Mozambique News Agency

No.204, 3rd April 2001


Dhlakama breaks off dialogue with President Chissano

Renamo leader Afonso Dhlakama on 29 March stormed out of a meeting with President Joaquim Chissano, breaking off the dialogue between the two men that began in December. Dhlakama even refused to attend the joint press conference at the end of the meeting.President Chissano told reporters that when, after five hours of discussion, Dhlakama left the room he handed the president a letter, "which shows that he was already prepared to break the dialogue".

The key disagreement was over the appointment of provincial governors, with Dhlakama insisting that Renamo nominate governors for the six provinces where Renamo won a majority of votes in the 1999 general elections.

President Chissano said that Renamo was demanding a constitutional amendment that would allow the majority party in each province to appoint governors. He objected to this procedure on the grounds that the constitution must be looked at as a whole, and should not be altered piecemeal.

He said Dhlakama proposed that, if a constitutional amendment was not possible, he should use his presidential powers to appoint governors suggested by Renamo.

President Chissano insisted that changing the constitution was a prerogative of the country's parliament, the Assembly of the Republic. Altering the way governors are appointed was not a minor change - the quasi-federal model proposed by Dhlakama clashed with the very first article of the current constitution, which establishes the unitary nature of the Mozambican state.

In the elections, President Chissano added, "the voters voted for a President of the Republic. They did not vote for governors. The voters have their rights. To make appointments based on the results in each province would be setting a precedent. This has to be well thought out. It should be discussed in the proper place - which is the Assembly of the Republic".

He noted that in the earlier meetings with Dhlakama (on 20 December and 17 January) he had already agreed that when posts of provincial governors or district administrators fell vacant, he would consult with Renamo before announcing replacements.

President Chissano said he would not treat parliament as a rubber stamp that automatically passed decisions cooked up in meetings between political leaders. "We said - let's take it to the Assembly. We are ready to extend the dialogue to the parliamentarians", said President Chissano. "But Renamo thinks that's a waste of time. They demand that their governors be appointed by May".

"So Dhlakama announced he was breaking off the dialogue. That's why he's not here", President Chissano told the reporters. "The only thing that interested him was appointing governors at any cost, without any precautions, without the slightest consideration for our institutions and for the law".

He accused Dhlakama of "intransigence", and said that, rather than a meaningful dialogue, he simply wanted "to impose his will".

Nonetheless "my position is to keep the door open for dialogue", stressed the President. "At any moment Dhlakama may contact me, and I shall contact Dhlakama to let him know that I am still prepared for dialogue".

Asked how the government would respond if Renamo organised further street demonstrations as from May, President Chissano pledged "we will guarantee the tranquillity and security of our citizens".

Peaceful demonstrations were quite acceptable, he added. "Citizens are free to demonstrate within the law, without destruction, without violence, and without forcing anybody to join", said the President.

The last round of demonstrations, called by Renamo on 9 November, resulted in widespread rioting, and the worst violence since the end of the war of destabilisation in 1992. At least 40 people died in the clashes between Renamo demonstrators and the police.

Dhlakama blames President

Afonso Dhlakama on 30 March blamed President Chissano for the breakdown of dialogue between Renamo and the government, but declined to answer questions as to what steps Renamo would now take.

He told a Maputo press conference "I've come here to say that our struggle for truth and democracy will not stop, that we have tried everything, we are patient, and that as from now whatever happens in the country will be President Chissano's responsibility".

Dhlakama claimed that the talks were "a Frelimo and Chissano monologue", and that the five working groups set up during the talks "were only used to waste time". This was clear because "no Frelimo leader took part in them". (President Chissano appointed cabinet ministers to head the government side of each of the working groups).

Dhlakama alleged that "once again, the legitimate aspirations of the Mozambican people were defrauded by the arrogance, lack of seriousness and absence of patriotic responsibility of Frelimo". "The negotiations are at an end. They can't drag on for ever", he repeated.

Customs management passing back into Mozambican hands

The management of the Mozambican customs service is gradually passing back into the hands of Mozambican nationals, after four years in which it had been farmed out to a British company, Crown Agents.

Opening a national customs seminar in Maputo on 2 April, Finance Minister Luisa Diogo announced that several senior Mozambican customs managers were appointed last week.

