Minister of State Administration, Alfredo Gamito, believes that the country's second multi-party presidential and parliamentary elections can still be held this year.
Interviewed in the weekly paper "Savana", Gamito said it is technically still possible for polling to take place on the dates favoured by the government - 27 and 28 October. But he accepted that there could be a postponement into November, caused by the delay of a month in setting up the National Elections Commission (CNE), the body that is to organise the elections.
Preceding the elections is the re-registration of the entire electorate. The government had hoped that this would run from 1 June to 15 August. But it is the CNE that must approve all the forms used in the registration. The delay in establishing the CNE thus led to a delay in launching the international tender required to select the companies that will produce the voter registration material. That tender has now been launched, but Gamito accepted that it would be impossible to start the registration on 1 June.
However he was optimistic that the registration could be shortened to two months, running from 1 July to 31 August. If registration does indeed end on 31 August, it will be theoretically possible to hold elections in November.
The electoral law states that election candidates must submit their papers to the CNE at least 60 days before polling. However, candidates must themselves be registered voters, and presidential candidates must present a list of 10,000 supporters, all of whom must also be registered voters.
Gamito said the government would pay the $9 million that voter registration will cost. The other election costs (estimated at $32 million) will be borne largely by foreign donors.
Asked about funding for political parties, Gamito said that the parties with seats in parliament (Frelimo, Renamo, and the Democratic Union) receive a monthly subsidy from the state budget, but there is no provision for the state funding extra-parliamentary parties.
If donors, however, wished to fund political parties' campaigns, they could do so via the state budget, and shortly before the start of the campaign, the Ministry of Finance would tell the CNE how much money donors were granting for this purpose.
Thousands of workers took to the streets in central Maputo on 1 May in the traditional May Day parade demanding higher wages and an end to mass sackings in privatised companies.
The parade took place under the slogan "For social, labour and wage justice", and many of the placards and banners carried expressed dissatisfaction at last month's increase in the statutory minimum wage.
In percentage terms, this was a large increase - 27 per cent. But it means that the minimum wage is still only 450,000 meticais - slightly more than $36 - a month.
"No to starvation wages", read some of the placards which workers carried past the platform where President Joaquim Chissano, Prime Minister Pascoal Mocumbi and other dignitaries were watching the parade.
Workers from the ship repair company ENAMA protested they had been without work or pay for a year, due to the negligence of their management, which allowed the company's sole asset, its floating dock, to sink, despite repeated warnings from the workforce about its condition.
The ENAMA workers wanted to know what was being done about the debts to their company owed by the state dredging firm, EMODRAGA, and the privatised coastal shipping company, Navique. The money owed is five billion meticais (about $400,000) - enough to pay off much of the back wages.
Workers from another privatised company, DINUFA, which specialises in rubber goods, wore sackcloth and carried a banner announcing "26 months without wages, 15 months on strike".
But not everybody complained. Workers from a few companies - notably the local Coca-Cola plant and the breweries - chose to display their wares instead. Trucks advertising the brands of beer brewed in Maputo rolled slowly past the platform.
The brewing company CDM is one of the unequivocal privatisation success stories, where new jobs have been created, and the minimum paid is more than twice the statutory minimum wage.
The Assembly of the Republic on 6 May rejected a bill proposed by Renamo that sought to create an Administration and Finance Committee within the Assembly. The bill was defeated by 125 votes to 104 with four abstentions.
Renamo argued that the new committee was needed in order to correct "irregularities in implementing the Assembly budget and in managing its recourses", and proposed amending the Assembly's standing orders in order to slot in such a committee.
Renamo deputies, such as Alexandre Vasco, claimed that the Assembly's financial problems were created deliberately in order to stimulate robbery and corruption.
The Assembly's Plan and Budget Commission (CPO), in a written opinion, argued that the proposed changes would need a major overhaul of the Assembly's standing orders.
Furthermore, the deputies sitting on the new committee would have management tasks: but management is the job of civil servants (and Renamo has always objected to deputies being regarded as part of the civil service).
The CPO also believed that, far from simplifying management, the Renamo bill would complicate it by establishing yet another institution.
The Assembly's Legal Affairs Commission pointed out that there was already a draft bill revising the Standing Orders, which it had submitted to the plenary last year: this bill had the support of all members of the Legal Affairs Commission, including the Renamo ones.
Some of the questions addressed in the Renamo bill were also dealt with in the amendments to the Mozambican Constitution, which have not yet been discussed by the Assembly.
Frelimo deputy Ana Rita Sithole, who has been in charge of restructuring the Assembly secretariat, said she was fully aware of the Assembly's management problems, but believed these should be dealt with, not by setting up another committee, but by the professional training of the Assembly's staff.
There are 143 people working for the Assembly, of whom 71 have the status of civil servants. Sithole said that most of them have a low level of academic and professional skills, which is the basic reason for their poor performance.
The Assembly of the Republic on 4 May rejected a bill moved by Renamo that would have granted retirement pensions to demobilised Renamo guerrillas.
