Voter registration for this year's general elections closed on 17 September with optimism that the process, which began on 20 July, was an overall success. The final results of the registration will not be known until 3 October, after the electoral registers have been displayed for citizens to complain if their names have been omitted. STAE general director, Antonio Carrasco, was optimistic that more than 6.9 million people had registered (over 83 per cent of the target figure of 8.3 million).
If Carrasco's figures are right, the registration exercise has cleared the major hurdle affecting its credibility - to register more than the 6.4 million people registered for the 1994 presidential and parliamentary elections.
Opinions among the major political parties are predictably divided, with Frelimo praising the voter registration, and Renamo denigrating it.
Edgar Cossa, spokesman for the Frelimo parliamentary group, praised the work undertaken by the National Elections Commission (CNE), the independent body in overall charge of the elections and by STAE. He said they had performed with commitment "so that the process could be successful".
But Renamo general secretary Joao Alexandre claimed the registration had been tarnished by "irregularities". He accused the CNE and STAE of "not coordinating things properly" with the political parties, and claimed this had led to stationing the registration brigades in illogical places.
Although STAE has continually refuted these claims, Alexandre repeated the allegation that "the CNE and STAE concentrated registration brigades in border areas in order to register foreigners, and also in urban areas where Frelimo thinks it has a lot of influence and expects more votes".
He claimed, without producing evidence, that "thousands and thousands of foreigners" had been registered as Mozambican voters. Renamo had complained to the CNE and to STAE "but we still haven't had any response", he said.
A further "irregularity", Alexandre claimed, was that the authorities had not given cars to each of the provincial STAE deputy directors nominated by Renamo.
Alexandre, and various of the minor opposition parties, also complained that 60 days was not long enough for voter registration.
Carrasco accepted that in the countryside people sometimes had to walk for long distances before reaching the nearest registration post. But he insisted that STAE had made a proper study of the spatial distribution of the population, and had put the 1,930 registration brigades in places where there were significant concentrations of people.
He pointed out that the population is very dispersed in much of the countryside: hence the decision to try and cover thinly populated areas with mobile registration brigades, in order to minimise the problem of distances.
The National Elections Commission (CNE) on 15 September inaugurated its computer pavilion, which will computerise the country's electoral register.
CNE chairman Jamisse Taimo pushed the button that set in motion the first of six electronic scanners that read voter registration forms and send the data to computers.
Each of the scanners can read 12,000 pages an hour. The computer staff believe they can transfer the entire voter registration onto the computers in a reliable form in less than three months. Using human typists it would have taken around two years.
The computerised register will not be used for this year's presidential and parliamentary elections, scheduled for 3-4 December. The December elections will rely on the hand written registers drawn up by the voter registration brigades.
But for future elections, the registers will be produced electronically at the CNE headquarters.
Antonio Carrasco, general director of the Electoral Administration Technical Secretariat (STAE), the electoral branch of the civil service, which acts as the CNE's executive arm, declared "we will no longer have to undertake voter registration in an archaic way".
Using the computerised system, he said, it would be a simple matter to update the register every year with the data of those citizens who attain the voting age of 18.
The equipment cost $2 million, provided by the European Union, as part of its package of support for the elections.
Mozambican staff have been trained to operate the computers and scanners. 108 people will work in the computer pavilion in two shifts.
Maintenance is guaranteed by the Maputo branch of the British computer firm, ICL.
Mozambique expects to produce about 2.1 million tonnes of grain next year, an increase of 15 per cent on the 1999 harvest, according to Agriculture Minister Carlos Agostinho do Rosario. He said the expansion would not just be in maize, but also in rice. A 15 per cent expansion would bring rice production to 214,000 tonnes.
"This increase in grain production is very significant for Mozambique", he said, "since it means a large reduction in imports and an increase in the export of foodstuffs".
Mozambique has now achieved self-sufficiency in maize, and this year there was a surplus of 180,000 tonnes available for export to other countries in southern and eastern Africa.
As for beans and groundnuts, the government's target for the year 2000 is production of 413,000 tonnes, which would be an increase of 23 per cent on the 1999 figure. The production of cassava should grow by 16 per cent, to reach 6.5 million tonnes.
