Mozambique News Agency
Despite heavy rain, thousands of workers marched through the streets of Maputo on 1 May, on the traditional parade marking International Workers Day. This year the main theme chosen by the trade unions was that workers' rights must not be removed in the current revision of Mozambican labour legislation. The employers' associations have made no secret of their desire to use the revision to make it easier and cheaper to sack workers. But a reduction in the generous redundancy pay terms enshrined in the Labour Law is unacceptable to the unions.
"We demand that labour and union rights be included in the new labour law", read some of the banners on the march. Some marchers took the position that the labour law should not be changed at all. "We want to keep the current labour law. Stop deceiving the people!", their banner read.
Other banners carried during the march bore such slogans as "We demand fair wages compatible with the cost of living", and "Equal pay for equal work between Mozambicans and foreigners".
Complaints specific to particular companies were also raised. Thus workers from the engineering company Agro-Alfa complained that people who had been working there for 20 years were still on the minimum wage. Marchers from the state-owned Road and Bridge Construction Company, ECMEP, complained that they have not received their wages for the past seven months, and waved placards declaring "down with corruption in the provincial public works directorates".
But some contingents of marchers did little more than advertise the products they produced. No doubt this had much to do with the fact that their employers provided transport to the march, as well as T-shirts and caps emblazoned with the company logo. The local Coca-Cola bottling plant, even took advantage of the inclement weather to issue its workers on the march with umbrellas bearing the Coca-Cola brand name. Workers at a soap factory bore a large banner advising the public that "OMO removes the stains", while a huge truck in the middle of marching food and drink workers, advertised the virtues of the local beer.
The country's largest trade union federation, the OTM, had predicted that 20,000 workers would attend, and the march took over two hours to pass the reviewing stand.
Unlike previous years, neither the president nor the prime minister attended the parade. The most senior government figure present was Labour Minister Helena Taipo.
Call for preservation of rights
Speaking at the end of the march, declared Amos Matsinhe, president of the OTM, urged that "the trade union and labour rights that we already enjoy must be preserved".
Matsinhe insisted that the feelings expressed by workers so far in the public discussion of a draft new labour law showed that they are in favour of maintaining existing rights. "We want a law that promotes decent and secure jobs, and with rights that respect the conventions of the International Labour Organisation, of which our country is a member. We want a law that discourages unjust sackings, and values the human potential our country has for developing and improving the quality of life of Mozambicans".
"We want a labour law that punishes discrimination and violation of workers' fundamental rights, that promotes labour justice, and encourages collective bargaining and the solution of disputes through dialogue", added Matsinhe.
Discussions of changes to the legislation, he warned, should not start off from the belief "that the current law is excessively protectionist towards the workers".
Turning to last month's negotiations on the statutory minimum wage, Matsinhe said that the agreement between unions and employers on a 13 per cent rise for the minimum wage in industry and services, meant this would rise to 1,443,167 meticais (about $57) a month. This, he admitted, was far from satisfactory, since it met less than 50 per cent of the basic needs of a worker and his or her family. It was, however, "the agreement that was possible in the current economic context".
The trade unions would now, Matsinhe pledged, use collective bargaining mechanisms in the workplaces in order to persuade employers to pay wages considerably higher than the statutory minimum.
Fears over agricultural workers' wages
The unions and employers had reached no agreement on agricultural wages. Whereas the unions had wanted the 13 per cent to cover all workers, the employers wanted to widen the gap between industrial and agricultural workers still further, by increasing the agricultural minimum wage by only 10 per cent (inflation in 2005 was 14 per cent).
The final decision is in the hands of the government, and Matsinhe said the unions are confident that the government will take a decision "that encourages agricultural workers to increase production and productivity, and step up their commitment to the fight against poverty".
Nobody from the government addressed the crowd - which was only a fraction of those on the march since the unseasonably cold and rainy weather ensured that most did not remain in the square to listen to speeches.
The majority Frelimo Party on 27 April began steps to close down the parliamentary ad-hoc commission on revising Mozambique's electoral legislation on the grounds that it has produced nothing since it was set up in March 2005.
