31 October 2018

Mozambique: State Bodies Fail to Implement Ombudsman's Recommendations

Maputo — Mozambican state bodies are still failing to implement most of the recommendations made by the country's Ombudsman.

Delivering this year's report to the country's parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, covering the period from April 2017 to March 2018, Ombudsman Isaque Chande said that, of the 32 recommendations made by his office, only ten had been accepted. 21 were not implemented and one was awaiting a reply.

In 15 cases, there was not even a promise to reply later. The institutions involved, despite a legal requirement to reply to the Ombudsman within 15 days, remained absolutely silent.

Thus the General Command of the Mozambican police did not reply to a recommendation to re-employ a man who was unjustly sacked, the municipal council in the southern city of Matola took no measures to defend Matola citizens against invasion of their land by soldiers from a nearby barracks, and the Ministry of Culture and Tourism did not restore the rights of a worker illegally expelled from the state apparatus.

Chande could take some comfort from the fact that the percentage of recommendations ignored was even higher the previous year.

He pointed out that his office has no decision making powers and cannot enforce its recommendations. This was quite normal internationally - he said that in only two of 26 countries studied could the Ombudsman or equivalent body launch criminal proceedings.

He stressed that his office works on the basis of moral persuasion. It was not part of the government and "does not take orders from anyone. It only obeys the Constitution and the laws".

One method of persuasion is to inform the superior body when an institution fails to implement a recommendation. In the case of Ministries, the police command and provincial government, that superior body is the President of the Republic. Chande hoped that this approach would bear fruit.

In one of the most damning parts of his report, Chande catalogued the abuses found in the prisons and police cells visited. (The visits had been by his predecessor, Jose Abudo, since Chande was only elected Ombudsman in May this year).

The Tete provincial prison was built for 90 inmates, but now houses 490. The overcrowding is such that in some cells the prisoners take turns sleeping, while the others remain on their feet. Even worse was a police cell in Milange district, in Zambezia province, which can hold ten people, but was accommodating 105. The local authorities feared this cell could collapse, killing the prisoners inside.

The Tete prison had bathrooms with no running water, which emitted an unbearable stench, while the prisoners' food was cooked in the open air, without observing any basic rules of hygiene.

While prisons did at least have enough food for the inmates, the same could not be said for police cells. The district police commands said they did not have a budget to buy meals for prisoners, who had to rely on relatives bringing them food, or even on police officers and local magistrates taking pity on them and buying them food out of their own pockets.

Many police cells did not even have sleeping mats, and so the prisoners slept on the bare concrete.

Some opposition deputies thought the Ombudsman's office was a waste of time and money. "What is the value of this report, if all you do is weep?", asked Antonio Muchanga, of the former rebel movement Renamo. "What's the point, if we know that all you say is ignored?"

Chande replied "it's our responsibility as Mozambicans, and as parliamentary deputies, to strengthen state institutions".

Many of the speeches in the debate, from both the opposition and from members of the ruling Frelimo Party, focused on the 10 October municipal elections. Renamo claimed the elections were fraudulent, while Frelimo deputies spoke of an "unquestionable victory", since Frelimo won in 44 municipalities, and the opposition in only nine (they did not mention that, in terms of votes, Frelimo only won 51.7 per cent).

Such speeches, by both sides, were completely irrelevant, since the report only covered events up to March, over six months before the elections were held.

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