"Countless challenges" await the Mozambican people in 2004, "which will require a redoubled effort from all of us", declared President Joaquim Chissano on 31 December. In his end-of-year message broadcast to the nation, President Chissano stressed that "the struggle to eliminate absolute poverty will remain our top priority. We must increase production and productivity, and promote development initiatives, particularly in the countryside".
President Chissano urged all Mozambicans "to participate in an active and responsible manner in the merciless struggle against the spread of endemic diseases such as HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis". "Only with the commitment of each and every one of us will we be able to win this battle", he said.
He noted that 2004 sees the introduction of a new and more relevant curriculum in primary education. In particular, the new curriculum means that six year olds will start their education in their mother tongues, instead of in a foreign language, Portuguese.
The President hoped that the shake-up in the curriculum would make a major contribution "to our great challenge which is to promote, in the medium term, education for all Mozambicans".
2004 would also see a start made to building a new bridge over the Zambezi at Caia. President Chissano described this as "the bridge of national unity". It is a key part of the country's main north- south highway, and will greatly facilitate overland communication.
"Given its great economic and social value, all Mozambicans have always longed for this project to be built", said the President.
Now that Mozambique was chairing the African Union (AU), the country had added responsibilities "in contributing to the sustainable development of our continent". The main challenges facing his term as AU chairman, Chissano said, were "to seek out solutions for conflicts in Africa, and guarantee implementation of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD)".
The number of people arrested in connection with the murder, on 15 December, of Armando Ossufo, director of the Maputo top security prison, has risen to three, according to Nataniel Macamo, spokesman for the national police command.
The first suspect was arrested in the southern province of Inhambane, in the possession of Ossufo's car. Macamo said that information he had provided led to the arrest of the other two suspects. Macamo did not reveal the names of any of the three men arrested.
The police have recovered from the suspects a series of documents that had been taken from Ossufo's car. When they searched their houses the police found other documents - but these ones were forgeries.
Despite the theft of Ossufo's car, a Mazda, the police doubt whether car theft was the real motive for the murder.
Mozambique's main opposition party, Renamo, claims it would have won in at least 14 of the country's 33 municipalities in the 19 November local elections, if these had been run "with total transparency".
The claim was made on 22 December by Renamo spokesman Fernando Mazanga, speaking to journalists during an interval in a meeting the Renamo National Council.
Mazanga did not say on what he based his claim - but the statistics show that in the 1999 parliamentary elections Renamo did indeed win in 14 municipalities. The Renamo leadership cannot accept that, in the ensuing four years it has lost ground to the ruling Frelimo Party across the country.
Renamo mayors were elected in just five cities and towns - Beira, Nacala, Angoche, Mozambique Island and Marromeu. But Mazanga was hopeful that this number might still rise, thanks to the complaints Renamo has lodged with the Constitutional Council, the body that validates electoral results, and takes the final decision in electoral disputes.
Mazanga also said that Renamo will now demand a complete re- registration of the entire electorate ahead of the 2004 general elections. He claimed that earlier voter registration prioritised places "where Frelimo has more supporters at the expense of places under the influence of Renamo".
The entire electorate has already been registered twice in the past decade - in 1994 and 1999. Critics point out that no country can possibly afford to re-register its entire electorate every time there is a general election.
As for Renamo's priorities in the five municipalities it won, Mazanga said that it put the fight against corruption at the top of the list, stating that "in these five municipalities we shall demonstrate how corruption can be swept away".
The Assembly of the Republic on 18 December approved the General State Budget for 2004 by 131 votes against 98, with one abstention.
The votes against came from the Renamo-Electoral Union opposition coalition, while the entire parliamentary group of the ruling Frelimo party voted for the budget.
In a declaration of vote, Abel Mabunda, of the opposition coalition, argued that the government had usurped parliament's powers by "presenting a ready made budget to the Paris Club (of the major creditors), in April this year, coming back only to ask the Assembly to rubber stamp it". He also argued this budget does not cater for audits of the municipalities' accounts as required by law.
