Mozambique News Agency

AIM Reports


No.386, 23rd September 2009


 

Contents

  • Donors criticise fuel subsidy
  • Dhlakama launches presidential bid
  • President Guebuza urges mass turnout for elections
  • MDM’s opponents “afraid to face us”
  • Renamo calls for abolition of conscription
  • MISA condemns violence against reporters
  • Private banks “responding positively”
  • Botswana coal could make port viable
  • 275,000 Mozambicans face food insecurity
  •  


    Donors criticise fuel subsidy

    The group of donors who provide direct support to the Mozambican budget on 18 September criticized the government’s fuel subsidy policy. However, Minister of Planning and Development, Aiuba Cuereneia, has defended it as a necessary measure. The criticism came at the closing session of meetings between the government and the donors to draw up a “Performance Assessment Framework” (PAF) containing indicators and targets for both sides.

    Speaking on behalf of the 19 donors and funding agencies who give direct budget support (known as the Programme Aid Partners, or PAPs), Finnish ambassador Kari Alanko said the group had expressed “reservations about the current fuel subsidy which, in our understanding, mostly benefits the richest strata of society and is very expensive, particularly in a year when Mozambique has been affected by the world economic crisis, which has been expressed in the need to hold back expenditure”.

    Alanko said that the donors “are ready to help the government find more appropriate and better directed mechanisms to mitigate the high price of fuel”.

    In the ensuing press conference, Cuereneia recalled that in 2008 the government had resorted to temporary lifting of taxes to keep down the price of fuel. When international fuel prices fell sharply later in the year, the government was able to re-impose the taxes and return to its traditional mechanism of reviewing fuel prices every month, raising or lowering them if the price of imported fuel, when expressed in the local currency, meticais, had moved by more than three per cent in either direction.

    “This period of normality did not last long”, said Cuereneia, and when oil prices once again rose significantly the government decided to freeze fuel prices at their March level for the rest of the year. This led to lengthy negotiations with the fuel distribution companies, with the government agreeing to meet their losses, estimated at $31 million for the year.

    Asked why the government had decided to subsidise not only diesel (which is vital for agriculture, industrial fishing and other productive activities), but also petrol, Cuereneia denied that petrol-driven cars are only owned by the wealthy. He said large numbers of cars in the state’s own vehicle fleet run on petrol.

    Cuereneia admitted that the fuel subsidy meant that less money was available for other activities. The government was therefore making cuts in travel, in consumables and other non-essential expenses in state institutions. He guaranteed that these cuts would not affect the operations of the priority sectors for poverty reduction, such as the education and health ministries.

    The current price of diesel is 22.45 meticais a litre, and that of petrol 23.1 meticais a litre (at current exchange rates there are about 27.2 meticais to the US dollar).

    Asked about the impact of the international financial crisis on Mozambique, Cuereneia said it had reduced the value of key Mozambican exports, such as aluminium and cotton, and had forced Mozambique to dip into its foreign reserves. The reserves used to be enough to cover five months of imports, but now only cover four months.

    Some foreign investors, he added, have postponed their projects in order to rearrange finance. This was the case with an oil refinery planned for the northern district of Nacala, and with an iron and steel factory planned for the Beluluane Free Zone, just outside Maputo.

    Alanko said the financial crisis had also hit donor countries, and so finance ministries “are examining in minute detail our aid budgets”.

    He warned that this could result “in tight competition for the scarce resources allocated to cooperation and development globally”. It was therefore important that Mozambique’s political and socio-economic development “should continue to show a positive performance, in order to maintain the confidence of the partners and the level of aid to the country”.

    But it was not only the Mozambican government that had to meet targets. Alanko said that the PAPs themselves must “honour our undertakings concerned with the effectiveness of aid, and harmonization of our procedures to ensure better coordination and lower transaction costs”.

    Further efforts were needed from the donors “so that we are better aligned with the government’s strategies”.

    He told the reporters “the government’s performance merits continued budget support. Nothing is perfect and there are always challenges. We are working together to the common objective of development”.


    Dhlakama launches presidential bid

    Afonso Dhlakama, leader of Mozambique’s main opposition party Renamo, on 19 September rejected requests from participants at a rally in the northern district of Angoche to station members of Renamo’s own security force in Angoche, supposedly to protect the local people from the Mozambican police.

    The rally, held in the locality of Johare, marked the launch of Dhlakama’s presidential election campaign. This is the fourth time the Renamo leader has stood for the presidency.

    During the rally some Renamo supporters claimed that in previous elections they had been the victims of police violence, and had been forced by the police to vote for the ruling Frelimo Party.

    One woman claimed that during elections “old women are pushed and prohibited from voting”. She added that during voter registration old men were told that they were bewitched “and so they cannot register otherwise the machine will die”.

