Mozambique News Agency
President Armando Guebuza on 1 August inaugurated the new bridge over the Zambezi River, bearing his name, which links Sofala and Zambezia provinces in the centre of the country. The “Armando Emilio Guebuza Bridge” is part of the main north-south highway and replaces an inefficient ferry service across the river. The only other road bridge over the Zambezi is hundreds of kilometres to the northwest, at Tete city.
The bridge is 2,376 metres long with two lanes for vehicles, two hard shoulders to be used in the event of breakdowns, and two walkways for pedestrians. It is the second longest bridge in the country, beaten only by the bridge linking Mozambique Island to the mainland in Nampula province.
Construction by a consortium of two Portuguese companies, Mota Engil and Soares da Costa, began in March 2006. The bridge cost EUR81 million ($113 million), provided by the European Commission (EUR30 million), Italy (EUR20 million), Sweden (EUR18.3 million) and the Mozambican government (EUR13 million). Japan provided EUR9 million for activities including studies and resettlement.
Since Mozambican independence in 1975, successive governments have dreamed of a bridge over the Zambezi at this spot. In 1979/80 work began on the access roads – but the war waged by the South African apartheid regime against Mozambique made it impossible to continue the work.
After the end of the war of destabilization, the government set about seeking finance for the bridge. This was no easy task – repeatedly the government was told that there was not enough traffic to justify a new bridge, and that the ferry was perfectly adequate.
This was certainly not the opinion of motorists who had to spend hours and sometimes days before crossing the river. Throughout the 1990s there was just one boat making the 15-minute crossing of the river, although this decade a second was added. Nonetheless, lengthy queues of trucks built up, and any perishable goods they carried were in danger of rotting.
Now the ferry has passed into history. President Guebuza was one of the last people to use it. He crossed the river by ferry from Chimuara on the north bank to Caia on the Sofala side, where the inauguration ceremony began. On both banks President Guebuza took part in traditional ceremonies evoking the ancestral spirits of the region.
President Guebuza then cut the ribbon at the start of the bridge, and became the first citizen to drive over it – and to pay the toll fee. President Guebuza drove the vehicle personally, with the First Lady, Maria da Luz Guebuza, seated beside him.
The toll is the same as motorists had to pay for using the ferry – 800 meticais (about $30 dollars) for trucks and 80 meticais for light vehicles. The bridge, managed by the National Road Administration (ANE), has a speed limit of 60 kilometres per hour.
The two ferry boats will now be moved to other parts of the country where ferries are used to cross rivers.
Speaking later at a rally in Chimuara, President Guebuza said that “the Zambezi was an obstacle. It was easier for someone in Chimuara to visit a relative in Quelimane city, about 200 kilometres away, than to go to Caia on the opposite bank of the river”.
“This bridge is one of the many solutions for regional integration”, stressed President Guebuza. “Our brothers in the region will also benefit from the bridge”.
A message from the local population read out at the Chimuara rally declared, “the Portuguese settlers were unable to build this bridge, but thanks to President Guebuza and Frelimo, the bridge is here”.
The bridge bears Guebuza’s name. The decision, according to Public Works Minister Felicio Zacarias, was not imposed by the President himself, but was taken by the government at a meeting where President Guebuza was not even present.
Objections to the name have been raised in some of the media, and by some opposition politicians. Thus Afonso Dhlakama, leader of Renamo, fumed that naming infrastructures after people was “a communist practice”. He told the independent television station, STV, that he had no idea whether he had been invited to the ceremonies, but it made no difference, since he had no intention of going.
Finance Minister Manuel Chang announced on 29 July that the government believes it will beat its own target of achieving average annual economic growth of above seven per cent for the five years of its term of office (2005-2009), despite the impact of the current international financial crisis.
Addressing a meeting of his Ministry’s Coordinating Council, held in the southern town of Namaacha, Chang based this optimism on the fact that the average growth rate between 2005 and 2208 was 7.8 per cent, and growth in the first quarter of 2009, compared with the same period in 2008, was five per cent.
