Mozambique News Agency
Just as yesterday Mozambicans were
united in the struggle to overthrow colonial rule, so today they are united
in the battle to free the country from poverty, declared President Armando Guebuza
on 24 June. In a message to the nation marking the 32nd anniversary of Mozambican
independence on 25 June 1975, President Guebuza said that in the two months
he had recently spent travelling through all provinces and dozens of the country's
128 districts, he had reached the conclusion that "each of our fellow-countrymen,
in the countryside and in the cities, has accepted this struggle against poverty
and to redeem our dignity as their own struggle".
From what he had seen and heard across the country President Guebuza was sure that "we are weakening poverty, as shown by the economic and social infrastructures we have been building, the increases in production and productivity, and the changes in attitude and behaviour we have been making".
After independence was won, Mozambicans could look back at the past and talk of "that time when we were still under foreign rule". President Guebuza was sure that the day would come when Mozambicans, no longer poor, could look back at the past and talk of "that time when we were still poor".
Poverty, the President added, had worsened the impact of recent natural disasters and the devastating explosions at the military arsenal in the outer Maputo suburb of Malhazine, which left over 100 people dead.
On Independence Day, President Guebuza said, "we reaffirm the role played by national unity, and by the commitment of all of us to regain our sovereignty".
It was also a day "to consolidate our self esteem, the sense of solidarity, and the will to continue together to build our beautiful Mozambique". At the same time, it was a day "when we reaffirm our attachment to sublime values such as peace, multi-party democracy, patriotism and the spirit of inclusion".
Major tasks lay ahead in the next six months - including preparations to enter the southern Africa free trade area in 2008, the national population census in August, and the implementation of the electoral legislation passed last December.
On the proposal of the National Elections Commission, President Guebuza has fixed the date of 20 December for the country's first elections to provincial assemblies. They will be preceded by a total re-registration of the electorate from 20 August to 18 October. President Guebuza urged all "to give the best of yourselves so that these events may be successful".
President visits Eduardo Mondlane's birthplace
On 20 June President Guebuza urged young Mozambicans to follow the example of Eduardo Mondlane, the founder of Mozambican nationalism, who turned his back on a potentially brilliant academic and diplomatic career, and chose instead to lead his people's struggle for liberation from colonial rule.
President Guebuza was speaking at Mondlane's birthplace, the village of Nwadjahane, in Gaza province, on what would have been the 87th birthday of the founder of Frelimo, had he not been assassinated in 1969 by the Portuguese secret police, the PIDE.
President Guebuza's visit was part of commemorations of the 45th anniversary of Frelimo.
Mozambique's enemies assassinated Mondlane in 1969, imagining that would be a lethal blow to the independence movement. "They thought they could stop the wind of history with their hands", said President Guebuza. "They were wrong". On 25 June 1975, just 13 years after Mondlane had founded Frelimo, the flag of an independent Mozambique was hoisted for the first time, "symbolising the end of colonial rule that had lasted for 500 years".
Overthrowing foreign rule, President Guebuza said, was a necessary condition "for concentrating on the struggle against poverty, our agenda today".
"The generation of today", he insisted, "has the mission to commit itself to the liberation of the Mozambican people from poverty, which was Mondlane's dream, the dream of all of us".
As part of the ceremony, Mondlane's widow, Janet, launched a compilation of Mondlane's letters and other documents, entitled "The Echo of Your Voice".
President Guebuza also inaugurated a library in Nwadjahane, and visited the graves of members of the Mondlane family.
Against the advice of senior electoral civil servants, the National Elections Commission (CNE) has proposed 20 December as the date for the first elections to provincial assemblies. President Armando Guebuza accepted the proposal, and issued a presidential decree on 19 June fixing 20 December as the election date.
The Electoral Administration Technical Secretariat (STAE) had proposed three dates to the CNE - December 2007, June 2008 and October 2008, but had made clear December was the most difficult option.
Organising elections from scratch in six months is a daunting task. Nothing is in place - to obey the electoral legislation the CNE must set up election commissions in all provinces and districts, and must organise a complete re- registration of the entire Mozambican electorate.
The CNE intends to set the machinery up at once. All CNE members, except for CNE spokesperson Juvenal Bucuane, left for the provinces on 20 June.
They will swear into office the five members of the provincial commissions appointed by the parliamentary political parties (three by the ruling Frelimo Party, and two by the opposition Renamo-Electoral Union Coalition).
Those five must then ensure that civil society organisations in all provinces propose names for each of the other six places on the 11 member commissions.
The provincial commissions then replicate this task at district and city level - each of those lower commissions also consists of 11 members, five from the political parties and six from civil society.
The CNE must also structure STAE at all levels, and, according to the law, must publicly advertise for senior STAE positions.
Completing all this within two months is a huge challenge. And it must be within two months, because the government has accepted a second CNE proposal, namely that the voter registration will take place from 20 August to 18 October.
