Prime Minister Pascoal Mocumbi has revealed that, up until 15 March, the international community had pledged around two million US dollars in response to the Mozambican government's emergency appeal to cope with the effects of severe flooding. Most of the aid so far had been assistance for the victims of the floods, he added - very little had been promised to repair the roads, bridges and other damaged infrastructures.
The government's appeal was for $12.4 million: the largest single item in the appeal (over four million dollars) was for the repair of roads and bridges.
Mocumbi did not believe that the floods would prove disastrous for this year's harvest. He pointed out that most of the fertile areas of northern and central Mozambique had not been seriously affected.
The worst-hit areas were parts of the southern province of Inhambane that are usually semi-arid. Mocumbi said that, while it was true that Inhambane farmers had lost crops in low-lying areas, they would be able to replant on higher land. This is land not normally used for agriculture, but which has now been thoroughly drenched and should be able to provide a reasonable harvest.
On 18 March the Minister of Public Works And Housing, Roberto White, announced that a total of 32 people are known to have lost their lives in this year's floods.
Briefing the country's parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, he said that 23 of these deaths occurred in Inhambane. The loss of life was not as severe as in the 1997 floods, and he attributed this to greater public awareness, and a better public response to warnings.
He said that 72,000 hectares of crops had been lost to the floods, principally in Maputo and Gaza provinces in the south, and in Sofala in the central region.
White thanked the international community for its prompt response to Mozambique's emergency appeal, mentioning in particular the South African armed forces, which provided men and equipment for the airlift of food to isolated communities in the Inhambane districts of Vilankulo and Inhassoro.
A total of 150 tonnes of food had been distributed for 14,000 people in these two districts.
Minister for State Administration, Alfredo Gamito, has guaranteed that all the conditions have now been established for the holding of Mozambique's second multiparty general elections later this year.
Speaking on 15 March on the radio programme "Cartas na Mesa", Gamito said that the international community has promised to bear the greater part of the costs involved in the presidential and parliamentary elections.
On 11 March the government and the European Union signed an agreement under which the EU undertook to pay 60 per cent of the total cost estimated at $40 million.
On the same day, the government formalised a request for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to handle financial contributions from various countries, directed essentially at technical assistance.
Gamito thought there was still time to carry out all the necessary preparatory work for successful elections, although he admitted that there was "a slight delay". Members of the National Elections Commission (CNE), the independent body which will run the elections, should have been appointed by 5 March.
However, the Assembly of the Republic, which must elect 15 of the 17 CNE members, did not meet in plenary at all in the first week of March due to problems with interim premises.
Gamito insisted that there was time to hold an entirely new voter registration, both inside the country, and among Mozambican communities living abroad. This registration could take place in June and July, he suggested - though the final word on the dates rests with the CNE. Polling is likely to occur in late October.
Prime Minister Pascoal Mocumbi has appointed Antonio Carrasco as Director-General of the Electoral Administration Technical Secretariat (STAE). The Prime Minister relieved the previous director, Armenio Correia, of his duties on health grounds.
STAE is the executive body responsible for the nuts and bolts of elections. It is subordinate to the CNE, the body in overall political charge of the elections.
Carrasco was previously the STAE official in charge of civic organisation. He is also director of the publicly-owned Mass Communications Institute (ICS).
STAE will also have two deputy general directors, appointed by the major parliamentary parties.
Attorneys' offices throughout Mozambique handled 15,789 cases in 1998, a decline on the 1997 figure of 17,031, the country's Attorney-General, Antonio Namburete, announced on 11 March, in his annual report to the Assembly of the Republic.
He warned that this does not necessarily mean that the level of crime has dropped. He admitted that a large number of crimes are not reported to the authorities (this is particularly true of offences related to drugs).
Furthermore, many cases had accumulated in the hands of the Criminal Investigation Police (PIC), and had not yet been forwarded to the prosecutors. Namburete added that since the data bank in the Attorney-General's office is still "embryonic", it was possible that the statistics are incomplete.
He said that charges were laid in 8,802 cases in 1998 - an increase on the 1997 figure of 6,912. He attributed this to an increase in the number of attorneys, and to their greater commitment and productivity. As for civil cases, there were 6,607 of these, the vast majority of which (5,236) concerned labour relations.
Most reported crime is against property. There were 5,420 reported thefts of various sorts. But the specific crime of vehicle theft showed a decline, from 360 cases in 1997 to 143 in 1998. Namburete attributed this to effective joint work by the police forces of the region.
The number of murders reported in 1998 was surprisingly high, at 1,091. Even more surprising was their distribution. For cases of theft, assault, and illegal possession of firearms, Maputo is the capital of crime as well as of the country - but only 62 of the reported murders were committed in Maputo.
A staggering 547 murders - more than one a day - were reported from the central province of Zambezia. The southern province of Gaza had 118 murders.