For her part, Frelimo deputy Acucena Duarte justified her party's vote saying that the budget will allow the running of the country, including the holding of general elections, in 2004.
Prime Minister Pascoal Mocumbi on 17 December introduced its Economic and Social Plan to the Assembly of the Republic, stating that the government is planning growth in the country's Gross Domestic Product of eight per cent in 2004. He said that other key targets were to keep inflation to nine per cent or lower, and to achieve an increase in commodity exports of about 70 per cent.
Imports are expected to rise by 2.8 per cent. Thus the balance of trade is expected to improve dramatically: exports in 2004 will reach $1.274 billion, and imports $1.667 billion.
Mocumbi predicted growth in the economy, namely agriculture, by 6 per cent, livestock, 11.5 per cent, mining, 146.3 per cent (largely due to the extraction of natural gas from the Pande-Temane fields in Inhambane province), manufacturing industry, 11.9 per cent (excluding MOZAL), water and power production, 1.6 per cent, trade, 8.4 per cent, and transport, 8.4 per cent.
The only sector where growth will be negative is construction, expected to decline by about 18 per cent, mainly because of the completion of phase 2 of MOZAL, and the natural gas pipeline from the Inhambane fields to South Africa.
As for 2003, Mocumbi said that GDP had grown by seven per cent, with inflation at 11 per cent. He added that the metical gained in value against the dollar by 1.1 per cent, between January and November - while falling by a third against the South African rand.
Commodity exports grew by about 10 per cent in 2003. Mocumbi expected the final figure to reach $746 million, compared with $680 million in 2002. If the mega projects (principally MOZAL) are left out, the figure for exports falls to $289 million.
Over 1,760 Mozambicans receive AIDS drugs
During the debate Health Minister, Francisco Songane stated that over 1,760 Mozambicans are currently receiving anti-retroviral medication, which prolongs the lives of people infected with HIV. 150 of those receiving the drugs are public servants, who receive the treatment free of charge. He said that free treatment for the public servants is costing the state about $130,000 a year.
He estimated that, with the pledged support from international partners, more money will be forthcoming, allowing the country to cater for about 6,000 AIDS patients in 2004.
Commenting on malaria, he announced that, as from next year, Mozambique is to adopt a new line of treatment, that excludes chloroquine. He estimated the costs of the fight against malaria at about $3 million a year - $1.4 million for the purchase of drugs, and two million for mosquito control.
The Assembly passed the government's Plan for 2004 by 131 votes to 82, again with one abstention.
Deputies of the Assembly of the Republic on 11 December expressed disappointment at the slow pace of the commission charged with drafting amendments to the country's constitution. They urged the commission to speed up its work so that a revised constitution can be adopted by the end of this legislature, in 2004.
The chairperson of the ad-hoc commission on constitutional amendment, Hermenegildo Gamito, reported that differences still persist on the commission between members from Frelimo and the Renamo-Electoral Union coalition. The key issue at stake is the country's history. Frelimo insists on the primordial importance of the national liberation struggle that won the country's independence from Portuguese colonial rule. Renamo is fighting for an equivalence between the liberation struggle and the war of destabilisation (which it calls "the struggle for democracy").
One draft clause in the Frelimo version instructs the state "to give special protection to those disabled during the national liberation struggle, as well as the orphans and other dependants of those who died in this cause". Renamo wants this "special protection" extended to those who were disabled "in the struggle for democracy".
Frelimo will not accept this, for it would equate those who died while fighting for the country's independence and those who died in the apartheid- sponsored attempt to destroy that independence.
The ad-hoc commission has also made little progress in designing a new flag and national emblem.
The Commission also complained that its budget was insufficient, and did not allow it to meet regularly in the intervals between parliamentary sittings. This plea for more money was sharply rejected by parliamentary chairman Eduardo Mulembue. Since the commission had worked so slowly to date, what guarantee was there that an injection of funds would really speed matters up?
