The latest issue of the "Mozambique Peace Process Bulletin", published by AWEPA (European Parliamentarians for Africa) suggests that it will prove impossible to hold Mozambique's second multi-party general elections this year, and that they will have to be postponed to May 2000.
The article looks closely at the time required to organise an election. The electoral law itself contains certain specified periods "and there are minimum times required for tendering, ordering and printing voter registration and election material - which must be printed abroad by security printers and then delivered to provincial capitals".
It notes that the National Elections Commission (CNE) "must approve the structure of the registration process (including the proposal to issue totally new voters' cards and the plans to computerise the register), then approve the design of the registration forms themselves, and finally OK the tender for printing. After that, it will take 80 days before registration can actually start - because one month must be allowed for foreign companies to bid on the job, and the winner will need nearly two months to print and deliver the material".
The article calculates that 275 days is the minimum time required between the CNE approving the design of the voter registration material and the actual date of the elections - and that is on the dubious assumption that the CNE and its executive body STAE (Electoral Administration Technical Secretariat) make decisions rapidly during this nine month period.
For elections to be held at the end of October, as proposed by the government, the CNE should have taken decisions on the registration materials by late January. But the CNE did not even exist then. It was appointed at the end of March. The earliest time that the CNE can take any decisions is mid-April. Nine months after mid-April is mid-January 2000.
The article admits that, by cutting the election campaign period from 45 to 30 days, and the voter registration period from two and a half to two months, time can be saved which would, in theory, make it possible to hold elections in mid-December.
But that is already in the rainy season, and there is a danger that heavy rains will make remote areas inaccessible by road. The Mozambican climate means that any activity that is intended to cover the entire country (such as a census, or a general election) should be undertaken in the dry season.
The AWEPA article adds "past experience suggests that the process will take more, not less, time than forecast in official plans. Many predict that registration will be extended rather than shortened, as the CNE attempts to raise registration numbers".
As for the funds required, these are theoretically, but not actually, available. Donor promises must be converted into reality through a CNE formal request to the European Commission. The article points out that the Commission "does not have a record for rapid disbursement of money, and is preoccupied with an aid corruption scandal in Brussels".
It thus concludes that postponement into the year 2000 "is almost inevitable. Campaigning cannot start until the end of the rains, which means late March or early April. Thus mid-May 2000 is the earliest possible election date".
The Political Commission of Frelimo has appointed Mariano Matsinha to head its Central Elections Office, in preparation for the country's second multiparty presidential and parliamentary elections, scheduled for late October this year.
Matsinha will be assisted by Rafael Maguni (for the presidential campaign) and Alcido Nguenha (for the parliamentary one).
All three men are members of the Political Commission, and all are currently Frelimo members of parliament. Matsinha has been a top Frelimo leader since before the country's independence in 1975. The government posts he has held include governor of Niassa province, Interior Minister and Security Minister. Matsinha also headed the campaign in the 1994 general elections, that led to the victory of Frelimo.
Maguni is a former Minister of Information and is currently the secretary general of the Association of Veterans of the National Liberation Struggle (ACLLN).
Nguenha is a prominent academic, and a member of the parliament's governing board, its Standing Commission.
Frelimo has not yet selected its candidate for the presidency, but it is probable that President Joaquim Chissano will stand. The decision on the matter will be taken at the party's Central Committee in June.
The Assembly of the Republic on 13 April debated President Joaquim Chissano's appointments for the positions of President and Deputy President of the Supreme Court.
Under the constitution, the head of state appoints these two key figures in the judiciary for five year terms of office, subject to parliamentary ratification.
President Chissano re-appointed Mario Mangaze as President of the Supreme Court, but he opted not to grant Norberto Carrilho a second term as deputy president. Instead he chose Afonso Fortes for the post.
Mangaze was presiding judge on the Nampula provincial court from 1984 to 1988, and has been president of the Supreme Court since the latter date.
Fortes has been an attorney, a technical advisor in the Ministry of Justice, and a judge in the Cabo Delgado province before his promotion to the Supreme Court.
