The Mozambican government is surpassing its poverty reduction targets, according to figures given on 30 March by Prime Minister Luisa Diogo. Under the government's Action Plan for the Reduction of Absolute Poverty (PARPA) the target was set of reducing the incidence of poverty from almost 70 per cent (the figure of 1997) to 60 per cent by 2005 and 50 per cent by 2010. Citing the recently published results from the 2002/03 household survey undertaken by the National Statistics Institute (INE), Diogo told the Mozambican parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, that the poverty incidence had already dropped to 54.1 per cent.
Answering questions from deputies, Diogo said that these statistics, plus those from a recent demography and health survey, also undertaken by the INE "show that we are on the right path".
The "fundamental instrument" for poverty reduction is education, said Diogo, and so "investment in education accounts for about 20 per cent of total public expenditure, and with the growth in overall public spending, the real value of spending on education has been increasing".
The expansion in primary education had vastly outstripped the conservative targets in PARPA. Between 1999 and 2003, the number of pupils in first level primary education (EP1 - grades one to five) had grown from two million to over 2.8 million, Diogo said.
Enrolment in second level primary education (EP2 - grades six and seven) had almost doubled over the same period - from 187,000 to 355,000. The same trend can be seen in secondary education, though the numbers are still very small - there were 66,000 pupils in secondary school in 1999, and in 2003 there were 141,000. The number of pupils in pre-university education had grown from 8,350 to 18,290.
The expansion in the school network has cut the time taken by pupils to walk to school. Diogo said that the number of primary school pupils whose school is less than an hour's walking distance away had risen from 74.9 to 91.7 per cent between 1999 and 2003.
The number of teachers who graduated from training colleges has risen from 1,155 in 1999 to 5,219 last year.
"Illiteracy is one of the main causes of poverty", said Diogo - and the statistics showed a decline in the illiteracy rate from 60.5 per cent (the figure in the 1997 census) to 53.6 per cent in 2003. "We hope to cut the illiteracy rate to 50 per cent this year", added the Prime Minister.
There were 3,570 literacy and adult education units functioning in the country in 2003, attended by 550,000 students, 58 per cent of whom were women. This is a huge expansion on the 60,000 literacy students registered in 2000.
As for health care, the building of new rural hospitals and other health units meant that the percentage of the rural population who could reach a health unit in less than an hour's walk had risen from 40.1 to 54 per cent between 1997 and 2003.
Coverage under the Expanded Vaccination Programme, aimed at vaccinating children in the first two years of life, children in the first grades of primary school, and women of childbearing age against the main preventable diseases, rose from 47 per cent in 1997 to 63 per cent in 2003.
As for the main killer disease, malaria, Diogo said that last year some 901,000 houses were sprayed with insecticide against mosquitoes, giving some degree of protection to about 4.5 million people. More than 300,000 insecticide-treated mosquito nets were distributed in 2003, bringing to over 600,000 the number distributed since 1999.
The government had also been highly active in the struggle against AIDS. with 43 Counselling and Voluntary Treatment Centres (GATVs) opened in 2003. More than 200,000 people had sought the privacy of these centres to take an HIV test. Twenty six per cent of them proved to be HIV-positive "which shows the seriousness of the pandemic", said Diogo.
Diogo rejected the habitual claim from Renamo that food aid is being distributed only to supporters of the ruling Frelimo Party. The government had no knowledge of any such discrimination on political lines, and would find such behaviour repugnant, she said. "Food aid is distributed according to a system that is coordinated with national and international partners", she explained. "Foodstuffs are sent to the most affected districts via the World Food Programme, and is distributed to the beneficiaries by NGOs, with the participation of the state administration".
The beneficiary communities, Diogo continued, were organised into Local Consultative Councils, which were supposed to verify the NGO distribution of food "without looking at the colour of anyone's political beliefs".
The main form of distribution was the food-for-work programme, whereby one member of a household would take part in projects to benefit the local community, receiving food for work, while the other members of the household continued with their normal farming or other activities.
"Through this programme, the government is trying to break the vicious cycle of dependence on donations, by allowing the people to take part in productive activities locally defined", Diogo said. "The government holds that all citizens in need, regardless of their political affiliations, should receive equal treatment".
Like Diogo, the other government ministers who spoke in this question and answer session produced a wealth of facts and figures. Renamo's reaction was to demand written copies of all these presentations. Without having the copies in front of them, they would not be able to participate in the debate, stated their spokesperson Zelma Vasconcelos.
Mozambique's publicly-owned port and rail company, CFM, has so far rebuilt the first 40 kilometres of the Sena line, the railway that links the port of Beira to the Moatize coal mines in the western province of Tete, with a spur into Malawi.
