons are unable to hire a lawyer shall be guaranteed adequate legal aid".

All criminal trials must be held in public, which should make it impossible for judges to impose arbitrary restrictions on reporting as has occasionally happened in the past. The only exceptions are where matters of "personal intimacy" or morality make it advisable to restrict publicity - a clear reference to rape cases.

The amendments also enshrine the right to conscientious objection, thus making it possible for Mozambicans to refuse to undertake military service on moral or religious grounds.

Public debate

Politicians, religious leaders, lawyers, representatives of social organisations and various other personalities are to meet in Maputo for a workshop to launch a public debate on draft amendments to the Constitution.

50,000 copies of the text are to be distributed to as large a number of people as possible before the debate. After the public debate, donors will be invited to a workshop on 12 December.

The debates will first take place in the provincial capitals, expanding later to the various districts.

Presidential guard mechanic arrested on gun charges

The Mozambican police have arrested a mechanic, working for the Presidential Guard, on suspicion of arms trafficking, reports "Mediafax" on 15 October.

According to a source in the Maputo city command, the man, named as Nito Francisco, "was caught with an AK-47 rifle and a box of ammunition".

The source said Francisco confessed that he had broken into the arsenal of the Presidential Guard to steal the gun and the ammunition. He said he had intended to sell them to a group of South African arms traffickers who were based in the neighbouring city of Matola.

According to the police, Francisco also confessed that this was the third time that he had sold, or attempted to sell, stolen weaponry to the same group of traffickers.

The South Africans have also been detained, and the case is now in the hands of the Criminal Investigation Police. The source did not say how many South Africans were involved.

Dhlakama made deputy chair of regional grouping

Renamo leader Afonso Dhlakama has been elected deputy chairman of the Union of African Parties for Democracy and Development (UPADD), a right-wing organisation founded in the Namibian capital, Windhoek.

Dhlakama told a press conference on 14 October on his return from the meeting, that he was also appointed deputy chairman of the organisation's Southern African regional Committee.

He explained that this organisation was created with the support of the European People's Party. This is the grouping of Christian Democratic and Conservative parties in the European parliament.

Representatives of about 15 countries attended the meeting including the South African National Party. Also in attendance were the Zulu-based Inkatha Freedom Party, Zambia's ruling Movement for Multi-Party Democracy (MMD), the main Namibian opposition group, the Democratic Turnhalle Alliance (DTA), and opposition parties from Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Mali, Gabon, Uganda, Togo and Equatorial Guinea.

The most surprising participant was the Sao Tome and Principe Liberation Movement (MLSTP), which ruled the west African archipelago when it was a one-party state, and was believed to be politically close to the MPLA and Frelimo.

Another party that once had left-wing credentials, the African Party for the Independence of Cape Verde (PAICV), which had intended to take part, failed to make it because of transport problems.

The Organisation's statutes will not allow the participation of any movement still fighting a war, as is the case of the Angolan rebel movement, UNITA. Dhlakama lamented the absence of UNITA, but said that talk of democracy and development is incompatible with the sound of bazookas.

Bretton Woods promise further $150 million

Planning and Finance Minister Tomas Salomao announced on 14 October that the Bretton Woods institutions have promised Mozambique $150 million credits, to finance economic rehabilitation programmes in 1999.

This package adds to the $490.4 million for 1999, promised (mainly in grant form) by the World Bank's Consultative Group for Mozambique that brought the country's main donors together in Maputo in late September.

Salomao said that the government will continue working to prevent any sudden rise in inflation. "Our intention is to end the year with single digit inflation", he said. The country is on target for this. According to the Bank of Mozambique, it actually experienced deflation in the first six months of the year.

Portuguese debt rescheduled

The Mozambican and Portuguese Foreign Ministers, Leonardo Simao and Jaime Gama, on 10 October signed an agreement in Maputo rescheduling $83.1 million of Mozambique's debt to Portugal. This sum is 100 per cent of the debt service owing between 1 July 1997 and 30 June 1999.

It follows the decision of the Club of Paris (which groups the main creditor nations) last year to increase from 67 to 80 per cent the amount of Mozambique's debt service that can be written off.

A second agreement signed by the two ministers provides a Portuguese grant of $2.53 million for rehabilitation work on the 77 kilometre stretch of railway between the town of Cuamba, in Niassa province, and the Malawian border.

