Maputo — The Mozambican Minister of Planning and Development, Aiuba Cuereneia, interviewed by AIM, has admitted that the government is concerned at the delays in many of the projects financed by the United States’ Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC).
“All the projects should be concluded and delivered by April 2013”, said Cuereneia, “but due to the delays the deadline has been extended to 30 June, and there can be no further extension. The agreement with the financing agency ends on 23 September 2013”.
The MCC signed a “compact” with Mozambique in 2007 for a sum of 506.9 million US dollars, and the five year implementation period began in September 2008. The money, channelled through the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA), was to be spent on projects concentrated in the northern and central provinces.
The delays in several of the projects put at risk Mozambique’s chances of qualifying for a second compact. According to a press release issued by the US Embassy in Maputo last week, the MCC is not recommending to its board that a second compact be signed with Mozambique.
Nonetheless, a spurt of good performance in the final months of the current contract might persuade the MCC to change its mind. The embassy release said “if the leadership shown by Mozambique produces sufficient progress in the final 11 months of the compact, Mozambique may be in a better position to be considered for a second compact by the MCC Board in December 2013”.
Cuereneia told AIM that, in the final three months of the compact, July to September 2013, the Mozambican branch of the MCA will be wound up, its Mozambican staff will return to their previous jobs, audits will be concluded, and all the remaining equipment will be redistributed.
“As from June, there will be no further disbursement of funds for the building works, and any remaining money will be returned to the American treasury”, said the Minister. “A country such as Mozambique, with so many needs, cannot allow itself the luxury of returning money that has been donated”.
The worst delays are in the rehabilitation of a 75 kilometre stretch of Mozambique’s main north-south highway, between Mecutuchi and the Lurio river in Nampula province, which was in the hands of a Portuguese consortium, and the construction of a new water supply system for the port city of Nacala, where the tender was won by an Indian contractor.
In the case of the Mecutuchi-Lurio road, the Portuguese companies Monte Adriano and Casais are said to be facing severe financial difficulties and so have been unable to mobilise all the equipment necessary for the job. Cuereneia ruled out the possibility of hiring a new contractor – there is simply not enough time to hold another tender.
“The consortium will have to solve the problem, and one of the possible solutions is to sub-contract other companies, or to acquire equipment within Mozambique or in the region in order to complete the job”, he said.
As for the Nacala water supply system, Cuereneia believed it was possible to finish the work by May, despite the delays.
The minister dismissed the arguments presented by the companies to justify their delays as groundless. Those arguments include delays in mobilizing equipment, lack of skilled Mozambican staff to handle equipment, a high turnover of labour and the Mozambican rains.
Cuereneia pointed out that, when they drew up their programmes, the companies knew perfectly well when the rainy season occurs in Mozambique. As for labour shortages, the companies showed no signs of looking for Mozambican technical staff. They had not, for instance, advertised in the Mozambican press.
Cuereneia added that, in terms of the general social and economic indicators demanded by the MCC, Mozambique is eligible for a second compact. These indicators include investment in human capital, through such measures as increased access to primary education, keeping girls at school longer, and reducing the infant mortality rate.
“Mozambique has greatly improved these indicators in recent years”, he said. “We are optimistic, but we are faced with the constraint of the building work which must finish on time”.
One MCC area where progress has been made, said Cuereneia, is support for farmers affected by Lethal Yellowing Disease, which has been decimating coconut palms in Zambezia province.
So far, dead palms have been cleared from 6,750 hectares. Alternative crops have been sown on 5,694 hectares, while on the rest of the land 453,709 new palms have been planted. Peasant farmers are receiving financial support to allow them to undertake other income generating activities, while they wait for the restoration of their palm orchards.
MCA funds have also supported a land tenure programme, whereby land is demarcated and registered, and the farmers receive land titles. Cuereneia said this had been well received by communities in the areas covered, since they had begun to understand the importance of having a document that proves their right to land.
He thought this was an activity that should be replicated throughout the country.
“Many people live for years in particular spaces, and they farm particular tracts of land without any land titles, and they imagine that the land belongs to them”, said Cuereneia. “With this project we shall avoid the problem of the same plot of land being allocated to two or more people”.
An MCC rural water project envisaged the construction of 600 water sources with hand pumps in Nampula and Cabo Delgado province. However, contracts had been signed to drill only 440 boreholes, and by August 387 had been concluded.
“Many of the districts produced negative results, and it was necessary to drill other boreholes”, said Cuereneia. “This forced a reduction in the number of boreholes to be opened, because there was no more money”.