“Since economic growth is fundamental for reducing absolute poverty, which is the central objective of the government’s five year programme, it is with enormous satisfaction that we note an average economic growth rate of 7.8 per cent in the 2005-2008 period”, he said. “Data for the first quarter of this year indicate growth of five per cent, despite the global financial crisis. This indicates to us that we will end the five year period with an average annual growth rate above the seven per cent target”.
Chang said the government had also been successful in holding inflation to below 10 per cent a year. Annual inflation calculated in June was just 2.7 per cent, and average annual inflation over the past year was 6.8 per cent. These were “the lowest rates recorded in our recent history”, he added.
As for foreign trade, Chang said Mozambican exports had grown at an average rate of 14.8 per cent a year. Imports had also grown, but at the somewhat slower pace of 14 per cent a year. Chang found this scenario encouraging, since it showed a gradual improvement in the balance of trade, which would be reflected in a reduction in the deficit on the balance of payments.
Chang expected the economic performance to lead to a drop in the percentage of people living in absolute poverty to 45 per cent of the population, compared with 54 per cent in 2003.
Tax collection had also gradually improved: expressed as a percentage of GDP, tax revenue had been growing at an average rate of over 0.6 per cent a year.
Total public expenditure had risen from 33.7 to 70.5 billion meticais between 2004 and 2008 (at current exchange rates, there are about 26.7 meticais to the US dollar). This is a rise from 26.2 to 30 per cent of GDP.
Chang added that almost 65 per cent of budgetary resources had been allocated to the priority sectors for the government’s Action Plan for the Reduction of Absolute Poverty – notably education, health, infrastructures, agriculture and rural development, and good governance.
Mozambique’s foreign debt stock had fallen from $4.7 billion in 2005 to $3.6 billion in 2008, a figure that Chang regarded as sustainable. The ratio of debt servicing to total exports fell from 3.7 to two per cent over the same period.
However, while foreign debt has fallen, the government has relied increasingly on domestic debt. Chang said the total internal debt had risen from 5.7 billion meticais in 2005 to 7.4 billion meticais in 2008. The money had been used “to strengthen the stability of the national financial system”. Despite the increase, Chang stressed that the domestic debt too was sustainable.
President Armando Guebuza said on 3 August that corruption in the state or in the private sector “is like drinking or sucking your brother’s blood”. Addressing a rally in Manica town, in the central province of the same name, he added that corrupt people spend their time envying whatever little is owned by those who sweat, day and night, to earn their living.
To applause from the large crowd, President Guebuza stressed that “corruption is the same as placing logs on the public highway, and a blocked road does not allow anyone to pass”.
He asked his audience to be vigilant in the long fight against poverty, and warned that, from all he has heard from people in his visits to the provinces, there are still state officials who repeatedly tell citizens ”come back tomorrow”, as they try to extract bribes from them for undertaking the normal services for which they receive their salaries. “We must get rid of these obstacles”, declared the President.
President Guebuza also insisted that companies that fail to pay wages to their workers must give a plausible explanation rather than remain silent. He was reacting to complaints from workers of one Manica mining company, Agrupamento Mineiro de Manica that they have not been paid for the last 10 months.
Health Minister Ivo Garrido has declared that the decision to close the “Day Hospitals” that catered exclusively for HIV-positive patients is irreversible. “The Day Hospitals have no place in the Mozambican health order”, said Garrido on a Radio Mozambique talk show on 4 August.
Twenty three Day Hospitals used to function under the aegis of the Ministry of Health. The decision to close them was taken in March 2008, because the Ministry had come to regard them as “foci of discrimination against sick people”. With the closure of the Day Hospitals, HIV/AIDS patients were to be transferred to the normal units of the National Health Service.
On 3 August hundreds of activists and HIV-positive Mozambicans marched through the streets of Maputo, in protest at the closure.