Answering questions on 30 March in the Assembly of the Republic, Transport Minister Tomas Salomao said that the first stage of rehabilitating this crucial line was being carried out with $11 million from CFM's own funds. "So far this is all the work of Mozambican engineers, and Mozambican railway workers", said Salomao. But the line is 650 kilometres long "and we can't rehabilitate it all on our own".
The government has put the rest of the work out to international tender, and was finalising the conditions under which a private consortium would manage the line. Salomao expected the reconstruction to take at least three years.
The Sena line was the railway worst hit by the war of destabilisation, and no trains have run on it since 1984. When the government and CFM said the line would be rebuilt, "people thought it was just a dream", said Salomao. "But we removed the ruins of the destroyed stations, we removed the sabotaged wagons and locomotives, finding among them the bones of passengers and of railway workers", he said.
Skilled railwaymen had been called out of retirement to help in the reconstruction, and engineering students had also been mobilised. The sleeper factory in the town of Dondo had been rehabilitated.
Salomao recalled that the Sena line had always been a priority target for attack by "our brothers of Renamo". So total had been the destruction that in places there is no railway left. In such places, it was not a matter of rehabilitation "but of building from scratch", said the Minister. "It has all been destroyed, and now only virgin bush is there". Nonetheless, Salomao thought this would be "the line of peace, and of reconciliation, the line of learning to forgive".
Without the Sena line, it will be impossible to export coal economically from the Moatize mines. But with the line, Salomao was confident that 10 million tonnes a year could be exported, via a new deep water mineral port the government hopes to build at Savane, north of Beira.
Deputy Transport Minister Antonio Fernando on 31 March refuted claims by a Renamo parliamentary deputy that the government had switched funds from the Beira corridor in the centre of the country to the Maputo Development corridor in order to build the toll road from Maputo to the South African town of Witbank.
Renamo deputy Rui de Sousa, speaking in the Assembly of the Republic on the second day of a question and answer session, alleged that the government was motivated by regionalism and deliberately switched investment away from the centre of the country to the south.
Fernando retorted that it would have been quite impossible to switch funds from the Beira to the Maputo corridor. The ten year plan for the development of the Beira Corridor ran from 1986 to 1996, while the plans for the Maputo Development corridor only began in 1994. Seventy nine separate projects were implemented over the ten year plan for the Beira Corridor, and much of this took place during the war of destabilisation waged by Renamo and its apartheid backers.
Fernando said that the entire cost was $500 million. The funding agencies included the World Bank, and the accounts were internationally audited. "So no funds could have been transferred", said Fernando.
Furthermore, the use to which the money was put was highly visible. The Beira-Zimbabwe railway and the road that runs parallel to it were fully rehabilitated. In Beira port, the quays dating from 1920 "were demolished, and new ones built to serve the 21st century", said Fernando. "New container and oil terminals were built, and the access channel was deepened".
The electricity supply to Beira was completely overhauled - and since Renamo was repeatedly sabotaging the power supply, giant new generator units were installed in the city.
The original idea had also been to rehabilitate the second line from Beira - the Sena railway. But when a team led by Rui Fonseca, then head of the Beira Corridor Authority, now chairman of the national rail company, CFM, went to investigate the state of the line, it fell into a Renamo ambush.
Several people were killed and Fonseca was wounded, Fernando recalled. "But our government is determined to rebuild the Sena line all the way to Moatize, no matter who that may hurt", he declared.
Sousa also claimed that the government had switched investment in heavy mineral sands away from Zambezia province in the centre of the country to Chibuto in the southern province of Gaza.
The Minister of Mineral Resources, Castigo Langa, replied that there are in fact four projects for exploiting heavy sands - one in Chibuto, one at Moebase in Zambezia, one in the coastal area between Gaza and Inhambane provinces, and one at Moma in the northern province of Nampula.
The only one where the financial arrangements have been completed is the Moma project, he said. The Moma mine, in which the investor is the Irish company Kenmare Resources, requires investment of $72 million. That has now been finalised, and the project is ready to go ahead, said Langa.
Portuguese Prime Minister Durao Barroso on 29 March praised the political situation in Mozambique and the way the country's government is consolidating democracy.
Addressing the Assembly of the Republic, Barroso recalled that when he visited the country in 1994, Mozambique was just introducing the multiparty system following the end of the war of destabilisation. He compared this with the situation in his own country, where democracy was introduced 30 years ago with the revolution that put an end to the fascist regime on 25 April 1974.
That revolution was largely the product of the independence struggles in Mozambique and the other former Portuguese colonies. "In Portugal, democracy was born with decolonisation, and this is why we pay tribute to the Mozambican heroes", said Barroso.
Barroso also said that Portugal is committed to helping Mozambique fight against poverty and disease. To this end, he and President Joaquim Chissano signed an agreement, whereby Portugal is to grant €42 million ($52 million) in support of the Mozambican government's Action Plan for the Reduction of Absolute Poverty (PARPA) over the next three years.
