Maputo — More than a fortnight after the Law on Public Probity took effect (on 15 November), none of the parliamentary deputies whom it affects have obeyed its provisions on conflicts of interest.
The law states that no holders of public office may receive wages or fees from other public institutions or companies. The law lists the officials concerned and they range from the President of the Republic down to village headmen. They include all ministers, deputy ministers, provincial governors, district administrators, mayors and municipal councillors, as well as parliamentary deputies.
As from 15 November, none of these officials were entitled to draw remuneration from other public bodies (except for teaching duties, intellectual property rights or wages and pensions from jobs held in the past).
Several deputies from the ruling Frelimo Party are affected by this article in the law, since they hold other jobs in the state apparatus, or sit on the boards of publicly owned companies.
The most prominent of these are Teodoro Wate, chairperson of the parliamentary commission on legal and constitutional affairs, who is also chairperson of the board of the national airline, LAM; Margarida Talapa, head of the Frelimo parliamentary group, who is a non-executive director, of the publicly owned mobile phone company, m-Cel; and Mateus Katupha, a member of the Parliamentary Standing Commission, who is also chairperson of the public fuel company, Petromoc.
None have given up their company position or resigned their parliamentary seats. Last Friday, the Frelimo parliamentary group met with members of the government, including Prime Minister Alberto Vaquina, to discuss the government’s Plan and Budget for 2013. But they also took the opportunity to raise the Law on Public Probity.
It seems that the Frelimo group may now seek a clarification of the meaning of the law during a plenary session of parliament. The spokesperson for the Frelimo group, Edmundo Galiza-Matos Junior, told reporters “the Assembly of the Republic is a body which, when doubts prevail about how to interpret the Law on Public Probity, has the power to explain the way in which it should implemented”.
The Frelimo group, he added, “does not rule out the possibility of proposing a debate in the plenary session or some other way of regulating the law and clear up possible misunderstandings”.
But the law was passed by the Assembly in May, after the original government bill had been amended by the Legal Affairs Commission. In May, the deputies seemed to know perfectly well what they were doing, and so it is hard to understand claims in November and December that the law is somehow ambiguous.
The Assembly had the power to amend the law so that deputies would not be affected until the current parliament ends its term of office in 2014. But no such amendment was moved and the law, as passed, clearly does affect the current deputies.
Two deputies, Alfredo Gamito, the outgoing chairperson of the board of the general meeting of the cement company Cimentos de Mocambique, and Isidora Faztudo, chairperson of the board of the brewing company Cervejas de Mocambique, claimed last week that they were not covered by the law since they had been appointed to their post by other shareholders in those companies and not by the government.
Abdul Carimo, director of the government’s Legal Reform Technical Unit (UTREL), cited in Monday’s issue of the independent daily “O Pais”, retorted that it made no difference, and that a conflict of interests does not depend on whether the person concerned was appointed by the government or not. It was enough that the state was a shareholder in those companies.
“The law is perfectly clear about this”, said Carimo. “It is sufficient that a person occupies a position in one of the bodies of such a company for there to be a conflict of interests”. At no point did the law say that the conflict existed only if the person was appointed by the government.
“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 interests”, he stressed. Their situation was clearly illegal.
So what happens now? Carimo replied “I think that in the coming weeks things will be clarified. The state institutions will study the matter”.
Perhaps the most extreme statement so far has come from Frelimo deputy Carlos Siliya, who complained to the television station STV, that deputies were being “witch-hunted” by the media.
Siliya is affected by the law since he holds a state job, as a departmental head in the Ministry of Veterans’ Affairs. “From what is appearing in the press, it would seem that the law was made against the deputies”, he protested. “It seems to me that the target is the deputies and I don’t agree with that”.