He wanted to see the commission produce a firm timetable for finishing the job, and suggested that in the first parliamentary sitting of 2004 (March-May), a draft constitution be presented.
A second ad-hoc commission, dealing with revising the electoral legislation, has worked reasonably well, and received praise from both the Frelimo and the Renamo parliamentary groups.
This Commission reported that it has been working continually on revising the law governing presidential and parliamentary elections. Currently this law has 204 articles, of which 175 have been revised and adopted consensually. Of the 29 left, 14 are minor details to be resolved, and the rest concern the mechanisms for the count, and announcing the results.
The Assembly of the Republic on 10 December passed the first reading of a government bill to set up fiscal tribunals.
Such tribunals are envisaged in the 1990 constitution, but up until now nothing has been done to set them up. The result is that it is the same body which both collects taxes and deals with any appeals against the taxes levied.
Introducing the bill, Finance Minister Luisa Diogo said this was an unjust situation, and was based on colonial diplomas that are now over half a century old (one dates to 1942 and a second to 1950). The new bill, she said, was setting up tribunals that could judge with independence, thus separating tax administration from "fiscal justice".
"These alterations are very important", she continued, "since they seek to give taxpayers the right to appeal against the decisions of the tax administration, and to ensure that the law is applied impartially".
Eventually there will be a fiscal tribunal in each of the country's 11 provinces. Each of these tribunals will consist of three members - a professional judge, and two other members, who will be drawn from among officials of the tax administration, but should also possess law degrees. But the bill recognises that, in reality, precious few of these officials currently have law degrees. Thus for a transitional period the requirement is lowered to officials of the tax administration "with proven knowledge of fiscal law".
The bill passed its first reading unanimously. It will now be amended in commission.
Dozens of women in the gallery of the Assembly burst into song on 9 December as the Assembly unanimously passed a new family law, defending the rights of children and women.
The bill had passed its first reading in April, but then went for amendment in joint sittings of the Assembly's Legal Affairs and Social Affairs Commissions.
The two controversial areas the commissions had to deal with were the age for marriage, and adoption.
They agreed with the government that the age of marriage should be 18 for both sexes: under the previous law (dating from 1966) it was 16 for boys and just 14 for girls, a provision which looks like legitimised child abuse.
However, the government's original bill allowed exceptions: girls could "under special circumstances" (a euphemism for pregnancy) marry at the age of 16, with their parents consent. The commissions thought this violated the constitutional equality between the sexes, and so amended the clause to ensure that 16 year olds of either sex could marry "under exceptional circumstances".
As for adoption, the commissions agreed with the government position that any couple who have been living together (married or not) for at least three years, and are aged 25 or over, can adopt. So can single people who can provide "moral and material conditions that guarantee the healthy growth of the child".
The government had wanted an upper age limit banning people over 40 from adopting, unless the child is the son or daughter of a deceased or separated partner. The commissions changed this upper age limit to 50.
The rest of the government's original bill was left pretty much as it was. For the new law replaces huge chunks of the colonial Civil Code, which up until now had not been rewritten, although they are in blatant contradiction with the Mozambican constitution.
Under the Civil Code, the head of the family was automatically a man, women were subject to the "marital power" of their husbands, women required their husbands' consent before taking any paid job, and all the property of the household was administered by the husband.
This has all been swept away in the new law. The husband will no longer automatically represent the family - either partner may do so. The right of husband or wife to work may not be restricted by the other partner. The wife no longer needs to ask her husband's permission before contracting debts.
The couple will still be expected to live in the same house - but not necessarily the husband's house.
Under the Civil Code, only civil marriage received legal recognition, which means that only a tiny handful of Mozambicans were regarded as properly "married", since the vast majority of couples never bothered to go through the red tape and expense involved in weddings at registry offices.
The new law extends legal recognition to religious and traditional marriages, and also, for the first time, recognises "de facto unions" - i.e. couples living together in a stable relationship who do not bother with any form of marriage. This is probably the most common form of union in Mozambican cities.