    They wanted protection from the force that Renamo calls its “Presidential Guard”. But Dhlakama replied that he could not meet this request. “I can’t accept what you have asked for, because the war ended in 1992”, he said. “This security is only to protect me”.

    “You see those lads with the green uniform? They’re my security”, he continued. “They don’t play around. But I can’t leave them here as if there were a war going on”.

    Instead, he would take the concerns expressed at the rally to the authorities. “I shall take your message”, he said. “These journalists are taping, they’re recording everything, and so the entire world will see today or tomorrow that the people of Angoche have asked Dhlakama’s security to confront the security of Frelimo, which is the police”,

    Dhlakama declared that if there was the rule of law in Mozambique, then the ruling party would not use the police to intimidate the public, and prevent citizens from exercising their rights. “The police is a state institution, it doesn’t belong to a party”, he said.

    However, the Angoche police deny the claims made by the Renamo supporters. The Angoche district police commander, Adriano Muianga, told AIM he had no knowledge of any threats made by the police during previous elections.

    Furthermore there had been more than enough time for citizens to lodge complaints, if any abuses had really happened. “There are institutions responsible for problems associated with elections”, he said. “I think it’s up to these people to go to these institutions and present their problems in good time so that they can be solved”.

    As district commander he had never received any complaints about supposed intimidation by his men during elections. The last elections were the municipal elections of November 2006. “A long time has passed since then, but nobody came to me, and I received no protests”, Muianga stressed. “So this is news to me”.

    He said he had met, without any discrimination, with all the political parties in the district – namely Frelimo, Renamo, the Mozambique Democratic Movement (MDM), and the Independent Alliance of Mozambique (ALIMO). The Angoche police, he added, extended the same protection to all of them.

    Following the rally half a dozen Renamo guards attacked people in a bar on the route taken by Dhlakama away from the rally in Johare, apparently because it was displaying posters of the ruling Frelimo Party.

    The day after the assault, police arrested Mamur Saide Dias Assan. However, a group of armed men from the Renamo “Presidential Guard” surrounded the police command in the northern district of Angoche, demanding the release of their colleague.

    The police refused. Assan had been arrested on suspicion of committing a crime, and the police fully intended to hand him over to the courts.

    Renamo claims that Assan has immunity since he is a candidate in the election to the Nampula Provincial Assembly. According to Renamo’s Nampula provincial spokesperson, Arnaldo Chalaua, the police have arrested the wrong man. “The police have detained an innocent man”, he told AIM. “He wasn’t at the place. In any case, he enjoys immunity, since he’s a candidate for membership of the Provincial Assembly. So, by law, he can’t be detained”.

    Chalaua said that candidates could only be arrested when caught in the act of committing a crime, which did not happen in this case.


    President Guebuza urges mass turnout for elections

    All Mozambican voters, regardless of the parties they support, and even those who say they are not interested in politics, should flock to the polling stations on 28 October, to choose the country’s leaders for the next five years, declared President Armando Guebuza on 20 September.

    Speaking at a campaign rally in Mecanhelas, in the northern province of Niassa, President Guebuza stressed that the choice of a president and of the members of a new parliament, should be a matter not for a minority but for all Mozambican of voting age. Elections, he stressed, are a special moment in the life of the nation, when the people have the right to choose the best of their fellow-countrymen and entrust the running of the state to them.

    He noted that the outgoing parliament contains one group “that did everything it could to vote against the laws submitted by the government for approval” (a reference to the parliamentary group of the opposition Renamo-Electoral Union coalition).

    That the ruling Frelimo Party held a parliamentary majority was important, he stressed, since it meant that Frelimo could pass the laws itself “which the others wanted to block and thus paralyse the country”.

    This obstructionist attitude in parliament, he added, meant that the opposition deputies were not interested in the country’s development. All those who want to see the country progress, and to continue eradicating poverty, should vote for himself and for Frelimo, since over the past half century Frelimo has shown that it is the only force fighting for development and for improved living standards of the Mozambican people.

    Even those who are not Frelimo supporters, or who say they “don’t like politics”, should vote for Frelimo, he urged, because Frelimo’s achievements have benefited all Mozambicans, regardless of their political affiliation.


    MDM’s opponents “afraid to face us”

    Rival parties damage offices of the Mozambique Democratic Movement (MDM) because they are afraid to face it politically, accused the national director of the MDM campaign, Lutero Simango, on 20 September.

    Speaking at a rally in the outlying Beira suburb of Chingussura, Simango, who is the older brother of the mayor of Beira and MDM presidential candidate, Daviz Simango, urged MDM members not to be intimidated. Violence against the party was not going to stop people voting for the MDM, he declared.

    The attacks on MDM offices, and the destruction of MDM election material “are clear signs that others standing in these elections are afraid to confront our organisation”.