Diogo stressed that legality, transparency, dedication and professionalism were expected of Mozambican customs managers. Diogo said that the need to overhaul customs had become obvious in the mid-1990s. There had been repeated complaints from Mozambican industries, who could not sell their goods, because of unfair competition from smuggled produce.

From 1991 to 1996 customs revenue had declined, she said, but at the same time those who did pay customs duties complained that they were very high, and thus encouraged tax evasion.

The government stood accused of lack of will to eradicate corruption in the customs service, but the chains of contraband "involved Mozambicans from various different areas and it was difficult to break this situation from within". Hence the decision to contract an outside company, "which had no economic interests in contraband, to carry out this task".

Crown Agents won the tender and since May 1997 has been in operational charge of the Mozambican customs, training hundreds of new staff, introducing computerised systems, and dramatically increasing revenue, despite reductions in customs duties.

Diogo noted that businesses are still complaining of delays in clearing goods through customs, and of "unnecessary bureaucratic difficulties".

Customs revenue exceeds target

The customs service collected revenue in duties and taxes equivalent to $236.4 million in 2000, which was about four per cent above target.

Giving these figures at the seminar the Deputy National Director for Customs Operations, Ron McGrath, said this was a considerable increase on the 1999 result, when customs revenue was $198.1 million.

McGrath stressed the "pivotal role" that customs revenue plays in the Mozambican economy, pointing out that in 2000 customs was responsible for collecting 48.6 per cent of total government revenue.

The increase in customs revenue occurred despite the fact that import duties have been cut twice in the past five years (in 1996 and 1999).

McGrath said that, with the recruitment of a further 217 staff in 2000, the total number of customs staff now stood at 1,664. 23 staff training courses had been given over the year, attended by 560 employees.

British consultants such as McGrath, from the company Crown Agents, are being gradually phased out, as management returns to Mozambican hands. "Senior Mozambican managers have been appointed to a number of key posts", he said. "Their development still continues under the guidance of consultants, but day-to-day responsibility for their work areas lies solidly with the Mozambican managers".

Crown Agents was contracted to manage customs in 1997. At the peak of their work, there were 57 British consultants in management positions. By July 2000 the number had fallen to 47, and at the start of 2001 it was 34 - including several who are due to leave in April. The consultants will continue to be phased out, and by July 2003, there should only be 11 left.

McGrath described as "a major disappointment" the continued "high level of corruption and other disciplinary matters". He noted that "the increased prospect of being caught does not seem to act as a deterrent".

In 2000, disciplinary proceedings were started against 127 customs officials - 90 of whom had been recruited since the start of the customs reform programme in 1997.

One response was to set up a special anti-corruption unit, in addition to the existing "staff irregularities unit". The new unit, said McGrath, "specialises in investigating major frauds that have staff involvement or collusion". This unit only began operating in October, "and it already has 24 major cases on its books".

McGrath said that the customs' mobile anti-smuggling teams, made 672 seizures of smuggled goods in 2000, and their work brought in a further 20 billion meticais (about $1.1 million) of revenue. There are 13 of these mobile teams, which consist of a total of 52 Mozambican staff and five British consultants.

As from September, customs' control teams have also been visiting retail outlets, investigating whether imported goods have paid duties. This has resulted in the collection of 12.5 billion meticais.

A specialist investigation department had been responsible for 68 seizures in 2000, bringing in revenue of 48.7 billion meticais. This department's support for other units had led to further seizures worth much the same amount.

Last year, McGrath continues, 949 alleged customs offences were submitted to the Customs Tribunal (a court which is independent of the customs service). The Tribunal could not deal with this workload, and only 341 cases were dealt with. The court decreed fines of 13.8 billion meticais, but so far only 5.6 billion of this has been paid.

Flood waters subside in central Mozambique

The level of the rivers in central Mozambique is dropping, but both the Zambezi and the Pungue are expected to remain above flood alert level for the next three or four weeks.

The stretch of the Beira-Zimbabwe highway between Mutua and Tica, about 60 kilometres from Beira, was reopened to traffic on 29 March. Over the past two months, this stretch of road has been cut by the Pungue on four occasions - each time this makes it impossible to travel by road from Beira either west to Zimbabwe or south to Maputo.

The reopening of the road allowed trucks of the World Food Programme (WFP) to carry food for flood victims.

The director of the National Disasters Management Institute (INGC), Silvano Langa, told reporters during a briefing on 30 March that rescue operations are practically completed, except for some areas in the district of Marromeu, on the south bank of the Zambezi, and that the main efforts are now to be directed into humanitarian assistance.