The prominent US NGO, the Carter Centre, founded by former president Jimmy Carter, has praised the Mozambican local elections of 19 November, but has expressed concerns about the state of the electoral registers, and the methods of vote tabulation.
In the final report from its election observer the Carter Centre praises the National Elections Commission (CNE), and its executive wing, the Electoral Administration Technical Secretariat (STAE) for the way they prepared the elections. It also stresses that the newly-established Constitutional Council, which validates election results and deals with electoral complaints, "confirmed its credibility in a very short time. This was clearly highlighted by the general acceptance of its decisions on appeals and the final results".
The Carter Centre is confident that the results (an overwhelming victory for the ruling Frelimo Party, which won 28 of the 33 municipalities) are correct. This is partly based on the Centre's involvement in a parallel count, carried out by the "Electoral Observatory".
The observatory is a coalition of Mozambican NGOs, including the Christian and Islamic councils. The parallel count took place in 10 municipalities - in seven of these every polling station was counted, and a sample of stations was used in the other three. The results from this unofficial count were in line with the official figures eventually released by the CNE.
But the report expresses serious concerns about the electoral registers. A major problem arose from the updating of the registers in June-July 2003. The list of new voters arising from this exercise was not integrated into the existing registers (which date from 1999). This led to uncertainty as to how many people were registered, and a multiplicity of registers at the polling stations. There were also a large number of mistakes made, both by the registration brigades, and by the staff who computerised the lists.
Unless dealt with swiftly, this problem will become even worse in the general elections to be held later this year. "The correction of the registers needs to be continued, completed and integrated", the Carter Centre urges.
It calls for reconciling the 1999 and 2003 lists, to eliminate dual registrations. The danger is that, if the problem continues with this year's updating, then the registers will be grossly inflated. The duplications could account for 10 per cent of the entire register, the Carter Centre warns. To ensure a correct and complete computerised register, the Carter Centre suggests that this year's registration brigades, in coordination with the political parties, could urge all voters to confirm that they are properly registered.
"The existing, dispersed data bases need to be integrated into a single data base", the report urged. "STAE has already acquired the necessary technology and the capacity for this transformation, and so should not delay it any further".
The Carter Centre also criticises the methods of vote tabulation. Total transparency only exists at the count at the polling stations themselves, which is fully open to accredited party monitors, national and foreign observers and journalists. But at the later stages, where the polling station results sheets are tabulated (the intermediate and final counts), the Carter Centre believes there is "a deficit in transparency".
The Carter Centre proposes that "all levels of the count (from the polling stations to the CNE), all steps in the process (the transport and handling of important documents), all relevant documents (results sheets, minutes, invalid votes, CNE decisions etc) and all software and hardware involved should be accessible to observation".
The report warns that elections in general, and the count in particular, "have gradually been transformed into matters that are controlled by the two main political parties in Mozambique" (the ruling Frelimo Party and the former rebel movement Renamo).
For the good of Mozambican democracy, this trend should be reversed, the Carter Centre urged. "Elections are of primary importance to all voters and politicians, and not just to some selected politicians, no matter how dominant and important they may be", the report says. "The CNE could make an important contribution to reversing the trend, through greater inclusion, by allowing all parties and independent observers total access to all aspects of the count".
A group of five high ranking Mozambican military officers from the Defence Force (FADM), left for the Comoros on 20 March as part of a peace mission charged with supervising elections.
Comoro has gone through a process of near disintegration, with the island of Anjouan demanding independence but, thanks to diplomatic efforts, particularly on the part of the African Union, the various islands came to an agreement allocating a great degree of autonomy to each them.
Mozambique took part in the negotiations leading up to this agreement through the Minister in the Presidency for Diplomatic and Parliamentary Affairs, Franciso Madeira.
After the military and political situation was normalised, the next step was to organise general elections and, again, Mozambique is taking part by sending this group.
Defence Minister Tobias Dai described this operation as "an important contribution to the pacification of the Comoros".
Mozambique has taken part in a number of peace missions - in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in East Timor, currently in Burundi, and now in the Comoros.
Dai said that despite financial constraints, Mozambican missions "have been able to fulfil their tasks with success" wherever they are sent.
Two pirate fishing boats, one Chinese and one Indonesian, have been caught plundering Mozambican marine resources in the bank of Sofala, according to a report on Mozambican Television (TVM). The ships were caught near the mouth of the Save river, and were escorted to the port of Beira, where they are currently under guard.
The two vessels were licensed to fish for tuna - but Mozambican inspectors found 70 tonnes of shark fins in their holds. Shark fins are regarded as a delicacy in the far east, where a kilo can sell for $118. Furthermore, the licence for the two vessels stipulated that they had to operate more than 12 miles from the coast. But they were found fishing very close to the shore.
