Mozambique News Agency
Rural districts are responding to
the challenge to transform themselves into poles of development. This was the
message delivered to reporters by President Armando Guebuza on 4 October. Speaking
at a press conference in the town of Macia, at the end of a working visit to
the southern province of Gaza, he said that not only are the districts acquiring
greater capacity in terms of infrastructure and logistics, but the district
consultative councils have ensured greater popular participation and intervention
in planning and managing social and economic projects.
While in Gaza, President Guebuza visited the districts of Mabalane, Massingir, Guija, Chokwe and Bilene-Macia. This was the last stage in his annual tour of the country, checking on implementation of the governments five-year programme, and on the use of the Local Initiative Investment Fund. This is the seven billion meticais (about $290,000) transferred from the state budget to each of the 128 districts every year, for projects intended to increase food production and create jobs.
People in the districts tell us they want water, electricity, roads, President Guebuza said. Its the district speaking and thats a great and deep transformation.
He recognised that there are problems with the Local Initiative Investment Fund, but thought they are of less significance than the problems that the fund is solving.
The problem most often mentioned is that, although the money is not a grant but a loan, most of the beneficiaries are not yet repaying. This could ruin the chances of making this a revolving fund, in which money is recycled.
President Guebuza argued that the problem is more statistical than real, since the beneficiaries have signed contracts that establish the terms and deadlines for repayment. These in turn depend on the type of crop the beneficiaries are growing, and when it is harvested (most of the projects financed are agricultural).
Naturally, if we dont manage to solve this problem, we will have difficulties in recovering all our investment, he said. Its a challenge. We have to plan and record better, so that we can know whether we are facing a deficit, or just a situation in which the time has not yet come to repay the money.
The government recognises that people have difficulties in repaying, he added, and are unable to present guarantees for the reimbursement of the money. But what the government was fundamentally aiming at was to introduce the monetary economy into the countryside. Weve already begun to demand. Were putting pressure on people to pay up, he insisted.
Interior Minister Jose Pacheco on 3 October declared that the balance sheet for the fight against corruption in his ministry is positive, but he called for continued efforts to improve the image of the police force.
Speaking in the town of Namaacha, at the closing session of a meeting of his Ministrys Coordinating Council, Pacheco stated that since the last meeting in 2007, the level of crime has declined by 4.5 per cent, with 1,432 fewer crimes reported to the police in 2007 than in 2006.
But a bleak spot in Pachecos report was that carnage on Mozambiques roads has significantly increased. The number of recorded traffic accidents rose from 5,122 in 2006 to 5,411 in 2007, an increase of six per cent. The death toll on Mozambiques roads in 2007 was 1,502, while a further 3,473 people were seriously injured.
Government strategy towards agriculture is to eliminate the need to import rice and potatoes, and slash imports of wheat, declared Agriculture Minister Soares Nhaca on 8 October.
Addressing the countrys parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, in response to a request for information on food security from deputies of the ruling Frelimo Party, Nhaca said that, even before the sharp rise in world grain prices, the government had a clear vision on the need to put food production and job creation at the top of our priorities.
The current statistics on agricultural production, he said, showed that that the country only generates a surplus in two staples, maize and cassava. There is a surplus of around 75,000 tonnes of maize and 819,000 tonnes of cassava a year,
But there is an annual deficit of 316,000 tonnes of rice, 467,000 tonnes of wheat, 169,300 tonnes of potatoes, 24,000 tonnes of chicken and 54,000 tonnes of fisheries produce.
The Green Revolution the government speaks of is designed to eliminate these deficits, said Nhaca, and has been condensed into a Food Production Action Plan, covering the period 2008-2011.
A key target is to reduce rice imports to just 21,000 tonnes a year by the 2010/11 agricultural year which means that the country will import only three per cent of its rice consumption requirements, he said.
As for wheat, the target is to reduce imports by 30 per cent. This can be done by raising domestic wheat production from a planned 21,300 tonnes in the 2008.9 agricultural year to 97,000 tones in the 2011 harvest. Until recently wheat has only been grown in Tsangano district, in the western province of Tete. But for the first time wheat is also being harvested in Manica, Sussundenga and Barue districts in Manica province, in Chokwe in Gaza, and in Manhica in Maputo.
Because of its strategic importance, the government intends to expand wheat production in all districts or areas in the country which have the proven agro-ecological potential for wheat, said Nhaca. There were also encouraging results from tests in producing bread from a mixture of wheat and cassava flour rather than solely from wheat.
The minister added that the government hopes to greatly increase the countrys maize surplus. By 2011 there should be a surplus of 329,000 tonnes of maize available for export.