That means that voter registration will start just five days after the end of the general population census, scheduled to run from 1 to 15 August.
This will not please the National Statistics Institute (INE), whose president, Joao Loureiro, told AIM in May "it is advisable that the census and the voter registration should not be close to each other". By that, he meant that the two exercises should be separated, not by a couple of weeks, but by one or two months.
Loureiro feared that, if voter registration took place immediately after the census, it would cause considerable confusion. "Many people might think that, because they have answered the census brigades, they are registered as voters", he said.
Loureiro thought there would need to be a major effort at civic education and mobilisation to ensure that people registered as voters, and this dictated a considerable interval between the census and the registration.
There was also the practical issue that many of the same vehicles will be used by the census and by the voter registration brigades. But the vehicles will be collecting completed census forms from all over the country until September and, in more remote areas, possibly until October.
The argument in favour of holding the provincial elections in December is that an article in the Constitution states that the first provincial elections must be held within three years from the constitutions taking effect.
The constitution took effect on 21 January 2005 (the day after the December 2004 general elections results were proclaimed by the Constitutional Council). Since no one imagines that elections can be held in January, at the height of the rainy season, the constitution imposes a date sometime in 2007.
Because the CNE was not set up until early June, and because the law states that the date for the elections must be announced six months in advance, the only possible dates were in mid to late December.
The alternative is to amend the constitution - which can only be done by a 75 per cent majority in the country's parliament, the Assembly of the Republic. For that to happen the amendment must be backed by both Frelimo and Renamo - and so far both parties are insisting that the provincial elections must take place this year.
Although December is not generally as wet as January or February, it is in the rainy season and so it is likely to be raining heavily somewhere in the country in mid-December.
The 2004 general elections were held on 1-2 December, and a significant number of voters in parts of northern and central Mozambique were disenfranchised because access roads were cut by rains or swollen rivers, making it impossible for electoral staff to open polling stations. 43 polling stations in Zambezia and Cabo Delgado provinces did not open at all, and many others only opened on the second day of the two-day election.
There is another ominous precedent. In 1997, in order to obey the constraints of the electoral law of that time, the government was forced to announce that the country's first municipal elections would be held on 27 December that year.
There was a storm of protest at a date falling in the middle of the festive season, and donor money for local elections in late December was not readily forthcoming. The law on local elections had to be amended, and the elections were held in June 1998.
All previous Mozambican elections have relied heavily on donor funds, and the provincial elections are unlikely to be an exception. To date, however, no donor has publicly expressed any interest in financing these elections.
Mozambique's publicly owned electricity company, EDM, has pledged to provide 210,000 new connections in the period between 2007 and 2009. The company has also committed itself to investment $382.1 million, of which 70 per cent is to be financed externally.
These are two of the commitments given by EDM in a new contract-programme signed with the government on 22 June, which sets out the main activities that the company is to undertake in the three-year period.
The contract also commits the government to assist EDM in seeking external funding for the planned investments. The government pledges to negotiate, case by case, the payment of customs duties on all equipment and material imported for rural electrification projects, and to negotiate with EDM the partial cancellation of the company's debt to the state.
The latter will depend on EDM showing that its liquidity, solvency and indebtedness ratios are in line with the minimum required by good business practices.
According to the chairperson of the EDM board, Manuel Cuambe, the expansion and improvement of the national electricity grid, and the consequent increase in the number of people with access to good quality power, remains the major challenge facing the company.
EDM bore a great responsibility, he added, given that currently only eight per cent of the Mozambican population have electricity in their homes, and also that there is a looming energy shortage throughout southern Africa.
Summarising the company's work in 2006, Cuambe said that new connections had provided electricity for 85,000 households, and that EDM's pre-payment system (which makes it impossible for consumers to run up debts) now covered 46 per cent of its clients (up from 38 per cent in 2005).
Financing agreements for new projects were negotiated in 2006 for a total of $137 million.
The company's duty now, Cuambe stressed, "is to continue with our electrification programme so that power reaches an increasing number of districts, administrative posts, localities and villages".
Other challenges, he added, included improving public lighting, reducing losses of electricity, and improving services to clients.
Sweden has pledged 80 million Swedish crowns (about $11.3 million) to build a new electricity transmission line in the northernmost province of Niassa, according to the economic councillor at the Swedish embassy in Maputo, Anton Johnston.
The line will link the city of Cuamba to the capitals of Mecanhelas and Marrupa districts in the east of the province, and is part of the Mozambican government's programme to ensure that at least 101 of the 128 district capitals are linked to the national power grid, based on the Cahora Bassa dam, within three years.
According to the publicly owned electricity company EDM, so far 60 district capitals are receiving power from the national grid.
"This project hasn't yet begun, but we have an agreement on it, and we expect construction work to begin shortly", Johnston told AIM, after a recent visit to Niassa where he assessed various projects in that province funded with Swedish aid.
