Mozambican politicians ignore probity law

Many judges are Frelimo members, giving political comrades a degree of immunity. (Carlos Litulo, AFP)

Many judges are Frelimo members, giving political comrades a degree of immunity. (Carlos Litulo, AFP)

Mozambican politicians are rattled by new anti-corruption rules that bar the holders of public office from receiving wages or fees from more than one public institution or company.

The new public probity law,  designed to counter the mounting conflict between political and business interests in the country, means that about a dozen senior MPs have some tough choices to make: either to keep their parliamentary seats or their parastatal board positions.

Most of those affected, including tax authority and municipal officials, are aligned to the powerful ruling party, Frelimo, which holds a parliamentary majority of 191 out of 250 seats and whose members dominate public and business circles.

Among the implicated MPs are Margarida Talapa, the ruling party chief whip, who is also a board member at mobile phone operator MCel; Teodoro Waty, chair of both the Parliament's constitutional and legal affairs commission and state-owned Mozambique Airlines; Mateus Katupha, chair of state fuel company Petromoc and a member of the assembly's standing commission; and Isidora Faztudo, chair of the board of brewing company Cervejas de Mocambique.

However, nearly three weeks since the law came into force, no resignations have been tabled and the Central Office for the Fight against Corruption has publicly admitted that it is powerless because the nine-member Central Public Ethics Commission required by the new law is yet to be established.

Some MPs say they will ignore the rules until after the general election in 2014; others claim they are not affected because they were given their parastatal board positions by shareholders, not the government. A handful have been reported as saying there is no conflict of interest and their "hands are clean".

However, according to Abdul Carimo, director of the government's legal reform technical unit, there is no ambiguity.

"The law is perfectly clear about this," he told daily paper O Pais. "Anybody who is a parliamentary deputy and at the same time sits on bodies of public companies or companies in which the state participates is in a conflict of interest," he said.

But Carlos Siliya, a parliamentarian who also holds a management position in the ministry of veterans' affairs, is among those who dis-agrees. He has accused the legislation of being a "witch-hunt against MPs". 

Baltazar Fael, director of research at the Centre for Public Integrity in Maputo, said urgent clarity was needed about how the law would be enforced.

He said it was strange that the MPs – who themselves voted the new legislation through parliament – seemed so surprised by its contents.

"This is not a sudden new law," he told the <em>Mail & Guardian</em>. "Discussions have been going on for a long time; they have had months to prepare for this. It is part of a wider package of anticorruption legislation."

Fael indicated that the government's reaction in coming weeks would be an important test for the recently appointed prime minister, Alberto Vaquina, who is in charge of nominating public board members and to whom people are now looking for decisions.

As well as attempting to reduce conflicts of interest between holders of public office, the probity law also requires all officials &ndash; from MPs and judges to tax authority officials and bank directors &ndash; to declare their financial assets to the attorney general.

This requirement already exists, but Fael said capacity constraints meant it was hard to enforce. Under the new Act, the declarer also had a right to veto a request by a citizen to view assets, something he said could only be overturned by a lengthy appeals process.

"The problem in Mozambique is not a lack of legislation &ndash; we have plenty of that &ndash; but the issue is its enforcement and that is down to a combination of capacity constraints and political will," Fael said.

"On paper, we have an independent judiciary, but the attorney general is appointed by the president and we know that many senior judges are card-carrying members of the ruling party and do not like to take decisions against their own."

The new probity law comes as the country, once one of the world's poorest, is enjoying an unpre-cedented economic boom thanks to large gas and coal discoveries.

Private investors and multinationals are flooding in and, according to the International Monetary Fund, gross domestic product growth is expected to reach 7.5% this year and 8.4% in 2013.

The new extractive industry and associated infrastructural development has led to a number of contracts and licences suddenly being made available and allegations are swirling that elite members of Frelimo are abusing their links to public institutions to win lucrative tenders.

The family members of President Armando Guebuza, who has been in power since 2005, are widely reported to have significant business interests in the country.

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