All this depends on ensuring that new varieties of seeds more productive, and adapted to local agro-climatic conditions are available for Mozambican farmers, said Nhaca, and on improved management of water available for irrigation.
The government would also stimulate the use of animal traction, to increase the areas under cultivation, and would strengthen the institutional capacity of the state to prevent and control the main pests and plant diseases so as to ensure that, alongside increased production, the necessary conditions are created for due protection against eventual economic losses.
The government would also ensure that surpluses could be moved from the areas of production and stored. Grains silos for a food reserve are being constructed this year in five fertile agricultural areas in northern and central Mozambique.
As for mechanization of agriculture, Nhaca said that 50 tractors, all equipped with ploughs and trailers have been acquired and are now being distributed. A further 110 tractors will arrive in the first half of 2009. An agreement has been reached under which the supplying companies will guarantee training of tractor drivers, and maintenance of the equipment.
Currently the state only employs 590 rural extensionists. Nhaca said that a further 185 are being recruited, and the number of peasant families assisted by the extensionists should rise from 285,000 to around 500,000. He expected that this will lead to a considerable increase in yields per hectare.
Nhaca pledged that the government will crack down on people who have acquired title to large areas of land but are not using it. A national course for land inspectors will be held in October, and the inspectors will then check whether the individuals or companies who acquired land are complying with the land use plans that they submitted. Those who are not may find their land titles cancelled.
In the ensuing debate, while Frelimo deputies praised the governments commitment to increased food production, members of the Renamo-Electoral Union opposition coalition poured scorn on the Green Revolution as just another slogan.
Renamo deputy Luis Boavida repeatedly called the executive a government of thieves, corrupt individuals and looters of the state. He claimed that Mozambiques food problems had nothing to do with any international crisis, but was caused by alleged theft and corruption. Boavida pointed to surplus crops in parts of his home province of Zambezia while people are dying of hunger in Gaza.
Renamo deputy Ismael Mussa queried whether there is enough water available for a green revolution, particularly in the southern provinces.
Despite the various scandals associated with National Social Security Institute (INSS), it is growing and is in good financial health, Labour Minister Helena Taipo told the Assembly of the Republic on 8 October.
She was responding to a request from the parliamentary group of the Renamo-Electoral Union opposition coalition for information on the management of the INSS.
Taipo said that the number of companies and institutions registered with the INSS had grown from 16,000 in 2004 to 24,000 in 2008. There were now 713,000 workers who could potentially receive benefits from the INSS a 31 per cent increase on the 2004 figure.
Taipo thought there was a growing commitment by employers to ensure that their workers were covered by social security. But there had also been increased activity by courts and prosecutors to take action against employers who failed to channel workers social security contributions to the INSS.
Over the past four years, INSS total revenue was 4.4 billion meticais (about $183 million). Revenue had been growing at an average rate of 23 per cent a year, from 634 million meticais in 2004 to a projected figure of 1.8 billion meticais this year. 85 per cent of the income was the contributions from employers and workers, with the rest coming from investments, interest on deposit accounts, and rents on buildings owned by the INSS.
Total INSS expenditure over the four-year period, Taipo said, was 3.4 billion meticais, which meant there was a positive and encouraging financial balance. 25,000 people were now receiving pensions from the INSS, she said. The minimum pension had risen by an average of 14 per cent a year between 2005 and 2007, but rose by 30 per cent this year, thanks to a significant rise in the minimum wage. Nonetheless, the minimum pension is still only 1,284 meticais (about $53) a month.
Taipo said that, as part of the public sector reform, as from 2005 INSS procedures had been simplified, and measures taken to improve attendance to beneficiaries. One of the most significant was an immediate payment of funeral expenses, replacing a previous wait of 30 days.
She did not go into detail about the corruption uncovered earlier this year, and merely added that a thorough audit of the INSS by the General Inspectorate of Finance is now under way. She insisted that the government is committed to a strong and sustainable social security system that can meet its obligations over the medium and long term.
In the debate that followed Renamo wanted to discuss the INSS corruption scandals. When Renamo deputy Antonio Muchanga listed the corrupt practices in the INSS, members of the ruling Frelimo Party accused him of spreading gossip, unfounded speculation, and disinformation.
But much of what Muchanga said came straight from a report by a Labour Ministry Commission of Inquiry made public at a press conference in June. It was not any Renamo member, but the Ministrys director of planning and statistics, Paulino Muthombene, who accused the former management of the INSS of smart corruption.
Among the crimes uncovered by the commission were over-invoicing, double payments, the charging of illicit commissions, and manipulation of tenders. Muchanga was merely echoing Muthombene when he said that INSS managers had preferred directed tenders rather than public ones, sometimes faked tenders, or simply awarded contracts without any tender at all.