This is the only part of the 600 kilometre corridor linking the port of Nacala to Malawi that was not rebuilt during the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Turtles at risk of extinction

Turtles are at risk of extinction in the Mozambique Channel, according to French scientist Francois Rene, advising that joint efforts should be undertaken to save this protected species.

Speaking in the northern province of Nampula, Rene gave a number of factors that are putting turtles in danger. Among those factors, Rene mentioned as the most important the poaching of turtle eggs and of the adult animals themselves by fishermen. He also mentioned the poor inspection of the Mozambican coast as another factor.

Rene said that the turtle population in the Mozambique Channel has declined by 95 per cent in the space of a century. Despite this, Rene said the Mozambican situation was "not so serious" when compared with some other regions such as southern Asia.

Mozambique is world's ninth poorest country

Mozambique is ranked the ninth poorest country in the world in the 1998 issue of the Human Development Report, published by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

This places Mozambique in 166th position out of 174 countries in terms of its Human Development Index. Last year Mozambique was 166th out of 175. This index is constructed out of figures on life expectancy, educational attainment (adult literacy and the percentage of children attending school), and per capita income.

The index has a maximum possible value of one. The country with the highest human development index, Canada, scores 0.96. Mozambique's index is 0.281, slightly lower than its 1997 score of 0.291.

Poorer than Mozambique on this scale are Guinea-Conakry, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Burundi, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Sierra Leone.

Mozambique would certainly look a little better if such places were featured: statistics-free countries such as Somalia and Afghanistan have much lower levels of human development than Mozambique.

A major problem with the UNDP report is that statistics for the human development index are all from 1995. Later figures are available in Mozambique's case, and given the good harvests of the last three years, and the continued reconstruction of the education service, they would certainly improve the country's human development ranking.

Another factor is that Mozambique's 1997 census found that the population was considerably smaller than previously thought. The census counted 15.7 million people: but the UNDP report estimates the 1995 population at 17.3 million.

Looked at over time, Mozambique's human development index is gradually improving. It grew from a mere 0.169 in 1960 to 0.248 in the twilight of the colonial era in 1970. It then dipped to 0.247 in 1980, five years after independence. However, despite the war of destabilisation it rose to 0.252 in 1992.

There are a series of other indices in the report, and in some of them Mozambique moves sharply up the ranking. Perhaps the most significant is the "Gender Empowerment Measure", where Mozambique ranks 55 out of 102.

The variables that build the "Gender Empowerment Measure" are women's presence in parliament, the number of women administrators, managers and professional and technical workers, and women's share of earned income.

Using this index, Mozambique overtakes countries such as South Korea (ranked 83), Brazil (68), Egypt (88) and the United Arab Emirates (92).

In one of the variables, that of women in parliament, Mozambique puts many developed countries to shame. 25.2 per cent of the deputies in the Mozambican parliament are women, a figure exceeded by only eight other countries in the world (Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark, Iceland, Holland, New Zealand and Germany).

Food to be distributed to hungry

The Mozambican relief agency, the Disasters Control Office (DPCCN), is to start the distribution of food to hunger-stricken districts of the southern provinces of Gaza and Inhambane provinces.

The organisation has 400 tonnes of food in stock and another 2,000 tonnes of rice, from Italy, provided by the United Nations' World Food Programme (WFP), which has now arrived at Maputo port.

In the arid Gaza and Inhambane interiors water shortages are critical, and the DPCCN has been distributing water.

The DPCCN has worked out a plan with the National Water Board (DNA) to supply water to those areas with serious problems. The most affected districts are Mabote, Funhalouro and Goiuro, in Inhambane province, and Chigubo, Massangena, Chicualacuala and Mabalane in Gaza province.

OJM returns to FRELIMO

The Mozambican Youth Organisation (OJM) has abandoned attempts to be a non-partisan body, and has returned to the ranks of the ruling Frelimo Party.

The OJM took this decision on 9 October at the end of its fourth national conference - held at the premises of the Frelimo Party school in the city of Matola.

The OJM was created by Frelimo as a "democratic mass organisation" in 1977. Under the one-party state such organisations were transmission belts between the ruling party and the mass of the population.

This role came to an abrupt end with the 1990 constitution and the switch to political pluralism. The only one that has proved able to thrive outside of the embrace of Frelimo has been the trade union federation, OTM.

In 1996, the Mozambican Women's Organisation (OMM) voted to transform itself into a branch of Frelimo, and the OJM has now followed suit.

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