Reporting to the plenary of the country's parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, the chairperson of the ad-hoc commission, Alfredo Gamito, pointed out that since being set up it has discussed precisely one issue - the composition of the future National Elections Commission (CNE).
The existing CNE consists of 19 members. 18 of these were chosen by the parties represented in parliament, in proportion to the number of seats they hold - which meant that Frelimo appointed 10 members and the opposition Renamo-Electoral Union coalition appointed eight. The 19th member was chosen by the other 18 from a list of names submitted by civil society organisations.
This CNE was heavily criticised, both by Mozambique's own Constitutional Council (the body which validates election results), and by the main election observer groups. The CNE was regarded as too large, unprofessional and far too dominated by political parties.
Thus since early 2005, Frelimo has been submitting proposals to the ad-hoc commission, but have been blocked at every turn by Renamo, which want to move in the opposite direction. Renamo want a larger CNE with more party representation, with Renamo having equal representation to Frelimo.
These fruitless negotiations had taken the better part of a year. On 14 February, the ad-hoc commission suspended its work and asked the Assembly chairperson, Eduardo Mulembue, to call on the good offices of the leaderships of the two parliamentary groups to break the deadlock.
The parliamentary leaderships met seven times without reaching consensus. By 13 April (the date the leaderships had given themselves for completing their work), Frelimo had simplified its proposal, suggesting a 15 member CNE - eight from the parliamentary parties (on a proportional basis that would be five from Frelimo and three from Renamo), and seven from civil society. This was rejected by Renamo.
At this point Frelimo made its most radical proposal. It suggested eliminating political party representation from the CNE altogether. All 15 members should come from civil society. Renamo rejected this at once.
Gamito reported that the Frelimo majority on the ad-hoc commission now believed that all possibilities of reaching consensus had been exhausted. The Renamo minority. however, wanted its work to continue, pointing out that it could deal with other aspects of the electoral legislation, such as voter registration.
But the Frelimo benches reacted to Gamito's report by calling for the ad-hoc commission to be wound up. It had failed, and so the electoral legislation should now follow the normal procedures for bills - that is, the parties should submit their amendments to the existing laws, which would be considered by the relevant working commissions of the Assembly, which would draw up written opinions on them. They would then go before the plenary.
Summing up, Gamito said he had found it "painful to work on the commission with colleagues who clearly have no autonomy and are taking orders from outside". He said he felt bad about earning money from a commission "without producing anything". The Renamo position made it clear that "there is no ray of hope that the commission can work".
Gamito will now draft a formal motion winding up the commission for the Assembly to vote on.
The Assembly of the Republic on 26 April unanimously ratified the anti-corruption conventions of the African Union and of the United Nations.
Introducing the ratification motion, Foreign Minister Alcinda Abreu declared "the international community, aware of the scope of corruption, and its connection with other criminal phenomena, such as money laundering, has decided to coordinate its activities in order to prevent and fight this evil".
The purpose of the AU convention, she said, was to strengthen "mechanisms to hinder, detect, punish and eradicate corruption and similar offences in the public and private sectors", and to promote cooperation between African states in this battle.
Governments who sign up to the convention are expected to establish national bodies to fight corruption. In Mozambique's case this body already exists in the shape of the Central Anti-Corruption Office, that operates under the Attorney-General.
Likewise Mozambican legislation already complies with those parts of the convention that demand signatories adopt proper auditing procedures, and protect whistle-blowers.
The AU convention also demands legislation against money-laundering, that would hinder the recycling of money from corrupt practices into apparently innocent activities. An anti-money laundering law was passed by the Assembly some years ago, but so far nobody has been prosecuted under it.
Signatories to the convention are also obliged to ban the use of funds deriving from illegal and corrupt acts to finance political parties. Under Mozambican law all political parties are supposed to publish regularly their accounts - but to date not a single party has ever done so.
Governments must also prevent the use of banking secrecy rules to protect acts of corruption, and are expected to enter into bilateral agreements to cooperate in banking investigations of criminal activities.
The UN Convention against Corruption covers much the same ground, including the protection of whistle-blowers, and international cooperation to recover the proceeds of corruption.
