15 June 2014

Mozambique: Guebuza Vetoes Controversial Bills

Maputo — Mozambican President Armando Guebuza has vetoed two controversial bills, passed by the Mozambican parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, in May, which dramatically increased the pension and other rights of former parliamentary deputies, and of the President of the Republic himself.

The Assembly sent the two bills, which caused outrage among civil society, to Guebuza for promulgation on 16 May. No bill can become law until it is promulgated by the President and published in the official gazette, the "Boletim da Republica".

The law granting increased privileges to former deputies was passed unanimously - nobody from the three parliamentary groups - from the ruling Frelimo Party, the former rebel movement Renamo, or the Mozambique Democratic Movement (MDM) - expressed any doubts. Frelimo and the MDM also supported the bill on the rights and privileges of the President, which Renamo voted against.

Guebuza was clearly attentive to the angry voices from Mozambican society which accused the deputies of feathering their own beds. Last week he exercised his veto, sending the two bills back to the Assembly or "re-analysis".

In his letter to the Assembly, Guebuza said, "after analyzing both bills, it seems to me that they need to be re-examined by the Assembly of the Republic, taking into special consideration the negative socio-economic impact they may cause, and the difficulties in complying with them in financial and budgetary terms".

The bill on deputies' rights provided very generous social security and pension arrangements for parliamentarians.

Any deputy who had served for three terms (15 years) and had paid 15 per cent of his wages in social security contributions would be entitled to a full monthly pension, equivalent to the highest remuneration he received in parliament, updated to take inflation into account.

Deputies who had completed just one term (five years) but had reached retirement age (60 for men and 55 for women) would also have been entitled to the full parliamentary pension for the rest of their lives, as would those who are younger, but had worked for 35 years for the state. The Mozambican parliament, under this bill, would have become the only institution in the country where five years' work brings a lifetime pension.

The bill also proposed that 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 would be combined with the parliamentary pension.

According to calculations made by civil society bodies, the pension scheme for former deputies would become gradually more expensive, and could be costing the country the equivalent of nine million US dollars a year by 2034.

The bill seemed all the more outrageous because the Assembly of the Republic is a part time body. Usually it has just two sittings a year, lasting for perhaps 90 days. Usually plenary sessions are held just twice a week, from 08.30 to 13.00. Many deputies combine this light work load with other jobs, which they are not obliged to resign.

Members of parliamentary commissions - particularly the Constitutional and Legal Affairs commission, which must inspect every bill before it is debates - do much more work. But only a minority of the deputies sit on commissions.

The bill on rights and duties of the President of the Republic, during and after his term of office, sought to grant any former president a "reintegration allowance", which would be his annual salary times how many years he was in office, updated for inflation, plus a continued salary and allowances, also updated.

A former president would also be 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 would 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.

The two bills sparked off a protest demonstration through the streets of central Maputo on 16 May, by civil society organizations accusing deputies of legislating in their own interests rather than those of the mass of citizens, and of committed "legalized robbery".

At this 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 Assembly as "a dormitory", because of the frequent images shown on television of deputies sleeping during parliamentary sessions.

The only party which recognized that it was out of touch with public opinion was the MDM. Its leader, the Mayor of Beira, Daviz Simango, publicly apologised on 24 May for the votes cast by the MDM parliamentary group.

"It was a serious mistake", he insisted. "We made a very grave error" - and if the MDM ever had the chance it would vote to remove the privileges granted to parliamentarians. Simango said he was seeking an audience with Guebuza to urge him to veto the bills. In the event, that proved unnecessary.

Under the Constitution, the two bills could simply go back to the Assembly plenary for a fresh vote. If the bills were then passed by a two thirds majority, the President would be obliged to promulgate them. Since Frelimo holds 191 of the 250 seats in the Assembly, it could override the presidential veto on its own.

This, however, seems highly unlikely, given Guebuza's standing within Frelimo and the fact that this is an election year.

This is the second time that parliamentary greed has been overruled by presidential caution. In mid-1998, Guebuza's predecessor, Joaquim Chissano, vetoed an earlier package of generous pension rights that deputies withed to award themselves.

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