Sweden has already co-financed, with about $100 million, the project to expand the Cahora Bassa power lines northwards from Zambezia province to Cuamba and to the Niassa provincial capital, Lichinga, in the west of the province, with an interconnection to the town of Metangula, on Lake Niassa.
Sweden also financed the rehabilitation and resurfacing of the road from Litunde to Marrupa, part of an ambitious project to give Niassa a reliable road to the Indian Ocean coast. This stretch was finished about 18 months ago, and is fully operational.
The next stage was to upgrade the dirt road from Marrupa to Ruaca, on the boundary with the neighbouring province of Cabo Delgado. Work began on this about a year ago. "Now this stretch of the road, running for more than 70 kilometres, will be tarred between 2007 and 2009", said Johnston.
The Lichinga-Litunde stretch is already tarred, but work must also be done in Cabo Delgado, upgrading and tarring the road from Ruaca to Montepuez. When this is concluded, it will be possible to drive all the way from Lichinga to the port of Pemba on tarred roads.
This road project also involves funds from Japan and from the African Development Bank (ADB).
Trains using the line from Malawi to Nacala port are at risk of derailment because thieves have been removing screws and supports from the track.
The thefts have caused losses of $90,000 to the private-led consortium CDN (Northern Development Corridor), which holds the lease on the line. So far over 9,000 screws and supports have been removed.
It is believed that the screws are sold to scrap metal. The thriving trade in scrap has also cost the electricity and telecommunications companies, EDM and TDM, dear, with thieves stealing cables and metallic parts of pylons that are then sold to the scrap merchants.
The director of the World Bank office in Mozambique, Michael Baxter, announced in Maputo on 18 June that donors are granting a further $79 million to finance the country's Education Strategic Plan for 2008/2009.
Addressing a Maputo press conference, Baxter said the steering committee of the "Catalytic Fund for Mozambique" of the Education For All/ Fast Track Initiative (EFA/FTI) had agreed to provide this sum at a meeting in Bonn, Germany on 23 May.
The Catalytic Fund is sponsored by all the donors active in the Mozambican education sector, and the fund is managed by the World Bank. The money is in addition to the funds already pledged by these donors for Mozambican education in the 2008/09 period.
"These funds", Baxter said, "come from the promise made by the international partners during the World Conference on Education for All, held in Dakar in 2000, where it was agreed that ''no country seriously committed to education for all would be prejudiced in its efforts for lack of funds''".
The new financing, Baxter added, "confirms the trust of Mozambique's foreign partners in the political will of the Mozambican government, and in the capacity of the Ministry of Education to strengthen its administrative structure, in order to implement its strategic plan efficiently and effectively".
The additional resources, he continued, would give the Ministry the opportunity to step up school construction, the distribution of text books, the training of new teachers, and implementation of its gender and HIV/AIDS strategies.
Education Minister Aires Aly told the gathering that this additional money covers the deficit in funding the Education Strategic Plan.
The complete plan covers the period 2006-2011, and was endorsed by the donors, and by representatives of Mozambican civil society, in June 2006. The new pledge comes on top of foreign funding already granted for 2008 of $70 million.
Aly added that with this money the government will also speed up the school building programme, and provide the new schools with all the necessary equipment.
The Fast Track Initiative is based on mutual commitments between donors and developing countries, aimed at helping the latter attain the Millennium Development Goals, which include ensuring that all children can have a complete primary education by 2015.
Plans to build 1,400 classrooms
Earlier Minister Aly told reporters that the Education Ministry is planning to build 1,400 classrooms every year as part of its accelerated construction programme. To that end the Ministry now has available the necessary $17 million.
Last year the Ministry failed badly in its construction plans, only completing 26 classrooms throughout the entire country.
Explaining the failure to attain the target, Aly told reporters that his ministry had delayed in disbursing the funds to the districts, because of the lack of clear mechanisms of allocating funds for this activity. Another hindrance, he said, was the poor technical capacity at district level.
"One cannot speak of lack of money, because we have enough funds to build more classrooms. But we should complain of lack of technical capacity, and thus the big challenge for the Education Ministry is to allocate technical staff in the districts", Ali said.
He admitted that Mozambique is a long way from attaining the capacity to build the ideal 6,000 classrooms a year that would guarantee access to school to every child, thus attaining the Millennium Development Goal of complete primary education for all.
The accelerated classroom construction programme started in 2005, with a pilot project, and in 2006 began effective implementation.
Japan finances teacher training
Meanwhile, the Japanese government has agreed to provide 990 million yen (about $8.25 million) to finance the building of a teacher training college in the town of Cuamba, in the northern province of Niassa.
The agreement to this effect was signed in Maputo on 21 June by Foreign Minister Alcinda Abreu and the Japanese Ambassador, Tatsuya Miki,
The Cuamba College will have the capacity to accommodate 320 students.
On earlier occasions, Japan has provided funds to build or rehabilitate teacher-training colleges in the southern provinces of Maputo and Gaza, and in Manica in the centre of the country.
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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