Any couple who have lived together for at least a year will be regarded as a "de facto union", and the children of this union will have the same protection as children of any marriage. If such a union breaks up, the man will no longer be able to shrug off responsibility for his children, and may find himself obliged to pay maintenance to his ex-partner.
But both the government and the Assembly's commissions resisted all pressure from traditionalists to legitimise polygamous unions. Some of this pressure comes from Moslems - and was partly defused in April when Justice Minister Jose Abudo, who is himself a practicing Moslem, spoke out strongly against polygamy, describing it as "an attack upon the dignity of women".
The new law does not outlaw polygamy - that would be quite impractical - but neither does it recognise or encourage it. But it does make clear that all the wives in a polygamous union are to be treated equally in terms of inheritance when their husband dies.
The amendments brought by the commissions proved entirely uncontroversial, and the Family Law was passed without further discussion, unanimously and by acclamation.
Well over two years after the Zambezi valley floods of 2001, some of the victims are still living in miserable conditions in resettlement centres, according to the Social Affairs Commission of the Assembly of the Republic.
In October, the commission visited areas hit by natural disasters in Zambezia, Nampula and Inhambane province, and its report, presented on 9 December, makes disturbing reading.
In Zambezia, it found people in some resettlement areas still living under tarpaulin or in tents, more than two years after they had lost their original homes. The excuse was lack of money to build houses. The commission thought the situation showed "a certain lack of interest on the part of the authorities".
In some areas specific promises had been made that houses would be built. But of the 756 houses promised in Mopeia, Morrumbala and Nicoadala, to date only 270 (less than 40 per cent) have been completed. This showed "the feeble commitment" of the government, the commission accused.
To make matters worse, southern parts of Zambezia have been hit by drought, and the commission warned of an "acute food crisis".
"Hunger is a major concern, particularly in the resettlement centres affected by drought", said the report. "The unemployment situation is alarming, and could transform the resettlement centres into centres of social insecurity".
The Commission found that Nampula has not yet recovered from tropical depression "Delfina" which hit the province in January this year. The storm knocked out the water supply to the town of Monapo, and it has not yet been restored. A bridge over the Melule river, on the road between the coastal towns of Angoche and Moma, has been destroyed, and the provincial government does not have the funds to repair it.
Two bridges over the Monapo river are damaged, and if they are not repaired soon they too will become impassable.
There was serious damage in the provincial capital, Nampula city, where the storm waters had opened gaping ravines in several neighbourhoods. The commission warned that three of the city's schools were in danger of collapse because of erosion. Again it criticised the government for its "feeble commitment" to dealing with the problem.
Parts of Nampula are also suffering from hunger - the commission found serious food shortages in the resettlement centres in the Larde administrative post in Moma district. So clothing, agricultural tools and domestic implements donated to the victims of the January storm were sold so that they could buy food.
It should not have been too difficult for the opposition Renamo-Electoral Union to score a moral victory in the debate on this report. But instead an opposition member of the Social Affairs Commission, Jose Palaco, spent much of his time inveighing against the flags of the ruling Frelimo Party which are supposedly flying in the resettlement centres.
On 12 December the trial began of 19 people charged with defrauding the Commercial Bank of Mozambique (BCM) of the equivalent of $14 million US dollars in the months leading up to the bank's privatisation in 1996.
Like the trial of the murderers of investigative journalist Carlos Cardoso, held from November 2002 to January 2003, the trial is taking place inside a giant air-conditioned tent on the grounds of the Maputo top security prison. This time, the presiding judge is Achirafo Abubakar Abdul.
The connections between the two trials do not stop there. For three of the accused - BCM branch manager Vicente Ramaya, the owner of the now defunct Unicambios foreign exchange bureau, Ayob Abdul Satar, and his brother, the notorious loan shark Momade Assife Abdul Satar "Nini" - are the men found guilty of ordering Cardoso's murder. Cardoso had become extremely inconvenient precisely because he had campaigned vigorously to remove the shield of impunity enjoyed by Ramaya and the Satar brothers, thanks to their connections with corrupt attorneys.
