Maputo — The Mozambican anti-corruption NGO, the Centre for Public Integrity (CIP), announced on Monday evening that it has distributed all 2,000 of the T-shirts it printed, bearing the slogan "I'm not paying hidden debts!".
These T-shirts are part of a CIP campaign against any repayment by the Mozambican government of the illicit debts incurred by the fraudulent companies Proindicus, Ematum (Mozambique Tuna Company) and MAM (Mozambique Asset Management). These companies, in 2013 and 2014, obtained loans of over two billion dollars from the banks Credit Suisse and VTB of Russia.
No repayments have been made since 2016, but the Ministry of Economy and Finance has been in continual negotiations with the creditors, attempting to reprogramme the illicit debts. A preliminary agreement was announced by the Ministry on 6 November concerning the bonds initially issued in the name of Ematum.
The old bonds would be swapped for new ones plus "Value Recovery Instruments" - which are a means of paying the creditors out of the expected fiscal revenues from the natural gas projects in the northern province of Cabo Delgado. Thus before any Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) has been produced, the government has committed revenues from this resource to paying off illegal debts incurred by its predecessor.
The new bonds, with a face value of 900 million dollars, will mature in 2033. Interest, at the rate of 5.875 per cent, will be paid twice a year, starting on 30 March this year.
This deal is anathema to CIP, other civil society bodies and opposition political parties, who want it cancelled. The arguments for cancelling the illicit debts have been greatly strengthened by the detention in South Africa of the man who signed the guarantees for the Proindicus, Ematum and MAM loans, former Finance Minister Manuel Chang.
Chang was arrested on the basis of an international arrest warrant issued by the United States, which wants him extradited to New York to face charges of conspiracy to commit money laundering, wire fraud and securities fraud. The US indictment contains devastating details of the corruption involved in the Proindicus, Ematum and MAM loans, implicating not only Mozambicans, but also former executives of Credit Suisse, and senior figures in the Abu Dhabi based company Privinvest. The American prosecutors estimate that at least 200 million dollars of the loan proceeds were spent on bribes and kickbacks.
CIP distributed the first 2,000 T-shirts only in Maputo, but a CIP spokesperson told AIM on Tuesday that a second batch are being printed, and some of these will be sent to the provinces as well.
The T-shirts were given an additional publicity boost by the police, who sent uniformed and plain clothes agents to the street where the CIP offices are located in order to stop citizens wearing the T-shirts. The police ordered people to remove the T-shirts, and when asked why, they said they were obeying orders from their superiors, that the T-shirts might cause public disorder, or that wearing them might constitute "an illegal demonstration".
Of course, news about this harassment spread through the city, attracting more people to the CIP offices who took out T-shirts, sometimes hidden under other items of clothing.
A CIP statement said the organisation was pleased at the way the public had received its campaign. "They have shown that they are against the payment of debts illegally contracted with government guarantees and which have not benefitted Mozambicans.
"It is not the T-shirts which have encouraged Mozambicans to join this campaign", added CIP. "The feeling of revulsion faced with the legalisation and consequent payment of the debts is what moves all of us as a people".
"With or without T-shirts, CIP is encouraging the multiplication of this campaign until the government retreats from its intention to pay the hidden and illegal debts", the release continued.
At a press conference, CIP protested against the police harassment, pointing out that its campaign is entirely peaceful. "We have the right to express our indignation, when things are done illegally", declared CIP researcher Baltazar Fael, cited in Tuesday's issue of the independent daily "O Pais".
There is nothing violent, indecent or illegal about the T-shirts, which show a face shouting above the words "I'm not paying hidden debts!". On the back of the T-shirt the words "two billion" (the total illicit debt) are written.