    He did not say who he had in mind – but on 13 September, the day the election campaign began, a group of people believed to be supporters of the ruling Frelimo Party attacked an MDM office in the southern town of Chokwe, smashing the windows and stealing property.

    On 19 September an MDM rally and concert in the Maputo neighbourhood of Mafalala had to switch venue because Frelimo youths had occupied the field that the MDM says it had booked from Maputo City Council. There have also been occasional clashes between members of the MDM and of the main opposition party, Renamo, which expelled Daviz Simango from its ranks a year ago.

    “Because they’re afraid of the MDM, they even burn our offices and vandalise our equipment. Even so nobody will stop our votes”, said the candidate’s brother. “We shall continue working until Daviz Simango reaches the presidency”.

    The MDM Beira delegate told AIM that the Chingussura event was the third major rally the MDM had held in Beira. She was confident that the population of Beira trusts in the MDM and its presidential candidate as guarantors in turning a new page in the country’s social, political and economic life.


    Renamo calls for abolition of conscription

    Renamo has made abolition of conscription a plank in its election campaign. Speaking in the central city of Beira on 17 September, the Renamo Sofala Provincial Delegate, Fernando Mbararano, said it was urgent to replace the current conscript army with a force formed exclusively of volunteers.

    He claimed that compulsory military service meant that young people are dragged out of school or out of their jobs and forced to enter the army (though in fact the law on conscription envisages exemption in such cases). He argued that, after completing their two years of military service these young Mozambicans are marginalized, with no guarantee that they will be able to resume their education and employment.

    For its part, the Mozambique Democratic Movement (MDM) is promising the electorate of Beira that it will reverse the current shortage of jobs and homes for young people. The Sofala MDM delegate, Manuel Joaquim, promised that an MDM government would build 25,000 new houses a year, with money from taxation, but would not have to increase taxes to do so.

    Frelimo has set itself the task of seizing control of Sofala from the opposition. Sofala has long been an opposition stronghold, though Frelimo’s vote in the province did increase in the 2004 election. Of the current 22 parliamentary seats in Sofala, six are held by Frelimo and 16 by Renamo. The main threat to Renamo in the province comes not from Frelimo, but from the MDM, who’s leader Davis Simango won re-election to the post of mayor of Beira last November, with 62 per cent of the vote..


    MISA condemns violence against reporters

    The Mozambican chapter of the regional press body MISA (Media Institute of Southern Africa) has strongly protested at the brutal beating of a community radio journalist by members of Renamo in the northern port of Nacala.

    A MISA statement says that the incident occurred on 16 September when Alfane Momade Antonio, a reporter for the Nacala Community Radio (which belongs to the state-owned Mass Communication Institute, ICS), went to the Renamo office to ask for the campaign schedule for the day. He had already fixed a meeting with the head of the Renamo campaign in Nacala, Rafael Gusmao.

    But instead of receiving the information he was seeking, Antonio was attacked by men believed to be Renamo members or supporters, supposedly because the radio “is always saying bad things about Renamo”.

    The attackers seized his notebook and pen. The radio reported the assault to the police, and Antonio was treated in the local hospital for his injuries. Although the attack happened on the Renamo premises, Renamo denies any responsibility and says it was not the work of any of its supporters.

    MISA also reports that on 3 September, 10 days before the start of the election campaign, a journalist named Lazaro Antonio, who works on a community radio station in Alto-Molocue, in the central province of Zambezia, was the victim of an illegal summons by the district first secretary of the ruling Frelimo Party, Daniel Gurue.

    He was told to come to the local Frelimo office and bring the cassette that he had used earlier in the day when reporting on a Renamo political activity. He obeyed the summons, accompanied by the interim coordinator of the radio. Ordered to play the cassette, Antonio did so. Gurue listened and then told him “I need this cassette so that the district administrator can hear it, so that we know whether you are authorised to use it or not”.

    But Antonio refused to go along with this. He took the cassette and tape recorder back and told Gurue that his behaviour was illegal. A source in the radio told MISA “after some time, the first secretary said ‘’you can take this, but don’t do anything without talking to us’’”

    The MISA statement strongly condemned “the fact that some politicians are obstructing the work of journalists, and are thus denying the constitutionally enshrined right of the people to information”.

    Reporters, particularly those working on community radios, “are suffering physical or psychological violence, which is entirely deplorable under the rule of law”. MISA urged society, and politicians in particular, “to refrain from disturbing the work of journalists”.

    MISA also reported a debate on Radio Mozambique on the ethics of covering the activities of the First Lady, Maria da Luz Guebuza, when the same treatment is not given to the wives of the other two presidential candidates, Afonso Dhlakama of Renamo and Daviz Simango of the MDM.