In his radio appearance, Garrido argued that reopening the Day Hospitals “would be creating a second health service in the country”. He though it was impossible to justify one type of hospital for the 150,000 or so people now being treated for HIV infection, and different hospitals for people suffering from every other disease.
The Day Hospitals were set up at a time when few HIV-positive people were receiving anti-retroviral treatment, and most of this care was guaranteed by international NGOs. Thus in 2006, about 6,000 people were receiving treatment at the 21 Day Hospitals that existed then.
But now, said Garrido, the number has risen to around 150,000 people receiving anti-retroviral therapy in 225 health units scattered across the country.
The Zambezi Valley Planning Office (GPZ) is to invest $50 million in building three grain processing plants in the central provinces of Zambezia, Manica and Tete.
GPZ general director Sergio Vieira told reporters that work on one of the factories will begin this year in the Tete district of Angonia, and will have the capacity to process about 25,000 tonnes of maize a year.
Angonia, and the neighbouring district of Tsangano, are the main producers of maize and wheat in the province. But due to lack of processing facilities, and the small size of the immediate market, peasants sell much of this maize over the border in Malawi.
Meanwhile, six silos, which can hold 50,000 tonnes of grain, have been built in Tete city as part of the government’s efforts to minimise the effects of the world food crisis. A further silo will be built in Angonia where a considerable increase in grain production is forecast for this year, thanks to the introduction of new agricultural techniques that have improved yields.
According to the provincial agriculture directorate, another grain processing plant, budgeted at $15 million, is to be built on the outskirts of Tete city, to process grain bought in various parts of the province.
Vieira said that the second of the GPZ factories is to be built in Namacurra district, in Zambezia province, with the capacity to process 25,000 tonnes of rice. The third factory, to be built in Manica, will process maize. Like Angonia, Manica is an area where large quantities of maize can be produced.
Even with the planned factories, said Vieira, grain-processing capacity would still be well below demand, given the grain production capacity of the Zambezi Valley, but at the moment it was not possible for the GPZ to invest in more than three factories.
President Armando Guebuza has praised Brazil for its support to Mozambique and other developing countries. Speaking during a meeting with the Governor of the state of Rio de Janeiro, Sergio Cabral, on 20 July, President Guebuza stressed that his five-day visit to Brazil “is intended to consolidate and diversify the ties of friendship and cooperation between the two countries”.
He explained that the decision to start his visit in Rio de Janeiro is partly to show recognition of this state's role in propelling the economic relations between Brazil and Mozambique. He noted that the Mozambique-Brazil Camber of Commerce is based in this state, and it is here where the major Brazilian companies investing in Mozambique have their headquarters, including the mining giant Vale, which is investing in the Moatize coal basin, in the western Mozambican province of Tete.
President Guebuza also visited the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, which is behind the project to build a factory producing anti-retroviral drugs in Mozambique. At the foundation, President Guebuza was told that construction of the factory is only awaiting the approval of the Brazilian Senate. Given the time required for the construction, it is now estimated that the factory will be operational by August 2010.
The European Union has approved a financial package of EUR7.2 million ($10.2 million) to support food production in Mozambique, particularly seed processing and multiplication.
Some of the funds will also be used to subsidise the purchase of fertilizer by small producers. The programme will be implemented by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) over the next two years.
The funds are part of overall support from the EU, via FAO, to food production in 25 development countries. This is part of the EU’s response to the sharp international rises in food prices recorded in 2007-08.
As a result of this programme Mozambique should become self-sufficient in seed in the next six years, and it might even export seeds to other southern African countries.
The Mozambican government’s testing centres for the regular and compulsory testing of all vehicles on the country’s roads will be operational in all provincial capitals by the end of October, according to the general director of the National Traffic Institute (INAV), Simao Mataruque.
Speaking at a Maputo press briefing, he said that under the regulations on vehicle inspection, personal or family cars imported new must be inspected after five years, and at yearly intervals thereafter. Heavy goods vehicles must be inspected every year, and vehicles used to transport passengers must be inspected every six months. Any vehicle involved in an accident, regardless of its age, must be inspected before it is allowed back on the roads.