The Assembly of the Republic on 25 April debated the General State Accounts for 2004, with deputies from the majority Frelimo Party praising the accounts for their great detail and improvements on previous years, while the opposition Renamo-Electoral Union coalition dismissed them as incomplete, inaccurate, unreliable, and covering up fraud.
The General State Accounts are drawn up after complete execution of the budget of the year to which they refer. They are then audited by the Administrative Tribunal, the body that oversees the legality of state expenditure. A lengthy process of questioning between the Tribunal, the Finance Ministry and the Assembly's own Plan and Budget Commission (CPO) then follows before the Accounts reach the floor of the Assembly.
There have now been seven sets of General State Accounts, and each of the parliamentary debates has followed the same pattern. Renamo claims that the criticisms of the Accounts made by the Administrative Tribunal show that the Accounts cannot be trusted, while Frelimo regards the comments from the Tribunal as indicators for how to do better in the future.
This time the Tribunal's report on the Accounts stressed that the government had given more information than ever, and that the data was more consistent than in previous years. Furthermore, when the Tribunal had asked for more precise and complete information, the government had given it.
More information was available than in the past on projects funded by foreign aid - though this was still by no means complete.
On the other hand, the Tribunal believed that some of the revenue collected and expenditure made had not been properly stated beforehand in the 2004 budget. Some of the items of expenditure had exceeded their budgetary ceilings, while capital expenditure, particularly in education, health and agriculture, had fallen well short of the targets.
Renamo used these criticisms to argue that the Assembly should throw out the Accounts, on the grounds that "they are not reliable, complete, exact and simple, and do not obey the generally accepted rules and principles of accountancy".
Renamo deputy Mateus Damiao attacked the failure to meet revenue targets. He noted that the government only collected 89.7 per cent of its 2004 revenue target, and blamed this on privileges granted "to members of Frelimo who are exempt from taxes".
However, the figures show a shortfall in almost all taxes for that year. Personal income tax only reached 91.5 per cent of the target, corporation tax 83.4 per cent, and indirect taxes 86.6 per cent.
Antonio Timba claimed that the government was riddled with corruption "from top to bottom". Without citing any examples, he too claimed that "companies owned by Frelimo members don't pay any taxes".
He listed a string of companies that had benefited from Treasury loans, and claimed they had "not repaid a cent". But the Administrative Tribunal report shows that several of the companies he named have made repayments. Indeed one of them, Mecula (in which former defence minister Alberto Chipande is a shareholder), has made repayments every year since 2000.
Frelimo deputy Saibo Alberto demanded that Renamo present some proof for its claims that the Accounts were unreliable. He noted that at no point in its lengthy report did the Administrative Tribunal state that money had gone missing.
For Renamo, Maximo Dias argued that the documents presented did not deserve the title of General State Accounts, because they needed further supporting data. "The government should supply the Assembly with all the financial operations, and all the resources put at its disposal, so that the representatives of the people can accept or reject the accounts", he said.
Abel Mabunda cited a criticism from the Administrative Tribunal on the state of the government's inventory of its assets, which had not yet taken into account repairs to buildings or depreciation.
Frelimo deputy Feliciano Mata pointed out that the demand to reject the Accounts had no basis in the Administrative Tribunal's report. The Tribunal did not throw out the accounts. And in their plethora of detail, the accounts, Mata said, showed that the government had been doing its job - "it collected revenue, paid its workforce, and made investments".
"Renamo's position is only comprehensible coming from an organisation that has no culture of responsibility of its own", he accused.
Alfredo Gamito accused Renamo of "distorting" the Administrative Tribunal report, pointing out that some of what Renamo described as violations of the law were in fact disagreements between the government and the Tribunal over interpretations of financial law.
As for claims that Frelimo-owned companies were not paying taxes, Gamito noted that it was Renamo in the past that publicly urged citizens not to pay taxes.
Finance Minister replies to criticism
One anomaly of this debate is that, although Finance Minister Manuel Chang was present, he had no right to speak. Renamo could thus traduce and misrepresent government policy in the full knowledge that the person best able to refute its claims was effectively gagged.