According to Rosario, the total area under cultivation will rise to 3.9 million hectares, an increase of four percent on the 1998/99 agricultural campaign.
Mozambique does face a shortage of seeds. The government says that 1,689 tonnes of maize, rice, sorghum and millet seed is needed: almost half of this is rice seed.
The government, with the support of Italy, of the World Food Programme (WFP), and of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), also plans to intervene in those areas hit by floods or by drought during the last agricultural year, in order to provide peasant farmers there with seeds and tools.
Mozambique's overall business confidence rose slightly in the second quarter of this year, according to the findings of the international consultancy firm KPMG, which publishes a quarterly Mozambique Business Confidence Index.
Addressing a group of businessmen on 17 September, KPMG Mozambique partner Paul de Sousa said the index showed an improvement of 0.4 per cent. The overall business confidence index was 95 in the first quarter of 1999, and 95.4 in the second quarter.
However, this meant a decline of 4.6 percentage points when compared with the base period - the third quarter of 1998.
The survey is calibrated to represent an index of 100 targeted businesses in all the major sectors of Mozambique's business community. 40 per cent of the companies surveyed were foreign owned, 20 per cent jointly-owned, and the other 40 per cent owned by Mozambicans.
De Sousa said that the most positive economic sectors, in terms of business confidence, were those of communications, construction, energy and natural resources, and tourism while the least positive were manufacturing, agriculture, and wholesale and retail trade.
Compared with the previous quarter, construction improved by 26 per cent, and communications and tourism by eight per cent each. In contrast, manufacturing and agriculture decreased by 11 and four per cent, respectively.
The confidence index was affected positively by such factors as investment incentives, speedy government decisions, the global economic situation, increased regional integration, and the availability of skilled employees.
De Sousa thought that the speed of government decisions was a sign of improvement, adding that some of the respondents had commended the customs service for addressing their specific needs in reasonable time.
Also the increased competition between banks has led to more competitive interest rates and better availability of finance, he said.
But other factors had influenced the index negatively. De Sousa pointed to land law administration, the exchange rate (which has begun to slide after a long period of stability), the HIV/AIDS epidemic, business environment stability and state interference in private business.
He said he found it surprising that what is so far only a slight devaluation of the metical could be raised as a factor impacting negatively on the confidence index, particularly when one considers the massive devaluations of the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Some respondents were apprehensive about the forthcoming general elections. Negative comments were also made about "teething problems" associated with the introduction of value added tax (VAT), and what was perceived as little or no progress in introducing promised new financial/ banking products.
In the year that it has been operating, several positive factors have consistently influenced the business confidence index. According to KPMG, these include the weather (absence of drought), the availability of health care facilities, and business diversification.
Factors with a negative impact over the entire period were business environment stability, higher education (or the lack of it), technological development, economic policy and imports.
Businesses were worried that the impending end of the Crown Agents contract at the end of this year might lead to increased smuggling.
The KPMG business confidence index is a result of a partnership between the firm, the Confederation of Mozambican Business (CTA), and the Mozambique-South Africa Chamber of Commerce.
Vessels of the French navy will, as from now, be providing the Mozambican authorities with information on the activity of fishing boats and of merchant vessels in the Mozambique Channel.
The commander of the French naval forces in the Indian Ocean, Patrice du Puy-Montburn, made the announcement on 13 September, during a four day visit by three French navy vessels to Maputo port.
French monitoring of fishing vessels and other merchant shipping in the Mozambique Channel "is concrete support that responds to a formal request by the Mozambican authorities, but we are open for wider support", said Puy-Montburn.
During this visit, the commanders of the French vessels met with Mozambican authorities in the context of cooperation relations between the two countries' armed forces. A source in the Mozambican Defence Force (FADM) described this visit as a good opportunity to negotiate for the signing of agreements between the two countries in the near future.
The Anglo-Dutch oil company, British Petroleum (BP), and the Engineering Faculty of Maputo's Eduardo Mondlane University (UEM) on 13 September signed an agreement aimed at improving the quality of the university's undergraduates.