The Assembly's Legal Affairs Commission made no objection to either of the appointments. Its chairman, Ali Dauto, told the Assembly that the Committee's hearing with Mangaze had turned into an analysis of the state of administration of justice in Mozambique.
The Legal Affairs Commission also noted that the Supreme Court was handling such matters as building new courtrooms and managing training courses for legal staff - which meant that the judiciary was undertaking tasks which should fall within the sphere of the executive.
In the ensuing debate, Raul Domingos, head of the Renamo parliamentary group queried the legitimacy of Chissano's two appointments, on the grounds that 1999 is an election year. He suggested that Chissano was attempting to tie the hands of any future president and future parliamentary majority.
Jeremias Pondeca, also of Renamo, asked why Carrilho had not been re-appointed. He wondered whether this was because of Carrilho's dissenting vote in the Supreme Court judgement validating the results of the June 1998 local elections. (Five out of seven Supreme Court judges decided to validate the results: Carrilho was one of the two who wrote a minority opinion arguing that all reported irregularities should have been investigated before taking a decision on validation.)
Dauto pointed out that Carrilho had not been sacked as Pondeca implied. His term of office had ended, and the constitution gave Chissano a free hand in filling the post for the next five year term. As for postponing any appointment for a year, this would be quite illegal.
The rapporteur of the Frelimo parliamentary group, Sergio Vieira, praised Mangaze and Fortes as judges of integrity and broad experience.
Mangaze's reappointment was ratified by 126 votes to 108 with three invalid votes. Fortes did slightly better: his nomination was ratified by 135 votes to 101 with two invalid votes.
The Assembly of the Republic, on 19 April passed unanimously the general lines of a government bill updating legislation on forestry and wildlife.
There was no significant difference between the positions taken by Frelimo and those of Renamo. Deputies from both sides spoke of the need to conserve the country's flora and fauna, and to prevent foreigners from entering the country illegally to raid Mozambican resources.
Frelimo deputy Teodato Hunguana noted that over-exploitation had led to the loss of 80 per cent of forest cover in Ghana, and 70 per cent in Madagascar, while Nigeria had become a net importer of wood.
He stressed that Mozambique needed laws "to prevent the devastation of forests and wildlife by interests foreign to the country". Instead, there should be "sustainable exploitation of resources by Mozambicans in the interests of Mozambicans".
Celestino Bento, of Renamo, complained of "the violation of our borders to slaughter animals, often with the knowledge of local government structures". He warned of the danger of desertification, and loss of biodiversity.
A further point of general consensus was the need to involve local communities in the sustainable management of natural resources.
Winding up the debate, Deputy Agriculture Minister Helder Muteia pointed out that the rural economy is heavily dependent on these natural resources. 80 per cent of the country's energy comes from biomass (firewood and charcoal), he said, which is mainly consumed in the countryside. 16 million cubic metres of wood per year was used for this purpose. He added that 30 per cent of the animal protein consumed comes from wildlife.
The Assembly of the Republic on 15 April passed by consensus a bill on arbitration, conciliation and mediation.
The bill is to introduce alternative, speedy and cheap methods of solving disputes that will not involve the courts. The idea came from the business community, and the group working on the bill took over a year to draw it up.
It was presented by two deputies, Abdul Carimo of the majority Frelimo Party, and Gulamo Jafar of the main opposition party Renamo.
The bill envisages establishing arbitration tribunals (which could consist of just one person), whose decisions would be binding on the parties in dispute.
The mechanisms of conciliation and mediation would be even simpler, based on negotiation and seeking a solution satisfactory to both sides.
To set up the arbitration system, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) is providing a grant for the first five years. This money will be used to publicise the new law, and to train a corps of Mozambican arbitrators.
The use of a general strike to demand a higher statutory minimum wage "is out of the question", Jeremias Timana, the general secretary of the Confederation of Free and Independent Mozambican Unions (CONSILMO), the smaller of the country's two labour federations, told AIM on 19 April.