As for air transport, Langa said that of the 15 helicopters that have been operating, "one, financed by Britain, is to cease its activity on Saturday [31 March]".

"The other Puma helicopter, also operating under British funding is to continue, at least until mid April, but now financed by the government of Denmark", he added. "One of the Mozambican helicopters has been grounded for maintenance and will only resume operations on Monday [2 April]".

Airlifts will remain the only way to reach most of the areas hit by the floods until the access roads are repaired, which is the main headache facing the Ministry of Public Works.

Langa said that this ministry is currently most concerned with reinstating the ferry at Caia, on the Zambezi. This ferry is a key link in the main north-south highway.

Donors have so far replied to the government's appeal for aid by contributing about $14 million. The total the government requested, when it launched the appeal in late February was over $36 million.

Another cashew factory closes

The MOCITA cashew processing factory, in Xai-Xai, capital of the southern province of Gaza, is to close as from 30 April because of lack of raw material, making about 1,500 workers unemployed.

A further reason for the closure is the low prices for processed cashew kernels, on the world market. Current prices are the lowest for the past 15 years. It is estimated that the redundancy payments will cost the company about $1.2 million.

The MOCITA factory, belonging to the South African corporation Anglo-American, resumed activities in 1996 after investing about $13 million in rehabilitation and new equipment. Ironically some of this money was a World Bank loan - subsequent World Bank policies, demanding the liberalisation of the trade in cashews, and fomenting the export of raw cashews to India, have led to a crisis in the supply of raw material for MOCITA and other processing plants.

A total of 2,645 workers, who have lost their jobs in six cashew processing factories that are now closed, mainly because of lack of raw material, have been compensated since December, but most are still awaiting the payment of wages in arrears. MOCITA was the last of the sizeable cashew factories in southern Mozambique.

Renamo demand Commission of Inquiry

The Mozambican parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, on 29 March rejected a motion proposed by the Renamo-Electoral Union which sought to set up a parliamentary commission of inquiry into the funds donated for the rehabilitation of the Assembly's own premises.

Work on repairing and upgrading the building began in March 1999. The completion of the work has been repeatedly postponed.

For the past two years the Assembly has been forced to work out of cramped premises in Maputo's Military Club, which belongs to the Ministry of Defence.

Renamo suspected that money for rehabilitating the building had been stolen, but during the debate it became clear that not a penny of the cash has passed through the hands of the Assembly.

Everything was handled directly between the donor, the official Danish aid agency, DANIDA, and the contractor. It was DANIDA that had signed the contract, Mulembue pointed out, and so it was quite impossible for anyone in the Assembly to have stolen the money.

Deputies from both Renamo and the majority Frelimo Party expressed anger at the lengthy delays in completing the rehabilitation - but Frelimo argued that Renamo was "putting the cart before the horse".

Frelimo deputy Teodato Hunguana argued that the first step should be to call in an independent external auditor to look at how the contractors had handled the DANIDA funds. Only when the Assembly had a report from such an audit could it decide whether a commission of inquiry was needed.

Sergio Vieira doubted that the Assembly had the power to investigate funds which belonged to DANIDA.

Electoral Union deputy Jose Samo Gudo declared "We are requesting transparency. We want to know what's going on with the rehabilitation. Nobody is saying DANIDA is or is not responsible for the paralysis of the work. We want to know who is responsible. As the donor, DANIDA is not above responsibility".

Luis Boavida complained that Hunguana's call for an independent audit was designed to keep Renamo deputies away from the accounts.

David Alone declared "For Renamo, the delay in finishing the building is a great concern, and for Frelimo apparently it isn't. Renamo has every right to question whatever it likes in this house. We are for transparency. We know that for Frelimo transparency means nothing".

Frelimo deputies insisted that there was simply not enough information available to justify setting up a parliamentary commission of inquiry, which has quasi-judicial powers. "What we are asking for is more information so as to decide whether we need a commission of inquiry", stressed Alfredo Gamito. "An audit must come before an inquiry. We cannot set up commissions of inquiry at the drop of a hat".

When the vote was taken Renamo's motion went down to defeat by 132 votes to 96 with three abstentions.

Health Minister replies to HIV/AIDS debate

It is quite impossible for Mozambique, or any other African country, to import anti-retroviral drugs at the prices charged by the major western pharmaceutical companies, Health Minister Francisco Songane told the Mozambican parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, on 28 March.