Organised crime in the region was mainly based in South Africa, he said, where powerful international crime syndicates (including the Italian and Russian Mafias) had installed themselves. It was also from South Africa that organised gangs of Nigerian criminals had extended their activities into Mozambique.
He included as an example of highly organised crime the smuggling of cigarettes. Between January and May 1998 at least 230 million cigarettes (valued at $1.15 million) had been smuggled into Mozambique from South Africa. In this period there were no legal imports of cigarettes at all. An aircraft used in some of these smuggling operations had been seized in Beira.
Major bank frauds also involved highly sophisticated criminal operations. The most spectacular such case was the theft of 144 billion meticais (about $11.5 million) from the Commercial Bank of Mozambique (BCM), which has been under investigation for more than two years.
He warned that Mozambique could not hope to combat organised crime with its present antiquated penal code, which is over 100 years old. Furthermore, the current police and judicial procedures are out of date.
The time limit of 40 or 90 days given to investigate complex crimes, once suspects have been arrested, "is absolutely insufficient" said Namburete, particularly when these crimes have international connections.
The Attorney-General warned that the justice system is in crisis thanks to excessive bureaucracy, a poorly trained and equipped police force, young and inexperienced magistrates in lower level courts, overcrowded prisons, and corruption.
In the provinces and districts, the attorneys' offices struggled with inadequate budgets, and a shortage of basic office equipment. District attorneys often had no means of transport - not even bicycles.
District courts faced similar shortages, and they are extremely slow in bringing suspects to trial. They are overburdened, and so do not validate preventive detentions within the 48 hours demanded by law. This fault is shared by the police, who do not present detained suspects to a magistrate within the requisite 48 hours.
Namburete accused the police of abusing the practice of preventive detention, which should be an exception rather than the rule. While people suspected of petty crimes were detained unnecessarily, there were also cases in which "dangerous criminals are released in cases that are far from clear".
As for prisons, the cells are usually overcrowded, housing two or three times the number of people they were built for. Many prisons are "in an advanced state of decay", without functioning water or sanitation systems. As a result, the prisons suffered outbreaks of diseases such as cholera and dysentery.
The prisons did not provide sufficient productive work or recreation for inmates. Legal norms making it possible to grant conditional freedom, or to give prisoners contracts working outside jail were ignored.
In their present conditions, Mozambican prisons in no way re- educate their inmates, or prepare them to re-enter society, said Namburete.
"The only use for these prisons is for learning and planning new crimes", he accused, partly because criminals of all sorts were thrown together in the cells, without any attempt to separate them by category.
Namburete was sceptical about calls for "a war on crime" which "forget that crime is a problem of society, it is born in society and must be solved in society".
Namburete argued that a serious attempt to prevent crime, by striking at its social roots, would be much more effective than building more prisons. "We must create the conditions so that people, and particularly young people, have a love of life, feel secure and expect that one day they will occupy a socially dignified position", he said.
He wanted to stop throwing petty criminals in jail, and resort instead to "non-institutional" measures, such as public censure, community service, and the obligation to compensate the victims of crime.
Prisoners who have shown good behaviour and are not regarded as dangerous should be transferred to agricultural penitentiaries or open prison, he urged.
The statistics appended to Namburete's report show clearly that most of those in jails have not been convicted of any crime. During 1998, 18,715 people were deprived of their freedom - but only 4,923 of these were actually serving sentences passed by a court. 5,969 were detained by court order and were awaiting trial. The others were detained by order of the police or the public prosecutor's office prior to a decision as to whether these case would go to trial.
The Assembly of the Republic on 15 March debated the report given by the Attorney-General.
Renamo deputy Luis Boavida claimed that the report "confirms publicly what Renamo has always said about the degraded system of justice". He claimed that the government had deliberately starved the legal system of the resources that it needed to function properly (although Namburete had praised the government for increasing the resources available to the judiciary).
Boavida alleged that the government kept the Criminal Investigation Police (PIC) under the Ministry of the Interior instead of transferring it to the Attorney-General's office "so that Frelimo leaders will never be brought to trial. There cannot be an independent judiciary while PIC is still controlled by the government".
The head of the Renamo parliamentary group, Raul Domingos, bombarded Namburete with questions, but the Attorney-General had to point out that several of them were irrelevant or untrue.
Namburete categorically denied a Domingos claim that only members of Renamo are incarcerated in maximum security jails. "These prisons are specifically for those who have committed serious, violent crimes such as murder and armed robbery. They are for those who pose a serious risk to the public", he said. "Unless Renamo members have committed such crimes, they are not in those jails".
No specific proposals were made to deal with any of the ills that Namburete identified in his report: even though it is clear that many of them - notably the antiquated legal codes the judicial system labours under - require strong legislative action from the Assembly.
However, at the end of the debate a working group of five deputies was set up to draft a consensual resolution.