On 16 April the government announced an increase in the minimum wage from 353,886 to 450,000 meticais ($28.4 to $36.1) a month, a rise of 27 per cent. This falls short of the union's minimum demand of 500,000 meticais a month, but is an improvement on the employers' offer of 402,000 meticais.
Although there had been some talk earlier in the month in union circles about protest demonstrations and strikes should their minimum demand not be met, Timana ruled out using the strike weapon this time. But he made clear that the unions are not pleased with the new minimum wage, since it is "far below" the real needs of workers.
Timana pointed out that the statistics and technical studies carried out by the Ministry of Health showed that the average family of five members needs an income of around a million meticais a month to maintain a minimally decent standard of living.
The unions had ended up asking for half that sum, after several rounds of tripartite negotiations in March.
The government's decision would now have to be respected, said Timana, and the unions would opt for "other methods" in their attempts "to reduce the sufferings of the workers".
The larger union federation, the OTM, took some comfort from the government's announcement, stating that "the fact that the government moved from the 13.5 per cent proposed by the employers to 27 per cent is very encouraging for the unions".
Prime Minister Pascoal Mocumbi on 9 April defended the nationalisation of settler property immediately after the country's independence in 1975.
In July 1975, just a month after independence, all education and health services were nationalised, and this was followed, in February 1976, by the nationalisation of rented housing, thus expropriating all colonial urban landlords at a stroke. In debates in the Assembly of the Republic, Renamo deputies have been calling for denationalisation.
Speaking at a Maputo press briefing, Mocumbi admitted there had been "excesses" during the nationalisations, particularly regarding property owned by religious organisations. It had never been the government's intention to nationalise places of worship, or priests' residences, he said.
"We recognise that there were excesses, but this does not mean that the nationalisations in themselves were a mistake", he added. As from the late 1980s, the state has been returning to religious bodies properties that had been irregularly seized.
Moslems - including Moslem deputies in the ruling Frelimo Party - have complained of government discrimination in favour of the Catholic church. They claim that Catholic properties have been returned, but not Moslem ones.
But Mocumbi rejected their arguments. No mosques had been nationalised, he said, and the buildings Moslem groups wanted returned were buildings that had been rented out. "The interpretation of the law must be rigorous", he said. "This was rented housing, and here the law is implacable. All rented housing was nationalised".
Elaborating on remarks he made in parliament, Mocumbi warned against attempts by former settlers, or their heirs, to reclaim property in Mozambique. "We still have housing registers from the colonial period - we didn't tear them up", he said. "But there is a law subsequent to the registers which says that all rented housing is nationalised".
The former settlers founded a group in Lisbon in the early 1990s calling itself the "Association of the Expropriated from the Overseas Territories". The Portuguese government even set up a department to deal with their concerns.
The Maputo private security company Bassopa has categorically denied claims by the Renamo that it is being used for clandestine military training.
On 14 April Renamo general secretary Joao Alexandre called a press conference to denounce "armed terrorism" which he alleged the ruling Frelimo party was planning.
Frelimo was said to be recruiting demobilised soldiers who had once been Renamo fighters in the central provinces. They were being trained in Maputo and would later be sent to central Mozambique to attack buses and other civilian targets. Such attacks would then be blamed on Renamo, Alexandre claimed.
Alexandre produced a group of 15 youths who alleged they had been recruited in Sofala province by Inacio Morgado, a former major in the Renamo army, who defected from Renamo in 1995.
On 16 April, the Bassopa owner and managing director, Dutch national Henk Som, told AIM he had been "flabbergasted" by the Renamo claims.
He said that Morgado does indeed work for Bassopa, but has not recruited anyone from Sofala. Som added that he had no idea who the youths paraded before the press by Renamo are, and where they really came from.
Som said that Bassopa, which was founded in 1994, operates according to the 1990 regulations governing the activity of private security companies. These regulations state that such companies must recruit their staff from among demobilised troops.
Som denied that Bassopa only recruits from among former Renamo fighters. He said that his company does not discriminate among the demobilised on political grounds.