The bill was defeated by 127 votes (all from the ruling Frelimo Party) to 111 with one abstention.
During the closing stages of the debate, Renamo deputies repeatedly claimed that the present situation was "discriminatory", because demobilised soldiers who had been in the old government army, the FAM/FPLM, were allegedly receiving pensions, while the Renamo demobilised were not.
Frelimo deputies, however, pointed out that, in fact, the majority of government demobilised have no right to a retirement pension. The criteria for such a pension include a minimum of ten years service in the army, as well as a contribution towards the pension fund of seven per cent of the soldier's wages
Renamo deputies promised that, if the bill was passed on its first reading, then during the second reading, amendments could be introduced that would extend the bill to cover all the demobilised.
Frelimo speakers retorted that this really meant introducing an entirely new bill, and one which had not been costed.
The Assembly of the Republic on 26 April approved heavy fines for a variety of offences, including poaching and illegal logging, under the forestry and wildlife bill currently under discussion.
At the suggestion of the Assembly's Legal Affairs Commission, fines are to be set between one million and 100 million meticais ($80 to $8,000). Some deputies regarded even this level of fine as "derisory", given the huge profits that can be made out of poaching.
The Assembly's deputy chairman, Abdul Carimo, suggested that these figures remained in the bill, but with an addition that "where the damage done by the offence is valued at more than the maximum sum mentioned (100 million meticais), the fine shall not be less than the commercial value of the product apprehended".
The Mozambican government intends to launch an international tender for organising safaris in Niassa, according to the province's governor, Aires Aly.
The tender aims to select companies or other bodies that will organise safaris for the hunting of elephants and buffaloes. There are said to be excessive numbers of these animals in the Niassa reserve with about 14,000 elephants and 10,000 buffalos.
Aly said that local residents have been pressing the government to authorise the shooting, particularly of elephants, because they destroy crops and property.
Mozambique produced 38,500 tonnes of sugar last year, a growth of more than 50 per cent over the 1997 figure of 25,200 tonnes.
Alessandro Marini of the National Sugar Institute (INA) said that this was the production of just two sugar mills - Mafambisse in Sofala province, which produced 29,100 tonnes, and Xinavane in Maputo province, with 9,400 tonnes.
The highest sugar production in the country was reported in 1972, when over 325,000 tonnes was produced from six mills. Since then, production has declined sharply, due largely to the war of destabilisation, and particularly the destruction of the Luabo and Marromeu mills, on the banks of the Zambezi river, by the apartheid-backed Renamo rebels in 1986.
Marini is optimistic about growth in the industry as mills currently undergoing rehabilitation are reopened.
The Maragra sugar mill is expected to restart operations before the end of this year, producing about 15,000 tonnes a year.
The Luabo and Marromeu plants have been privatised, and are now in the hands of the Sena Company, which is controlled by Mauritian interests. The Marromeu factory is expected to reopen by the year 2001, but no date has yet been set for the rehabilitation of the Luabo refinery.
The Buzi sugar company, south of Beira, is undergoing privatisation, and the INA is currently assessing the bids. The privatisation of Mafambisse is almost compete.
The government has decided to maintain the reference price of $385 per tonne, which was applied last year, since international sugar prices have been stable.
The publicly-owned Maputo Public Transport company (TPM) is to add to its fleet 30 new buses.
According to Luciano Sitoe, the chairman of the TPM management board, the buses are expected to arrive in Maputo by 15 May, and will start operating in late May or early June. The 30 buses are part of a consignment of 60. Twenty of these are to be sent to the central city of Beira, and the remaining 10 to Nampula, in the north.
TPM is presently operating with only 50 of its 111 units, since the other 61 are out of order and need repair.
The new chairman of the board of directors of the Cahora Bassa Hydroelectic dam (HCB), Veiga Anjos, said on 3 May, that his company will seek international arbitration to solve its dispute with the South African electricity company ESKOM, over the price of Cahora Bassa power.
"The arbitration will be undertaken by an international tribunal where we will appoint one judge, ESKOM will appoint another, and the two will chose a third judge", explained Anjos.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is to disburse about $1.12 million to support the restructuring of the Mozambican police. The Mozambican government and the UNDP signed an agreement on 29 April, under which this amount is to be made available over a three year period.
The money is granted by the Swiss government and is part of the international community's support for the efforts to modernise and professionalise the police.
The programme to retrain and upgrade the police began in 1997, with the assistance of Spain, Holland and Germany who have so far provided about $11.6 million, channelled through the UNDP.
Deputy Health Minister Abdul Razak Noormahomed has acknowledged that there is still a shortage of medicines in the country and the government wants to diversify the market in medicines to help solve the shortages.
Razak was speaking at the inauguration of a new medical distribution company, SODIMEC, on 28 April. SODIMEC is 51 per cent owned by Portuguese shareholders and the remaining 49 per cent are held by the Mozambican company SOTUX, which has previously specialised in office furniture and electrical equipment.
According to Rui Vilar, one of SODIMEC's managers, the new company will handle an average of $2 million of stocks per month, set to increase according to the needs.