Chang redressed the balance somewhat in discussions with the media. He told reporters he was astonished by some Renamo deputies' attacks on the tax exemptions granted to companies operating in the Zambezi Valley. Such exemptions were granted to attract investors, in the hope of converting areas such as the Zambezi Valley into poles of development.
As for the failure to reach the 2004 revenue target, Chang admitted that 2004 had been "a very difficult year for tax collection" - but there had subsequently been a significant recovery.
Some deputies seemed to believe that if a target was missed, there must be a "balance" hidden away somewhere. But the government couldn't spend what it did not have. "If we don't meet 100 per cent of the revenue target, than we won't be able to spent 100 per cent of the expenditure target", said Chang. "There's no hidden balance".
As for the treasury loans, Chang pointed out that this was a way in which foreign aid (mostly from Japan) had been channelled to companies. It was a complicated form of aid which, after repeated criticism, has dropped into abeyance. No such loans have been granted since 2002. Each loan has its own terms of repayment, Chang said, and the government was intent on chasing up the debtors.
Mozambique's Association of Veterans of the National Liberation Struggle (ACLLN) ended its third national conference on 30 April, with the election of a new leadership.
The ACLLN's new General Secretary is Roque Vicente, who takes over from Guidion Ndobe. The new head of the Associations supervisory board is Domingos Fondo, who was once military commander in Inhambane province.
As expected, former President Joaquim Chissano leaves the post of President of the ACLLN, which is now occupied by the current president, both of the country and of the ruling Frelimo Party, Armando Guebuza.
For the first time Frelimo plans to hold a Congress in the centre of the country. At the end of an extraordinary session of the party's Central Committee on 26 April, the decision was announced to hold the Ninth Frelimo Congress in the central city of Quelimane, capital of Zambezia province, between 10 and 14 November.
Frelimo's first congress, in 1962, was held in Dar es Salaam. The second, in 1968, during the war for independence, was held at Matchedje, in Frelimo's liberated areas in the northern province of Niassa. The six congresses held since independence have all taken place either in Maputo, or in the adjoining city of Matola, where Frelimo has its party school.
Holding the Ninth Congress in Zambezia is a deliberate move into an area that is often regarded as a stronghold of Renamo. Zambezia was one of only three provinces where Frelimo lost the 2004 presidential election to Renamo.
The Congress will be a logistical challenge, since Quelimane does not have enough hotel rooms for the thousands of congress delegates, guests and support staff. Nothing on this scale has been held in Quelimane before.
The top priority of the Southern African Power Pool (SAPP), the grouping of electricity companies of the SADC (Southern African Development Community) region, "is to find a timely solution to the problem of the energy deficit in our region", declared Mozambican Energy Minister Salvador Namburete at the opening on 26 April of a meeting of the SAPP Executive Committee in Maputo.
Demand for electricity in the SADC region is growing by about three per cent a year, said Namburete. This reflected increased economy activity, rural electrification, and the appearance of electricity-intensive mega-industries, such as the MOZAL aluminium smelter on the outskirts of Maputo.
The looming shortage of electricity was worrying, said Namburete, "but we can take comfort from knowing that SAPP is leading the regional effort to reverse the situation". These efforts had led to a conference of investors in the SADC electricity sector, held in Namibia in September 2005, to select medium and long term electricity generation and transmission projects.
Mozambique would have a key role to play, largely because of the huge potential of the Zambezi Valley, which Namburete put at about 12,000 megawatts.
The top project, as far as Mozambique is concerned, is the construction of a new dam on the Zambezi at Mepanda Ncua, about 70 kilometres downstream from the existing dam at Cahora Bassa. The first phase of Mepanda Ncua could generate 1,300 megawatts, said Namburete, and phase two would raise this to 2,400 megawatts.
In addition, a north bank power station at Cahora Bassa could generate 850 megawatts (in addition to the existing south bank station which has a maximum capacity of 2,075 megawatts).