He dismissed as "absolutely ridiculous" the claim by Alexandre that companies such as Bassopa are "hidden Frelimo armies". Som said his company has no links to Frelimo or any other political party.
Mozambique possesses a favourable environment for domestic and foreign investment, according to a study on the country's business climate carried out by the international consultancy firm, KPMG.
The results of the study were presented on 16 April when KPMG's "Business Environment Index" was formally launched in Maputo. The index, which is to be updated every three months, seeks to provide a useful barometer on the impact of socio-economic and political developments on the Mozambican business climate.
The first study covers the third and fourth quarters of 1998, and was based on surveys of about 100 companies, covering the financial sector, agriculture, manufacturing industry, agro- industry, transport, communications, energy, and wholesale and retail trade.
The key factors covered in the study are macro-economic policy, infrastructure and services, and financial, monetary, labour and environmental policy.
The study claims that the most positive economic sectors in Mozambique are telecommunications, banking, energy and natural resources, while the least positive are agriculture, manufacturing industry and transport.
Factors which influenced the business environment positively were political and macro-economic stability, monetary policy, and the investment climate. Negative factors were the decline of commodity prices on world markets, and the "precipitate" introduction of a Value Added Tax (VAT).
The index is a joint initiative of KPMG, the CTA, and the Mozambique-South Africa Chamber of Commerce.
The cotton sector believes that if it maintains the current growth rate it will be able to reach its maximum capacity, 150,000 tonnes of raw cotton a year, within the next five years.
According to the director of the National Cotton Institute, Erasmo Muhate, Mozambique is currently harvesting 90,000 tonnes of cotton a year, compared with 30,000 tones in 1990.
The expectation of a further substantial increase is based on the short and medium term investments planned for the rehabilitation and construction of new cotton units, and on an increase in the area under cultivation.
Ginning factories, after rehabilitation, have been coping with the volume of production. 12 ginning mills have been rehabilitated, but some of the equipment was so damaged that it was not possible to repair it.
Of the 26 ginning mills that the country possessed before independence, only 17 are operating currently.
The South African government plans to announce the official cancellation of Mozambique's debt to South Africa, according to the country's Finance Minister, Trevor Manuel, speaking in Johannesburg on 13 April.
Manuel, who is among those who have urged international financial institutions to pardon the debts of the poorest countries, including Mozambique, said that the impending announcement will merely formalise a decision taken earlier by the government.
The amount involved is about four million rands (about $650,000). The gesture does not cover Mozambican debts to South African publicly owned companies, such as the electricity company Eskom.
Manuel promised that he would continue raising the problem of third world debt at the forthcoming annual meetings of the IMF and the World Bank.
Guards at a prison farm in the southern province of Gaza have not been paid for six months, and are threatening that, unless the money is forthcoming, they will abandon their posts and release all the prisoners.
The institution in question is the Mabalane Agricultural Penitentiary, about 300 kilometres north of Maputo. The penitentiary was closed for many years, after the area came under attack from the Rhodesian armed forces of the Ian Smith regime in the late 1970s, and has only recently been reopened.
According to a report in the latest issue of the independent weekly "Savana", there are currently 15 guards at Mabalane, supervising 120 prisoners. After finishing a course last year, the 15 signed contracts with the National Director of Prisons on 1 November, and were then dispatched to Mabalane. But since then they have received no wages, and find that they are living in much the same precarious situation as the prisoners.
There are houses in the prison complex - but they are not occupied by prison staff. Instead education officials, local court officials, the district health and education directors, and even the Mabalane secretary of the ruling Frelimo Party, are living there.
The guards say they can no longer tolerate the situation: if they are not paid, and if their accommodation does not improve, they will leave the prison and set free the inmates.
When "Savana" confronted the prison director, Anlaue Indobe, with this situation, he used bureaucratic excuses to justify the non-payment of wages. Formal appointment to any post in the state apparatus depends on presenting a series of documents, and apparently not all of the guards had presented the necessary paperwork.
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