In the initial formalities, lawyer Espirito Santo Monjane, representing Nini Satar, made a spirited attempt to have the whole case thrown out, precisely because of its close connections with the Cardoso murder. He argued that since the cases were linked, then, under the Mozambican penal code, they should have been tried together, as least as far as Ramaya and The Satar brothers were concerned. Monjane described the BCM case as "an aggravating circumstance" in the Cardoso murder, and as such "it cannot be dealt with separately".
Prosecutor Ana Maria Gemo made short work of this argument. The part of the penal code Monjane mentioned referred to crimes committed at the same time, she said. But the BCM fraud happened in 1996 and Carlos Cardoso was murdered in 2000.
Lawyer Albano Silva, who is handling the BCM's private prosecution, denied that the BCM fraud had ever been described as an "aggravating circumstance" in the murder case. It had been the motive for the murder, which was an entirely different legal concept.
Gemo withdrew the charges against one of the accused, businessman Eliseu Langa, because he died in May. An authenticated copy of his death certificate has been appended to the case papers. But this document did not satisfy Achirafo, who wondered whether Langa was really deceased. "In this country, you can obtain any document", he remarked. So he ordered court officials to contact the registry office, and confirm that a death certificate really had been issued.
The Public Prosecutor's Office outlined at length the case against the 19 accused. The accused can be divided into three groups. First, there are members and close associates of the Abdul Satar business family - Abdul Satar Abdul Karim, his wife Hawabay Abdul Latife, and four of their children, Asslam, Ayob, Momade Assife "Nini" and Farida, plus Asslam's close friend Yasser Mohamed, his employee, Henrique Carlos da Cruz, and Antonio Medeiros, an employee of the Unicambios foreign exchange bureau, owned by Ayob.
Since the two parents and Asslam fled to Dubai immediately after the fraud was discovered, they will not be in the dock. Arrest warrants have been issued, and the judge in the case, Achirafo Abdul, has asked for Interpol assistance in capturing them. Although the name of Asslam crops up over and over again in the prosecution case, the missing Satars will not be tried in absentia: if they are ever caught, a separate trial will be held.
The second group consists of Vicente Ramaya, manager of the BCM branch in the Maputo suburb of Sommerschield, and all the key members of his staff - Ligia Haji Pires, Mario Fernandes, Ricardo Novela, Madalena Farinha, and Virginia Chavanguane. The Sommerschield branch had opened only a few months earlier, and was one of the few BCM branches in the country that was fully computerised. The BCM put Ramaya in charge of it because of his 19 years banking experience. Ayob and Nini Satar, and Ramaya, are already in jail, serving long sentences for their part in ordering the murder of Carlos Cardoso.
The third group of accused are business people and others who had accounts at other BCM branches, and allowed their cheques to be used as part of the fraud - they are Shiraz Banu Harum, Brito and Isaltina Companhia, Eliseu Langa (now deceased), Sayed Tandeer Haider, Antonio Mascarenhas Arouca Junior, and Dinis Macaluve.
Prosecuting attorney Ana Maria Gemo argued that the Satar family hatched the plot to defraud the BCM in early 1996. But they could not do it on their own - they needed the collaboration of Ramaya, and of people willing to put their cheque books at the disposal of the fraud.
In all 67 fraudulent cheques were used, and the end result was the theft from the BCM of 144,460,279,000 meticais.
How had the fraud gone undetected for so long? The prosecution argues this was partly because the BCM's interdepartmental control body was in the middle of switching from a manual system to a computerised one. But Ramaya had also deliberately covered his tracks. He had ceased to send the required daily reports to the Maputo head office.
No doubt one key question in the trial will be whether any of Ramaya's superiors in the BCM were involved in the fraud. Writing from his hideout in Dubai, Asslam Satar sent a letter to the court admitting his guilt, but claiming he had worked in collusion with the then chairman of the BCM board, Augusto Candida. From earlier statements by Ramaya, his defence is clearly that he was "just carrying out orders".
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