He was speaking on the second day of a debate on the government's response to the AIDS epidemic. In the first day, several deputies from Renamo demanded that anti-retrovirals, which can prolong the lives of AIDS sufferers, be freely imported.

Songane described the prices demanded by western companies for anti-retrovirals as "immoral". The standard "triple therapy" with anti-retroviral drugs, as practised in the United States or Europe, costs $12,000 per patient per year.

"If we had to import these drugs, given the number of infected people in Mozambique, we would spend eight billion dollars a years", exclaimed Songane. "That's impossible for any African country".

On 27 March, Renamo had sneered at the Health Ministry's preference for buying anti-retrovirals from Brazil or India. Songane pointed out that the Indian generic anti-retroviral drugs, of the same quality as the western brand-named drugs, cost just $600 per patient per year.

Even the Indian or Brazilian drugs would be beyond the reach of most Mozambicans, he added - a problem which could be dealt with through subsidies, or by employers contributing to the cost of drugs.

Songane revealed that his ministry is in contact with the European charity "Medecins sans Frontieres" (Doctors without Borders) on the possibility of acquiring large amounts of the drugs for several African countries at once. This would bring down the cost of treatment to $350 per patient per year.

Illustrating the greed of the pharmaceutical companies, Songane said that whereas the well known AIDS drug AZT costs $1.7 a capsule in the United States, the price for the generic version in Brazil is just 20 cents a capsule.

One of the drugs found effective in treating the opportunist infections that attack AIDS sufferers costs $12.2 a dose in the west, he added, but only 30 cents in Thailand.

Songane stressed that, while these drugs improve the quality of life of HIV-positive people, they do not eliminate HIV or cure AIDS, and therefore "prevention remains our fundamental weapon".

He stressed "moral education", as well as the availability of condoms. This was clearly a concession to those deputies who regarded the distribution of condoms as "inciting sexual promiscuity", as Celina Solomone of Renamo put it on 27 March.

The minister was unable to respond to a Renamo query about the extraordinarily high rent - $9,000 a month - allegedly being paid by the National Council for Combating AIDS for its Maputo premises. He said he would raise the matter with the Council.

This matter crosses party lines. Although they did not raise it during the debate, in private deputies of the ruling Frelimo Party think this rent is absurdly high.

Government briefing on AIDS

An estimated 1.4 million Mozambicans are carrying the HIV virus, Deputy Health Minister Aida Libombo told the Assembly of the Republic on 27 March.

Libombo was briefing the Assembly on the AIDS epidemic, at the request of the parliamentary group of the ruling Frelimo Party. He said that 16 per cent of the adult population is infected with HIV.

This means that Mozambique is the seventh worst hit country in the world. Libombo's statistics put Zimbabwe at the top of this table, with 25.84 per cent of its adult population HIV- positive, followed by Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, Swaziland, South Africa and Mozambique.

A breakdown of estimated infection rates by province shows that central provinces are the worst hit areas. Manica, Sofala, Tete and Zambezia provinces all have infection rates of around 20 per cent.

In the three northern provinces (Nampula, Niassa and Cabo Delgado) the infection rate is put at 13 per cent. In Gaza and Inhambane 18 per cent of adults are thought to be carrying HIV, while in Maputo province the figures is 16 per cent.

Maputo City is the least affected part of the country, with a 12 per cent infection rate.

Until last year, the collection of AIDS statistics was very limited, since there were only four sentinel sites (one in the south, in Maputo, and three in the centre, in Beira, Chimoio and Tete).

These are sites where, when pregnant women attend ante-natal consultations, their blood is tested from HIV. There is a mathematical technique for extrapolating from pregnant women to the adult population at large.

As from late 2000, HIV statistics were being collected from 18 other sentinel sites, with all 11 provinces now covered. Libombo warned that the number of new AIDS cases a year is now about 100,000 and, on current trends is likely to reach well over 150,000 a year by 2010, most of whom can be expected to die of the disease.

The impact on Mozambican society and on the economy could be profound. The National Statistics Institute (INE) estimates that the AIDS epidemic will cut life expectancy by about 15 years. The 1997 census found that life expectancy at birth was 42.3 years. Without AIDS, this figure was projected to rise gradually reaching 50.3 years in 2010. But with AIDS, life expectancy at birth is expected to fall over the decade to 35.9 years.

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