Imported second hand vehicles must be tested before they are granted Mozambican number plates. If such a vehicle fails the test, it will not be allowed to remain in the country.
The inspection centres are owned by the state, but leased to three private companies (in the south, centre and north of the country). Mataruque said the centres are equipped with digital equipment and fully computerized. The role of human inspectors is thus reduced, and he believed this would lessen, though not eliminate, the possibility of corruption.
There would be a period of publicity for the new regulations, to give vehicle owners a chance to correct defects before testing. The owners must pay for the tests, but Mataruque did not say how much they would cost.
There are an estimated 290,000 vehicles on Mozambican roads. INAV does not have a vehicle census that would reveal how many of them are over five years old – but it is a reasonable assumption that the majority of them are.
By far the greatest concentration of vehicles is in Maputo, and it is the Maputo inspection centre that has the largest capacity and can process 400 vehicles a day.
Once a vehicle has passed the test, its owner will receive a certificate, and a disc will be placed on the windscreen giving the date of the inspection and the date by which the next inspection must be held.
The Mozambican parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, on 21 July passed the second and final reading of a bill on domestic violence against women, but with a clause tacked onto the end to placate the howls of rage from some male quarters that the bill was “unconstitutional” because it “discriminated against men”.
Some of the press has waged a relentless campaign against the bill. The private TV channel, STV, and the daily paper “O Pais”, owned by the same company, have been particularly insistent that the bill violates the constitutional clause on equality between the sexes, and should be “more inclusive”.
Inside the Assembly the opposition Renamo-Electoral Union coalition also waved the constitution aloft, hinting that if a bill protecting only women was passed, it might later be struck down as unconstitutional.
The proponent of the bill, the Assembly’s own Social Affairs Commission, opted for a tactical retreat. After a series of clauses outlining various forms of violence against women, and the penalties they should bear, an article was tagged on at the end stating “The provisions of the present law apply to men, under equality of circumstances, and with the necessary adaptations”.
This vague formulation was enough for the Renamo deputies to drop their objections, and so the amended bill passed unanimously. The chairperson of the Assembly, Eduardo Mulembue, described the new article as “a tactical arrangement to avoid allegations that we are violating the constitution”.
The new clause could be impossible to enforce in a court since “the necessary adaptations” are not defined, and it is easy to argue that there is no such thing as “equality of circumstances” in Mozambican gender relations.
The large audience of women in the public gallery obviously did not believe that the new clause made any significant difference to the bill. For when it was passed they erupted in chants and songs of victory.
The final version of the bill is much more specific about penalties than the document presented at the first reading. Husbands, lovers or other male relatives who beat women so severely as to endanger their lives will be sentenced to between eight and twelve years imprisonment. If the violence results in the death of the woman, the normal penalty for first-degree murder applies – which is up to 24 years imprisonment.
Serious physical injury, but which is not life threatening, is punished by between eight months and two years imprisonment. Minor assaults are punished with between one and six months in jail, but the court can order a period of community service instead.
The penalty for marital rape is between six months and two years, while threats and other forms of “verbal violence” carry a maximum sentence of one year.
A man who refuses to pay alimony to his former wife or partner is liable to a six-month prison sentence, and the alimony owing will be doubled. Male relatives who seize the property of a woman after the death of her husband – a distressingly common fate of widows in the Mozambican countryside – will be sentenced to up to six months in jail.
The bill defines domestic violence as a “public crime” – which means that the police do not have to wait for the victim to make a formal complaint. Anyone can denounce the crime to the authorities, and the police can act on any indications that domestic violence is taking place.
The bill provides for medical care for the victims of domestic violence, and the health unit involved must draw up a detailed report on the state of he woman’s health and the injuries she has suffered, which will be forwarded to the public prosecutor’s office.
Any man who disobeys a court summons in cases of domestic violence, will be tried in absentia.
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