13 February 2018

Mozambique: Constitutional Amendments Top Priority for Assembly

Maputo — The top priority for the next sitting of the Mozambican parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, scheduled to begin on 28 February, is the set of proposed constitutional amendments arising from the consensus reached on “decentralisation” in the discussions between President Filipe Nyusi and the leader of the rebel movement Renamo, Afonso Dhlakama.

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, the spokesperson for the Assembly's governing board, its Standing Commission, Mateus Katupha, said the agenda for the sitting “has 29 points, including the draft constitutional amendments which, by their very nature, occupy top position in organising the list of materials”.

The main changes in the constitutional amendments, a copy of which is in AIM's possession, are the abolition of the direct election of mayors in municipalities, the appointment of provincial governors by whatever party wins a majority in the provincial assembly, and the creation of an entirely new layer of government, the district assemblies.

The current Constitution states that universal suffrage “is the general rule for designating the office holders in the elective bodies of sovereignty, of the provinces and of local power”. That covers the election of named individuals as President of the Republic and as mayors in municipalities. Without the amendments, it would also have covered the election of named individuals as provincial governors and district administrators, once the principle of appointment had been replaced by that of election.

The new wording of this article, in the amendments, is that universal suffrage is “the general rule for designating the President of the Republic, the deputies of the Assembly of the Republic and the members of the provincial, district and municipal assemblies”. Only the President is elected as an individual, the deputies and the members of the various assemblies will be elected on party lists.

The current constitution states that the executive body in a municipality (the Municipal Council) is headed by an elected mayor. This disappears, and the mayor will be proposed by whichever party, coalition, or independent group, wins a majority of votes in the municipal assembly election.

It has been difficult to sack mayors. Indeed, in 2011, when Frelimo demanded that five mayors elected on the Frelimo ticket resign, two of them refused to go. Since the mayor and the municipal assembly are bodies elected in two separate elections, they have limited powers over each other.

The amendments change this, and establish the supremacy of the municipal assembly. The Assembly can sack the mayor, and the dominant party will just pick some other Assembly member to replace him. There will be no mayoral by-election.

As for the provincial governors, currently they are simply appointed by the President. Under the amendments they will be proposed by whichever party wins a majority in the provincial assembly, and then the President must swear them into office.

Similarly with the districts. The district administrator will no longer be appointed by the government, but will be chosen by the party that wins a majority of votes in the district assembly.

Unlike the municipal and provincial assemblies, the district assemblies do not exist, and there is no popular demand to set up such bodies. The first district assembly elections are postponed to 2024.

The assemblies will have the power to sack provincial governors and district administrators. So will the President of the Republic - but only if the governor or administrator violates the Constitution, commits acts that violate national unity, seriously breaches norms of budgetary and financial management, or commits crimes that can be punished with jail terms.

The decentralised provincial, district and municipal bodies enjoy administrative and financial autonomy, and are responsible for much of day-to-day life in their areas. But they must respect “the unitary state, national unity, sovereignty, and the indivisibility and inalienable nature of the State”.

Among areas that are not decentralised and remain the responsibility of the central government are defence and security, foreign policy, the issuing of currency, the creation and alteration of taxes, mineral resources and energy, and all other natural resources.

A new post, that of Secretary of State in the Province, will be set up, representing the state in the provinces and districts, and with overall responsibility for those areas that have not been decentralised.

Despite the importance attributed to the constitutional amendments, they may well not be the first item discussed by the Assembly in the coming session. This is because they must first go to the Assembly's specialised commissions, notably the Commission on Constitutional and Legal Affairs, and the Commission on Public Administration, which will draw up written opinions. This might take longer than the two weeks before the start of the sitting.

The constitutional changes will also require alterations in other legislation, particularly the electoral laws.

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