Maputo — Hundreds of people marched through the streets of central Maputo on Friday in protest against the latest increase in wages, pensions and other entitlements granted to the President of the Republic and to deputies of the country's parliament, the Assembly of the Republic.
Civil society organisations accuse deputies of legislating in their own interests rather than those of the mass of citizens.
Right from the start of the first multi-party parliament, elected in 1994, deputies have ensured that parliamentary salaries are high, even though the Assembly is a part time parliament, and many deputies had other supposedly full-time jobs.
The latest increase in deputies' privileges, passed by the Assembly in April, stung civil society bodies into organizing a protest march in Maputo on Friday against what they describe as “legalized robbery”.
The bill, passed unanimously by all three parliamentary groups (from the ruling Frelimo party, and the two opposition forces, Renamo and the Mozambique Democratic Movement, MDM), provides very generous social security and pension arrangements for parliamentarians.
Any deputy who has served for three terms (15 years) and has paid 15 per cent of his wages in social security contributions is entitled to a full monthly pension, equivalent to the highest remuneration he received in parliament, updated to take inflation into account.
Deputies who have completed just one term (five years) but have reached retirement age (60 for men and 55 for women) are also entitled to the full parliamentary pension for the rest of their live, as are those who are younger, but have worked for 35 years for the state.
When deputies end their term of office they can receive a “reintegration allowance”, which is a lump sum equivalent to 75 per cent of their annual wages for each year spent in parliament. This is combined with the parliamentary pension.
According to calculations made by civil society bodies, the pension scheme for deputies will become gradually more expensive, and could be costing the country the equivalent of nine million US dollars a year by 2034.
The civil society bodies also object to a bill granting additional rights to the President of the Republic, during and after his term of office. Thus a former president will receive a “reintegration allowance” which is his annual salary times how many years he was in office, updated for inflation, plus a continued salary and allowances, also updated.
The former president is also entitled to a sum for maintaining and equipping his residence, and to vehicles for his personal use and that of his spouse and children under the age of 18. He will receive first class air tickets for himself and his family once a year for a holiday anywhere in the world, and first class tickets when he is asked to carry out any mission for the Mozambican state.
At the Friday march protestors carried placards which read “The President and the deputies have approved packages of privileges for themselves - what have they approved for citizens?”, “Benefits for the leaders, sacrifices for the people”, and “We put you in power - we can throw you out”.
Some of the slogans dismissed the Asembly as “a dormitory”, because of the frequent images shown on television of deputies sleeping during parliamentary sessions.
Zira de Deus, the programme director of the Women's Forum, one of the groups that organized the marcg, told reporters “parliament is passing laws for its own benefit, it's not looking at the real concerns of Mozambicans”.
“Poverty is reaching alarming levels, social inequality has been increasing, and we don't see from our leaders a seriousness to overcome these problems collectively”, she said.
Despite the evidently peaceful nature of the demonstration it was accompanied by a heavy police presence, including armoured vehicles.
The organizers had hoped to finish the march in Independence Square, in from of Maputo city hall, but this space was already occupied by an education fair. The alternative was one of the city's main parks - but although the organizers had spoken to the park administration in advance, they were not allowed inside and had to gather in front of the park gates.
The offending bills will not become law until President Armando Guebuza has promulgated them and they have been published in the official gazette, the Boletim da Republica. The protestors hope that Guebuza will take heed of civil society opinions and will veto the bills, returning them to the Assembly for further consideration.
But if he does promulgate the bills, the demonstrators insist that is not the end of the story, and they will fight on for changes in the laws.