Mozambique: Head of Statistics Institute Resigns

Maputo — The chairperson of Mozambique's National Statistics Institute (INE), Rosario Fernandes, has submitted a letter of resignation, following the dispute between the INE and the National Elections Commission (CNE) over the true size of the electorate in the southern province of Gaza, reports Friday's issue of the independent weekly "Savana".

Fernandes told "Savana" he had written to the Finance Minister, Adriano Maleiane (because the Finance Ministry supervises the INE), and to Prime Minister Carlos Agostinho do Rosario, expressing his desire to leave the INE.

He said the time had come to turn his attentions to what he most liked: namely education and the transfer of knowledge.

Fernandes said that when he was invited to head the INE, at first he refused. "I knew of the pressures and complexities", he said. He had intended to chair the INE for one or two years, but has so far served for three.

He did not want to comment about the Gaza figures. "I want to leave peacefully, without harassment, and in the awareness that I have made my contribution to the country", he said.

Pressed by the interviewer, Fernandes said he had decided to leave "in line with my principles".

He added that statistics are not compatible with pressure. "There are international standards (and Mozambique is a signatory to international conventions on the matter), and we are obliged to obey them out of our professional faith", he said. "I am committed to this".

In statistics, nothing is invented he said - and anyone who does invent things "is subverting statistics". That was the main message he would leave to his successor, Fernandes stressed - in statistics you don't invent anything.

He knew that the INE's figures could not please everybody - but it was enough to listen to civil society, the press and public opinion to know who apprecated the INE's work and who didn't.

Last Friday, President Filipe Nyusi publicly criticised Fernandes because of his absence from the ceremony inaugurating the new headquarters of the Ministry of Economy and Finance. But Fernandes told "Savana" he was not there because he had not been invited. "I can't go where I have not been invited", he said.

He was attending the Coordinating Council of the Ministry, but the inauguration was not on the agenda of the Council.

The dispute over Gaza arises because of the impossible figures given by the CNE for the number of registered voters in the province. The CNE's executive body, the Electoral Administration Technical Secretariat (STAE) set a target for voter registration in Gaza of 1.14 million, and the final number of voters supposedly registered in the province was 1,166,011. The CNE simply rubber stamped this figure, even though it is almost 330,000 more than the INE's figure for voting age adults.

The INE's population census of 2017 counted the number of people in Gaza at 1,422,460. At a population growth rate in the province of 1.2 per cent (much lower than the national growth rate of 2.8 per cent), the projected size of the Gaza population in 2019 is 1,456,599.

The INE says that of this figure 836,581 people are aged 18 and above (57.4 per cent of the total), and are thus entitled to register as voters. The CNE somehow produced an extra 330,000 adults in the province: to put this figure in perspective, substantial Mozambican cities such as Quelimane, Tete and Pemba have fewer than 330,000 inhabitants.

If the CNE's figures are right, they would mean that the census had somehow missed out the equivalent of an entire city.

Gaza is the only province where this anomaly occurs. In the other ten provinces the number of registered voters is lower (and in some cases, such as Niassa and Nampula, much lower) than the adult population projected by the INE.

The impossible registration figure from Gaza distorts the distribution of parliamentary seats. Provincial constituencies are allocated seats in proportion to the size of their registered electorate. STAE and the CNE allocated 22 seats to Gaza - eight more than the number of seats for Gaza in the current parliament. AIM's calculations, using the INE figures, show that Gaza should be allocated 13 seats - one less than in the current parliament, not eight more.

Fernandes is widely regarded as highly competent and honest - a reputation he earned in his previous post as head of the Mozambican Tax Authority (AT), which he built up virtually from scratch. His career has never been blemished with corruption scandals, and he had nothing whatever to do with the financial crisis unleashed by Mozambique's "hidden debts".

One of the country's foremost economists, Carlos Nuno Castel-Branco, writing in Facebook on Friday, noted that Fernandes was one of the few senior Mozambican figures who opposed the enormous tax incentives offered to the foreign investment-based mega-projects. He tried to eliminate them, but the government refused. Castel-Branco believes that serious taxation of half a dozen mega-projects would have led to an increase in public revenue of over ten per cent a year.

While Rosario was running the AT, real fiscal revenue (adjusted for inflation) grew at an average annual rate of 7.4 per cent, about 0.5 per cent more than the annual growth in the gross domestic product. Since tax rates remained the same and the fiscal incentives were not abolished, this success bore witness to increased efficiency in tax collection under Fernandes, said Castel-Branco.

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