The massive coal resources of the Zambezi Valley could be used for a thermal power station at Moatize, generating 1,500 megawatts. Smaller hydroelectric projects at Lupata and Boroma could generate 654 and 160 megawatts respectively.
Namburete said there had been "noteworthy progress" in sales of power between SAPP member companies and subscribers to STEM (Short Term Energy Market) through the Coordinating Centre in Harare, "with direct benefits for our economies and citizens".
The Minister wanted to see regional integration in electricity go much further, through further interconnections between the various national grids. This, he said, "will certainly lead to optimal use of energy resources to the benefit of the public." The sustainable use of electricity, he added, was "a fundamental factor for the growth and development of the economies of the region".
The Mozambican government on 20 April signed a memorandum of understanding with the Export-Import Bank of China (China Eximbank) for financing the Mepanda Nkua dam and hydro-electric station on the Zambezi, in the province of Tete. The cost of the dam, the power station, and the transmission line from Tete to Maputo is put at $2.3 billion.
Signing the memorandum were the Minister of Energy, Salvador Namburete, and the chairman of the China Eximbank, Liu Ruogu. Namburete said "the memorandum opens the way for technical teams to work on the details to ensure the necessary conditions for the sums to become available. The take-off of the project depends on when we can close the financing with this bank".
Mepanda Nkua is located about 70 kilometres south of the existing dam at Cahora Bassa. A power station here is expected to generate 1,200 megawatts. Namburete said it would probably take six years from the start of implementation, until the first turbine at Mepanda Nkua is producing power.
The memorandum also envisaged Chinese funding for the construction of the Moamba-Major dam in Maputo province, that will supply Maputo with drinking water. The cost of this dam is estimated at $300 million.
President Armando Guebuza on 17 April encouraged the residents of the northern province of Niassa to take advantage of the potential of the new infrastructures now being built and use them in the fight against poverty. President Guebuza was addressing a gathering during the official inauguration of an electricity substation on the outskirts of the provincial capital, Lichinga.
The President likened poverty to a snake that enters our home, saying that, even though the snake is dangerous, no-one abandons his house. "We cannot run away from our house because of a snake, but we should find ways to fight against it and get rid of it", said President Guebuza, shortly before he addressed a rally in Lichinga.
The Lichinga substation, which draws its power from the Cahora Bassa dam on the Zambezi, is part of the Gurue-Cuamba-Lichinga electrification project, funded by Norway and Sweden to the tune of $43.8 million. The work consisted of installing 335 kilometres of power transmission line, from Gurue, in Zambezia province, to Lichinga, passing through Cuamba, Niassa's economic capital.
The Cuamba and Lichinga substations will have a major social and economic impact as the towns have been using electricity from small hydroelectric power stations which cannot meet the needs of the growing number of consumers.
The project to link all provincial capitals to the Cahora Bassa electric grid is now completed, and the publicly owned electricity company, EDM, will now tackle the issue of electrifying rural areas and improving the quality of service.
Briefing President Guebuza during an extraordinary session of the provincial government, Niassa governor Arnaldo Bimbe said that while the new electricity substations raise hopes for improvements in the Niassa economy, the same cannot be said for the province's roads.
Niassa has about 6,000 kilometres of roads, of which only 434 kilometres are tarred. Because of the poor state of the roads, most of them can only be used during the dry season. Bimbe added that although trains resumed using the branch line from Cuamba to Lichinga in 2005, they are very irregular, because of the poor state of the line. These transport difficulties contribute to the high cost of living in Niassa.
The governor also told President Guebuza that traditional authorities and local communities have been denouncing acts of corruption, resulting in 28 civil servants being dismissed from their posts.
He added that the provincial government has been following up the recommendations left by President Guebuza, during his last visit to the province in 2005. Thus the government has been encouraging income generation and self-employment initiatives. Peasant communities have been involved in building schools and health posts, with resort to local materials, and in improving the access roads in the province. Since President Guebuza's last visit, two new secondary schools have been set up in Niassa, in the districts of Mavago and Metarica, thus satisfying a frequent demand from the local people.
This is a condensed version of the AIM daily news service - for details contact firstname.lastname@example.org
email: Mozambique News Agency
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