The Mozambican and Australian governments have signed agreements on 6 May covering general cooperation, capacity building and support for Mozambique's agricultural development programme, PROAGRI.
The capacity building programme will last four years and is budgeted at 10 million Australian dollars (about $USD 6.3 million), while the agricultural support programme involves 6.5 million Australian dollars.
Discussions between the Mozambican government and the International Monetary Fund have led to a set of macro-economic targets for this year, broadly in line with the government's plan as announced to the Assembly of the Republic, last December.
An IMF team was in Maputo from 18 February to 3 March, and revised the third Enhanced Structural Adjustment Facility (ESAF),valid until December 1999.
The target for growth in Gross Domestic Product is nine per cent (which compares with an estimated 12 per cent in 1998). Inflation is set for less than 5.5 per cent.
The IMF document is predicting a rise in inflation because of the loss of crops in southern Mozambique arising from the September flooding, the increase in state wages backdated to April, and the forecast that the value of the South African randwill not fall much further.
Intriguingly, a dramatic revision upwards of GDP is predicted. The IMF gives a new official figure for 1998 GDP of $3.9 billion, higher than any previous estimate.
This implies a per capita GDP of $240, way above the UNDP estimate (in the 1998 National Human Development Report) of $143, or the 1997 World Bank figure of just $90.
The Mozambican government and the United States corporation Enron signed in Maputo on 30 April a "framework agreement" on the principles regulating the use of the Pande natural gas field in the southern province of Inhambane.
Signing the agreement were the Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy, John Kachamila, the chairman of the publicly-owned National Hydrocarbons Company, Issufo Abdullah, and the Vice-President of Enron, Anthony Way.
The gas is to be used exclusively in the Maputo Iron and Steel Project (MISP) - which is a planned factory that will produce steel slabs in the Mozambican capital.
Way said that the total investment in the factory, and the gas pipeline would be in the region of $2.5 billion. This makes it the largest single investment in Mozambique.
Enron's partner in MISP is the South African Industrial Development Corporation (IDC). Each will put up 50 per cent of the equity for MISP - but the bulk of the funding will come from bank loans.
Way stressed that MISP is not only one of the biggest projects in sub-Saharan Africa, but, when completed, it will be one of the largest steel plants in the world. According to the initial plans, it could produce up to four million tonnes of steel slabs a year.
One of the major problems for MISP is water. The factory will use 67 million litres of water (mainly as a coolant) per day. The government has warned Enron and the IDC that this water cannot come from the Umbeluzi river, which supplies Maputo with its drinking water.
A second gas project is underway in Inhambane province: a consortium consisting of the US company Atlantic Richfield (ARCO), Sasol of South Africa, and Zarara of Dubai plans to export gas from the Temane field to the Sasol plants in Secunda, South Africa.
Vendors of the informal sector in Maputo met on 26 April to found their own association.
The founding meeting of the Association of Operators and Workers of the Maputo Informal Sector (ASOTSI) gathered about 300 workers and vendors from 16 Maputo informal markets.
Speaking during the opening session, Maputo mayor Artur Canana praised the initiative. "It is an initiative of the informal vendors themselves", he said, adding that "this is what we want, because they will have a structure that will facilitate their work".
The Mozambican Trade Union Federation, the OTM, estimates that more than 17,000 vendors are operating in the informal sector in Maputo.
A consortium headed by Saur Internacional (a subsidiary of the French construction company Bouygues) has won the tender for the privatised management of the water supply systems in five Mozambican cities - Maputo, Beira, Nampula, Quelimane and Pemba.
Saur heads a consortium named Aguas de Mocambique (Waters of Mozambique) that will now negotiate a detailed contract with the government, according to the Minister of Public Works and Housing, Roberto White.
The contractual discussions with Aguas de Mocambique should be finalised in June or July, allowing the delegation of water supply management to the consortium. It could be running the water systems in the five cities in August.
The Mozambican state will continue to own the physical infrastructures of the water companies, while a new regulatory body will supervise the behaviour of the private operator.
According to White, the consortium will be able to propose alterations of water tariffs, though it will have to take "socio-political factors" into account, so that low income households are able to obtain water at an affordable price.
The South African government has written off about $8 million of Mozambique's bilateral debt. South African Finance Minister Trevor Manuel said it was appropriate for South Africa to cancel the debt because both countries are appealing for better terms of debt relief for themselves.
The first conference of signatories to the Ottawa convention outlawing landmines ended in Maputo on 7 May with a declaration pledging "unwavering commitment to the total eradication of an insidious instrument of war and terror: anti-personnel mines".
The participants urged those who are still using, developing, stockpiling or transferring landmines to cease now, and join the treaty signatories in the task of removing all landmines, destroying landmine stocks, and assisting the victims.
Closing the conference, its chairman, Mozambican Foreign Minister Leonardo Simao, declared "during our debates, the urgency of concrete actions was made clear, because anti-personnel mines continue to kill and maim thousands of defenceless civilians, particularly women and children. We urge all states to take urgent measures for the elimination of this evil".
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