    Radio Mozambique’s Director of Information, Ezequiel Mavota, argued that Maria Guebuza is a politician in her own right, and was being covered, not as the wife of the president, but because she was leading a Frelimo campaign brigade in Maputo province. “We do the same with the campaign brigades of the other political parties”, he added.


    Private banks “responding positively”

    The Governor of the Bank of Mozambique, Ernesto Gove, declared on 18 September that the national and foreign private sector has responded positively to the reforms carried out by the government, thus contributing to growth in the Mozambican financial sector.

    He was speaking at a ceremony to inaugurate new headquarters in Maputo of the companies Moza Capital and Moza Banco Private Banking.

    Moza Banco is the newest of the country’s banks, inaugurated in June 2008, with initial capital of $15 million. Its shareholders are Geocapital, owned by the Macau businessman Stanley Ho, and Mocambique Capital, a grouping of 218 Mozambican individuals and companies.

    Gove said that the positive response from business to government initiatives had led to a sharp increase in the number of financial institutions operating in Mozambique. The country now has 14 traditional banks, 11 financial cooperatives, 10 micro-banks, three financial leasing companies and “a considerable number of micro-credit institutions”.

    This rapid increase “shows how our partners in the financial system, have responded to the challenge we launched in 2007 of spreading the banking system throughout our economy”.

    Gove stressed that, in the expansion of banking services, healthy and prudent management criteria must be strictly observed. The country, he said, counted on “healthy and competitive financial institutions”.

    Gove told reporters that citizens were once again beginning to save their money in banks, thanks to the gradual expansion of the financial system into the countryside.

    “People previously kept their savings in their houses, with all the risks that entails”, he said. “Depositing savings in the financial system is important because only thus can the resources be used for investment”.

    For many years, banks refused to open branches in rural districts, arguing that there was not enough economic activity to justify opening branches there. The picture is gradually changing: in 2004 just 28 of the 128 districts had banks, and the figure now has risen to 44.

    The government expects that shortly 50 per cent of the districts will be covered by the banking network. “In expanding into the rural areas the banks are not doing the authorities a favour”, said Gove. “There are business opportunities for them in the countryside”.

    The chairperson of the Board of Directors of Moza Banco and Moza Capital, Prakash Ratilal, told the ceremony “we want to be part of the efforts of our government, of the development partners, and of the businesses who are seeking to break the cycle of dependence and poverty in our country”.

    Ratilal told AIM that he expects Moza Banco to make a profit of $2 million this year. Last year it made operational losses of about $1 million, which Ratilal attributed to implementing new projects, and to accumulated costs in the months prior to the bank starting its operations. Currently the bank only exists in Maputo, but it plans to open branches in Nampula, Nacala and Tete in 2010, and in Beira in 2011.


    Botswana coal could make port viable

    Exports of coal from landlocked Botswana could make a new mineral port viable at Ponta Dobela, in Matutuine district, in the far south of Mozambique.

    Mozambique is paying close attention to coal exploration in Botswana. The preliminary report is that the coal is of high quality, and exports could reach 40 million tonnes a year.

    According to the chairperson of the board of directors of the Mozambican ports and rail company, CFM, Rui Fonseca, the Botswana coal potential was one more powerful argument why the port at Ponta Dobela, should be built.

    The quantities of coal involved far exceed the capacity of Maputo port. Even under current expansion plans Maputo cannot handle more than 25 million tonnes of cargo a year, and the mineral ships envisaged cannot dock at Maputo. An ocean terminal at Ponta Dobela, however, where the approach channel would not need to be dredged, could take ships of any size.

    The project for the new port has been on the drawing board for years. The likelihood of increased mineral exports makes its construction an urgent requirement, particularly as the South African ports of Durban and Richards Bay cannot handle the demand.


    275,000 Mozambicans face food insecurity

    At least 275,000 people in southern and central Mozambique are facing food insecurity, according to Joao Ribeiro, general director of the country’s relief agency, the National Disasters Management Institute (INGC). These people are currently dependent on aid provided by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP).

    Ribeiro warned of chronic water shortages in parts of Magude and Namaacha districts in Maputo province. If nothing is done before the end of September, the 2,000 people at risk will face a trek of over 50 kilometres to fetch water.

    Nonetheless, Ribeiro said the situation is better than last year, when 100,000 people were facing severe water shortages.

    The INGC is trying to deal with the problem by drilling new boreholes, and by installing public and household cisterns where water can be stored over dry periods. INGC teams are working on the ground, to find solutions, and Ribeiro believed that, by the end of September, reserves of water can be placed at the critical points.

    Looking ahead to the coming rainy season, Ribeiro noted that the long-range weather forecast points to the possibility of flooding in the north and centre of the country, including in the Zambezi Valley.

    However, the Zambezi is no longer a major cause of concern since, following major flooding on the river in 2007 and 2008, people living in low-lying areas were evacuated to higher land, and have continued to live there.


     

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