Defence Minister Aguiar Mazula on 9 March denied Renamo claims of corruption in the use of military assets.
He was speaking at the Assembly of the Republic, during a debate sparked off by a Renamo request for information on the state of the armed forces.
The head of the Renamo parliamentary group, Raul Domingos, demanded to know what was happening to all the buildings owned by the defence force (FADM), including hotels, shops and restaurants. Some of these had been hired out to private businesses, and he wondered what sort of contract this involved.
As for military equipment such as aircraft, radar systems, tanks, armoured vehicles and the like, which are no longer in working order, Domingos asked if there were any plans to repair them. "Or is new weaponry going to be acquired, to keep the country indebted and to fill some people's pockets with commissions ?"
Mazula replied that in 1994 Mozambique had faced a situation common to countries emerging from wars: the army had shrunk, thanks to demobilisation, but it still had a huge number of installations, many of which were no longer needed.
"The Defence Ministry had to rationalise its assets, scale them down", he said. "Some of our spare premises we gave to the education and health ministries". But others were indeed rented out to private businesses, since the Defence Ministry "has no vocation to run hotels or shops. We can't sell off state property, so we offer it for hire".
There was a military committee that dealt with these assets, and ensured that everything was done transparently. On this commission sat FADM generals who had once been Renamo fighters.
As for military equipment, "if we have to repair all the MiG fighters, and so on, that will be a huge problem", he said. "We are waiting for an appropriate moment".
Mazula stressed repeatedly that the army was genuinely integrated, and its members should no longer be thought of as "former Renamo fighters" or "former FAM/FPLM troops".
The nationwide debate on the draft amendments to the Mozambican constitution is several weeks behind schedule, Hermenegildo Gamito, chairman of the ad-hoc parliamentary commission on the constitution, admitted on 15 January.
The debate was held in the provincial capitals in November and December, before going down to district level in January. The ad-hoc commission would then collate all the suggestions from the public debate, and submit a final text of the amendments by 25 February.
Briefing the Assembly of the Republic on the work of the commission, Gamito said that district debates did not start on 8 January as planned, because the money was not available. Only at the end of January did enough money become available to start the work.
He said the commission's budget had been cut from 5.39 to 2.1 billion meticais (from $431,000 to $168,000), which delayed the debates in the districts until more money had been secured from donors.
Eventually, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) provided $55,000 and $25,000 respectively.
Gamito said that torrential rains in January and February had added to the Commission's problems by making access roads to some districts difficult or impassable.
So far district debates have been held in just four out of the ten provinces. Gamito said the debates will continue even during this parliamentary sitting - which means that the 31 members of the ad-hoc commission will have to absent themselves from the plenary in order to chair the district debates.
The construction of a toll road between Maputo and the industrial centre of Witbank in South Africa is a year ahead of schedule and should be completed much earlier than planned.
This means that it could take two and a half years rather than three and a half.
So far about 600 million rands (around $100 million) have been spent out of the total budget of 1.5 billion rands. The highway will be 500 kilometres long - 90 kilometres in Mozambique and 410 in South Africa - and is one of the major components of the Maputo Development Corridor.
The Japanese and Mozambican governments signed agreements in Maputo on 10 March under which Japan is to provide 2.3 billion yen (about $19.4 million) in aid. Of this, 1.5 billion yen is budgetary assistance, to support the Mozambican structural adjustment programme. A second agreement concerns 424 million yen in grant aid for the rehabilitation of the Maputo fishing port.
The rest of the money is for purchasing rice in response to Mozambique's food aid needs, following the severe floods in parts of the country earlier this year.
A member of the Mozambican customs service, 38 year old Miguel da Silva Massangaie, died on 12 March, apparently because of the tough para-military training exercises that all customs officials must undergo. Massangaie had worked for customs for the past ten years, and had a history of heart trouble.
The customs staff receive their training at the Mozambican army's sergeants training centre at Boane, 30 kilometres west of Maputo. Regardless of their age, they are given tough physical exercises, and are obliged to go on long marches. This is in addition to receiving skills in the handling of firearms (AK-47 rifles and Makarov pistols).
The decision that the customs service should be a para-military service was taken by the Finance Ministry, not by the British firm Crown Agents, which has a three-year contract to manage the customs service.
Twenty prisoners escaped from the maximum security jail in Nampula province on 12 March. Among the escaped prisoners is Ussene Jamal, commonly known as Massude, who was a close partner of John Sebastiao, a dangerous criminal, recently shot dead by the police.
The prison director, Miguel Ernesto Paulino, explained that the men took at least two nights to saw through the bars of their cell. He suspects that warders were complicit in the escape. The three warders on duty during that period are now being investigated by the Criminal Investigation Police (PIC).
Meanwhile, it is expected that by April the rehabilitation of the former Nampula pedagogic institute will be complete, so that it can be converted into 40 prison cells. The main Nampula jail, designed for 70 people currently holds 401.
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