The agreement, to last for five years, includes the transfer of technology, internship programmes for students at BP or other related industries, and supply of equipment, among others. The university will in turn train some of BP's workers.
Jose Chambezi of the faculty's management told AIM that the agreement best suited BP's philosophy that, rather than absorbing graduates without having sponsored their training, it is necessary to participate actively in it, so as to reap the benefits of employing well trained students.
Chambezi said that the oil company had also vouched to help create a link between the university and the industrial sector.
The Mozambican Human Rights League (LDH) and the international media watchdog, Article 19, has launched a media monitoring project to follow the performance of the Mozambican media before, during and after the December general elections, according to an LDH source.
Jose Ramos, the project coordinator, told AIM that the project is aimed at assessing how the public media meets in practice the legal requirements for balance and impartiality.
The project will cover six provinces, namely Maputo, Inhambane, Manica, Sofala, Zambezia and Nampula. It is thought that it is in these provinces that the vote will be heavily contested.
Ramos explained that as many as 18 monitors are involved. They are charged with producing weekly reports to be distributed to various institutions, including the media.
At the end the project will produce conclusions and final recommendations aimed at mapping out an agenda for further improvement and reform of the public media in Mozambique by the new government formed after the elections, as well as undertaking advocacy work.
Launching the project, Andrew Puddephatt, executive director of Article 19, said that much progress had been made in the Mozambican press, but they were still some areas that could do with reform, namely the law on defamation.
The LDH president, Alice Mabota, welcomed the project because it would produce recommendations that would improve the role of the press.
Solar energy is to be used to operate pumps to obtain drinking water from boreholes more than 70 metres deep in some areas of the central province of Sofala, according to the provincial director of Public Works and Housing, Joao Godinho. The project has been launched in Buzi district, with the installation of three of these pumps.
Godinho said that if this experience proves positive, then the project will be extended to other areas. "In the first stage, the project is being carried out in Buzi district, where the depth of the boreholes exceeds 100 metres and electric pumps are required to draw up the water. We prefer to use solar energy", said Godinho.
This project is part of the UNICEF-18 programme. UNICEF-18 built 36 water sources in 1997 and 1998 in Sofala. However, by no means all of them have worked properly. A team consisting of officials from the "Geo-Austral" company and the water supply department of the public works and housing directorate inspected 22 boreholes in Buzi and Chibabava districts, and found that only 15 of them were operational.
An NGO, KULIMA, intends to install five hand pumps in Inhaminga, capital of Cheringoma district, also in Sofala. These pumps, as in other parts of the province, are to be maintained by the beneficiaries themselves, who should make a monetary contribution for the acquisition of the necessary parts whenever repairs are needed.
The main difficulty involved in obtained drinking water in Chibabava and Cheringoma is the great depth of the water table.
The chairman of the board of directors of the International Bank of Mozambique (BIM), Mario Machungo, announced on 3 September that his institution is launching "Visa" credit cards.
BIM is thus the first Mozambican institution certified to issue such cards, which allow the user to pay for goods and services at more than 12 million shops and other establishments across the globe. This card also allows the user to make "cash advance", whereby he or she may withdraw cash from a bank or from any of the over 5,500 automatic tellers linked to Visa International. The user will benefit from 40 days free credit.
Education Minister Arnaldo Nhavoto has stated that his ministry's target is to eradicate illiteracy by the year 2007 or 2008, reports Noticias on 9 September.
He explained that to attain that goal the education ministry is committed to building more new schools and developing alternative educational methods and technologies, including distance learning.
Speaking during a meeting of the education ministry's coordinating council, Nhavoto summarised the new Education Strategic Plan in three points, namely the expansion of education to all levels, improvements in the quality of education and the strengthening of institutional capacity.
He said that the backbone of this programme consists of the current reshaping of the curriculum, the training of more and better qualified teachers and the development of new programmes and teaching materials.
Nhavoto noted, however, that for the programme to become a success, the implementation of the plan requires good management.