The claim that the INSS paid twice for the same work on its delegation in Tete province is not a Renamo fabrication. Illustrating the forms of corruption the commission had discovered, Muthombene said in June that there had been two payments to the same company, Dora Consultores. The first payment was made in May 2004, to the value of 281.300 meticais ($11,700), and the second was on 26 September 2006 for 601,800 meticais ($22,900).
The first and the second payments are for the same invoice, with the same number, date and content, and the only difference is the amount. All leads one to think that this was intentional, and it is a real fraud, said Muthombene.
But the INSS also paid a second company, Arcus Consultores, over 387,000 meticais for the same work, also in September 2006. Why two payments in the space of thirteen days? asked Muthombene. How many INSS delegations are there in Tete?
Similar fraudulent situations were found in payments for building INSS delegations in Gaza, Zambezia, and Nampula, and in the building of low cost housing schemes in Maputo, Beira and Nampula. In the latter case, the work had been budgeted at $45,000 each, but each scheme ended up costing $100,000.
Renamo deputy Ismael Mussa asked Taipo to present a list of INSS investments, and inform deputies which ones paid dividends. He also claimed that companies occupying buildings owned by the INSS were paying very low rents, which is some cases would not even cover maintenance costs.
The Education Ministry has admitted that there are serious problems of quality in the education provided by Mozambican schools, particularly in the initial years of primary education.
Quiteria Mabote, an adviser to Education Minister Aires Aly, told AIM that visits made by Ministry inspectors to the schools show that the same problems, particularly in teaching children to read and write, are found all over the country.
Mabote, who heads a Ministry team monitoring the quality of education, said the key problem was the performance of the teachers. She said there are teachers who do not plan their lessons, and others who do not use the methodologies they should have learnt during their training.
She also argued that poor quality results from a misinterpretation of the relaxation in the exam regime. Under changes introduced in 2004, children are no longer examined at the end of each year. It is thus impossible to fail first grade advancing to second grade is automatic.
Mabote said there are now teachers who think it is not necessary to teach and watch the progress of each pupil because at the end of the year they are all going to pass the grade.
Other teachers, she continued, do not use their time rationally, and fail to make the most of the time that they should be in front of the pupils in the classroom.
The current pupil/teacher ratio is 71 to one. However, Mabote claimed there are appropriate techniques for teaching large classes. You can work with the class not as a homogenous group, but by splitting it into small groups. You can deal with one or two subjects a day, she said. But the teachers must be seen to make a greater effort, to control and help the least flexible pupils.
The problem of large classes is most visible in the countryside, but the question of poor quality is also found in the cities, she said. But there are also large classes which do not face this problem of quality.
Maria da Vera Cruz, national coordinator of the womens committee of the National Teachers Union (ONP), said blame for the poor quality of education should be shared by all those involved parents, teachers, the government and even foreign donors.
She criticized parents for failing to take a proper interest in their childrens education. If a child reaches seventh grade without being able to read or write, where were the parents? she asked. The time a child spends at school is short, and when the children go home they do other tasks. If children dont have the support of their parents to consolidate at home what theyve been learning at school, they become nothing more than carriers of books.
Vera Cruz also argued that donor dictates in macro-economic policy have unwelcome repercussions on Mozambican education. This was because the emphasis was now on hiring teachers with only a minimum of training (and who cost less than those with degrees).
Were looking for quality, but wed rather hire teachers from the 10 plus one system (ten years of basic education plus one year of teacher training) instead of people with bachelors degrees, she said. Furthermore, the better trained teachers were dropping out Vera Cruz claimed that the majority of teachers with degrees did not renew their contracts in 2008.
The United States on 24 September donated an Automatic Information System (AIS), valued at $500,000 to the Mozambican navy. The system is intended to help the navy control Mozambican waters and identify the vessels sailing in them. This should help in identifying foreign ships that are plundering Mozambiques marine resources.
The system will function from five strategic points, and it will allow an exchange of information in real time with other countries.
At the handover ceremony, the charge daffaires at the US Embassy, Todd Chapman, promised further support to the Mozambican Armed Forces (FADM) to strengthen their capacity to monitor the countrys territorial waters. He said that the US Defence Department would shortly deliver a further half million dollars worth of computerized communications equipment for the FADMs command and control purposes.
Deputy Defence Minister Agostinho Mondlane said it was the Mozambican governments intention to build the capacity of the FADM, improving its communications equipment, which was indispensable for vigilance and monitoring of the countrys waters.
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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