11 March 2008

Mozambique: Guebuza Reshuffles Government

Maputo — Mozambican President Armando Guebuza has sacked three ministers and demoted a fourth, in the most significant government changes since he was sworn into office in February 2005.

Foreign Minister Alcinda Abreu has been shifted to the much less prestigious post of Minister for Environmental Coordination. She is replaced at the Foreign Ministry by Oldemiro Baloi, who was deputy cooperation minister in the early 1990s, and then Minister of Industry, Trade and Tourism between 1994 and 1999.

Since leaving the government , Baloi has been active in private business, notably as a member of the Board of Directors and of the Executive Board of the country's largest commercial bank, the Millennium-BIM (International Bank of Mozambique)

At the Environment Ministry, Abreu replaces Luciano de Castro, perhaps the least visible member of the government. There have been serious concerns over deforestation and illegal logging, particularly in the central province of Zambezia, although in his sole statement to parliament on the matter last year, Castro claimed the situation was now under control.

Antonio Mungwambe loses his job as Transport Minister, and is replaced by Paulo Zucula, formerly director of the country's relief agency, the National Disasters Management Institute (INGC). Zucula has been widely praised for turning the INGC into an efficient organisation, and for handling the floods crises of 2007 and this year with remarkably little loss of life.

Zucula's background is in agriculture, and he briefly served as deputy agriculture minister in the 1990s.

It was probably the riots in Maputo and Matola on 5 February that sealed Mungwambe's fate. The riots were sparked off by a rise of up to 50 per cent in the fares for the privately-owned minibuses (colloquially known as "chapas") that provide much of Maputo's passenger transport. Mungwambe had negotiated the fare increase with the Federation of Road Transport Associations (FEMATRO), and expressed surprise at the violent reaction.

Mungwambe claimed that nobody could have foreseen the riots. In fact, they were not an unprecedented bolt from the blue, since the last time there was a fare rise, in mid-2005, there were also disturbances.

In July 2005, barricades of burning tyres were erected in parts of Matola - the same tactic that protesters were to use on a much larger scale in February this year. Mungwambe appeared to have entirely forgotten the earlier disturbances, even though he was minister at the time.

Guebuza sacked Esperanca Machavela as Justice Minister, replacing her with Benvinda Levi, the director of the highly praised Legal and Judicial Training Centre (CFJJ), and a former presiding judge of the Maputo City Court.

The justice sector has come under regular criticism for its slowness, inefficiency and corruption. But the powers of the Ministry of Justice are rather limited - the separation of powers means that the Ministry cannot interfere in the courts or in the Public Prosecutor's Office, which is where most of the problems are to be found.

The Ministry does control the prisons, and Machavela oversaw the successful unification of the prison services (previously some prisons had been controlled by the Justice Ministry and some by the Interior Ministry). She can also take some of the credit for the dramatic change in the composition of the prison population. When she took office, the great majority of inmates of the country's jails had not been found guilty of anything at all, but were merely awaiting trial.

Today, however, about two thirds of all inmates are serving sentences, and only a third are on remand.

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