Deputy Fisheries Minister Alfredo Massinga told reporters that this discovery confirms the warnings given by associations of Mozambican fishermen that foreign vessels were acting illegally in the country's waters, looting its resources.
He said the two vessels were seized thank to cooperation between the Mozambican and South African authorities in a programme of maritime inspection. A South African anti-piracy vessel, the "Eagle Star" was used in the operation to seize the boats and escort them to Beira. One of the pirates tried to escape, and force was used to bring it back, said Massinga.
Massinga said that Mozambican waters will soon be inspected by satellite, and patrols along the coast will continue.
Agriculture Minister Helder Muteia stressed in Maputo on 30 March the "decisive" role played by the use of new technologies in the production of fruit and vegetables and the access of Mozambican farmers to the international market as a valuable contribution to the development of a sustainable agriculture in the country.
Addressing the Forum on Investment in Fruit and Vegetables in Mozambique, Muteia said that the country has about three million farms (mostly very small), that are facing serious problems of sustainability, and that the government plan is to grant them more access to land, to new technologies and new markets.
He said it is essential to establish partnerships between the private sector and these peasant production units so that all may develop a good relationship and ensure the development of the agricultural sector, not only for subsistence, but also for the production of wealth in the country.
The Forum, meeting under the theme "Building a Globally Competitive Fruit and Vegetable Industry", is aimed at publicising the potential for fruit and vegetable production along the Beira Corridor, in central Mozambique.
Muteia said that Mozambique is showing strong signs of improvement in the production of fruit and vegetables, particularly in the central province of Manica, where Zimbabwean and South African farmers are already producing and exporting a variety of fruits, including mangoes, as well as cash crops such as sunflower and tobacco.
For his part, John Walter, of "Technoserve", a consultancy firm working in the agricultural area in Mozambique, said that the country "has great potential to develop fruit and vegetable production, comparable to that of such countries as Kenya, in Africa, or Chile in South America".
"We believe that this example will become a reality in our country, and that it will play an important role in the production of wealth and in job creation", he said.
The men accused of murdering a 39 year old woman in the northern province of Nampula, and of cutting out her genitals, are former guerrillas of Renamo, according to the Nampula provincial police commander Jose Weng San.
The victim, Marta Paita, was murdered in the district of Mecuburi on 22 March, and three suspects (not six as earlier reported) were arrested four days later. Weng San, cited in "Noticias" on 31 March, said they were all former guerrilla fighters, who now hold positions in the Renamo structure in Nampula.
He named them as the Renamo Mecuburi district political delegate, Jacinto Paulino, his advisor, Ramos Bento, and Antonio Maloa, of the Renamo provincial mobilisation department. Weng San said the police did not know why the murderers had cut out Paita's genitals.
Renamo has reacted angrily to the arrests, describing them as political harassment. The party's Nampula provincial delegate, Luis Trinta, called a press conference on 30 March, at which he said the police, under instructions from the ruling Frelimo Party, were trying to prevent Renamo members from undertaking political work at district level to mobilise support for Renamo and its allies in the Electoral Union coalition.
Apart from the Mecuburi case, Trinta alleged that an official in Mossuril district had banned Renamo activities intended to set up its new structures.
Weng San retorted that such accusations were designed to distract public attention away from the fact that the three Renamo members arrested in Mecuburi have confessed to the murder and mutilation of Paita.
He said the police were on the alert for all crimes - particularly for cases of murder, kidnapping and mutilation. He insisted that the police would continue arresting suspects, regardless of their political affiliation.
The case of the three Renamo members detained in Mecuburi is now in the hands of the Public Prosecutor's Office, he added.
The Mozambican government signed in Maputo on 24 March an agreement with the South African "Fugro Airborne Surveys" company to undertake aerial geological surveys in Zambezia, Tete, Niassa and Cabo Delgado provinces, in the centre and north of the country.
This work is part of a $33 million programme co-financed by the World Bank, the African Development Bank, the Nordic Development Fund, and by the Mozambican and the South African governments.
Mozambique's national geology director Elias Daudi explained that similar work has been done in Maputo, Gaza, Inhambane, and Manica provinces, covering an area of 141,897 square kilometres, to collect information on the country's geological potential.
The document was signed by the Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy, Castigo Langa, on behalf of the Mozambican government, and Keith Sisk, representing "Fugro Airborne Surveys", following negotiations that started last year, after the completion of the work in the southern provinces.
The new survey is set to be completed by March 2005, and the final results of the country's geological mapping should be published by late 2006. The work is done with planes equipped with appropriate registering devices that cover about 300 metres in depth survey, and about 1,000 metres in width survey.
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