He added that to attain this, it is essential to redefine responsibilities in the education sector and develop a culture of participatory management, where both educational staff and society at large will be called upon to play a role.
Meanwhile, participants at another meeting, in the northern province of Nampula, pointed out that improving the quality of education presupposes the recognition of the value of teachers.
One of the participants, Alfredo Mahia, the director of the Nampula Primary Teachers Training Centre (IMAP), blamed the poor performance of teachers on the methods of recruitment, the academic training of candidates to teachers, and the difficulties they face in their daily work.
He also accused society at large, for encouraging corruption among teachers, who have difficulty refusing bribes because most of the times they do not get their wages on time.
As part of the problems that contribute to a poor image of the teachers, another participant pointed not only to delayed wage payments, but also to the shortage of accommodation.
Health Minister Aurelio Zilhao on 9 September told the country's parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, that the death toll from AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) could rise to over 250,000 by the end of the year 2000.
Most of these deaths, however, are not registered as due to AIDS. Zilhao said that only in around 11,000 cases to date has AIDS been officially diagnosed as the cause of death.
But the Health Ministry estimates that about 14.5 per cent of the adult population is infected by the HIV virus that causes AIDS (which would mean that well over a million Mozambicans are HIV positive).
He stressed that the overwhelming majority of infections occur through heterosexual contact, and claimed that an estimated 2.2 million adults had "irregular sexual liaisons" in 1997.
Zilhao said the main factors for the propagation of HIV included poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, and the low status of women, as well as individual refusals to adopt "safe sex" norms (such as the use of condoms for casual sexual encounters).
He said his ministry's plan of action against AIDS would target "high risk groups", whom he specified as students, long distance truck drivers, soldiers, poorly educated women, street children, migrant mineworkers and their wives, and prostitutes and their clients.
Zilhao warned of the severe losses to the Mozambican economy caused by the deaths of highly qualified workers who are in the age group most affected by the disease.
Peasant farmers are taking over abandoned tea plantations in Lugela district, in the central province of Zambezia, reports Noticias on 8 September. The tea fields were abandoned as a consequence of the war of destabilisation, that ended in 1992.
The Madal, Cha Tacuane and Palma Mira companies, owners of the plantations and processing industries, do not have the money to rehabilitate them. The machinery is obsolete and much of it was severely damaged.
The Lugela district Agriculture and Fisheries director, Ernesto Jose, said that the government has invited other people to make use of these fields.
British businessmen came to Lugela after that, to look at the prospects for tea production. They concluded that it is necessary to renovate the plantation if it is to produce first grade tea for the international market.
Reporters were also told that a private farmer applied for 1,000 hectares for the production of maize on the old plantations of the Palma Mira company. He subsequently worked 45 hectares of that land, which produced a good harvest.
Ernesto reiterated that "the recovery of the tea, coffee, and cotton sectors in the district, will require the injection of large investments in very serious projects". He noted that when operating, those companies would harvest between two and three tonnes of coffee per hectare.
However, the Zambezia provincial governor, Orlando Candua expressed optimism as to the relaunching of tea, coffee and cotton production activity in Lugela.
The Mozambican government has reaffirmed its commitment to liberalising the telecommunications sector, starting with an immediate opening of the cellular phone market to competition.
According to a report in "Metical" on 8 September, this pledge was given by the Deputy Minister of Transport and Communications, Antonio Fernandes, when he was explaining government strategy to the parliamentary commission on economic activities and services.
Currently the company M-Cel, which is a joint venture between Mozambique's publicly owned telecommunications company, TDM, and the German company Detecom, has a monopoly over the cellular phone network in southern Mozambique. (Cellular phones have yet to reach the centre or north of the country). Fernandes said the government planned to open this market immediately to other operators.
It also hoped to privatise TDM - but the privatised TDM would retain a monopoly on the fixed telephone network for five years before this too was opened to competition.
The deputy minister said that the main reason for abandoning the state monopoly over the fixed phone network was that the state simply does not have the money needed to make the necessary new investments in telecommunications.
"The solution we think correct is to open up to other operators, and do away with the state monopoly", he added. One result would be "more competitive prices", he predicted.
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