Maputo — It is financially impossible for the Mozambican government to pay a monthly pension of 20,000 meticais (about 665 US dollars) to each and every demobilised soldier, declared the Deputy Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Marcelino Lipola, at a Wednesday press conference.
Liphola was referring to the key demand made by the Forum of Demobilised Soldiers, which has attempted to hold demonstrations every Tuesday outside the office of Prime Minister Alberto Vaquina. For the last month, the riot police have prevented Forum members from coming anywhere near Vaquina’s office.
Liphola recognised that pensions are meagre – but this was true, not only of demobilised soldiers, but of retired workers from the health and education services and from other walks of life.
He said the Forum (which is only one of several organisations claiming to represent demobilised troops) was handling its complaints badly, since the first place it should have turned to was the Ministry of Veterans’ Affairs, a body set up specifically to deal with the grievances of former fighters.
“The problem is not whether citizens protest in the streets or not. The right to demonstrate is enshrined in the law”, said Liphola. “The question that seems fundamental to me is: what is the best way of dealing with this matter, given that there are differing points of view?”
He stressed that his Ministry is always open to hear complaints from former soldiers and that “at no time, either collectively or individually, have any veterans been thrown out of here”.
He pointed out that the Ministry has also been promoting the self-employment of demobilised soldiers. It had financed projects which allowed veterans to generate income to improve living conditions for themselves and their families.
Thus in 2011, the Ministry had financed 80 such projects at a total cost of four million meticais (about 133,000 US dollars), and in 2012 a further 68 projects costing 5.2 million meticais. Lipola did not say how many veterans had benefitted from these projects.
He added that 431 demobilised soldiers had been found jobs in productive sectors in 2012, and a further 266 had attended courses on project management,
As for study opportunities for veterans’ children, Liphola said that in 2012 scholarships had been granted to 533 such children to intend higher education courses. The number so far this year is 81.
Ministry assistance also extended to technical and professional education. Last year, said Lipola, 192 children of veterans were placed in a mid-level training institute at Chigodele in Manica province and a further 120 will be admitted this year.
As for pensions, he said that, under the Statute of Veterans approved in 2011, the government has been registering former soldiers and fixing their pensions.
Since them the pensions for 998 veterans of the national liberation struggle have been fixed, and the Ministry has been processing the cases of 13,303 other demobilised troops. 3,659 of these are now receiving their pensions.