Maputo — The main Mozambican trade union federation, the OTM (Mozambican Workers' Organisation), has denounced the government's plans for passenger transport, in unusually strong language.
Cited by the independent daily "O Pais", the OTM General Secretary, Alexandre Munguambe, said the government's promise of a "passenger subsidy" is "just a way of entertaining the public", and the "Famba Card" is unworkable.
The Famba Card is a digital card, through which passengers can pay their fares, and which the government hopes to use to channel the "passenger subsidy" to its intended beneficiaries. But when it was introduced on buses earlier this year, it was widely regarded as a failure. Now the government hopes to extend the card to the minibuses (known as "chapas") which provide much of the country's urban passenger transport. Both chapa owners and the travelling passengers have reacted with scepticism to this scheme.
What workers want, said Munguambe, is urgent and effective measures to control prices of basic goods and services, "instead of entertaining the public with promises of distributing money to them or with projects that are not viable".
He said the OTM wants a reduction in the Value Added Tax (VAT) paid on basic goods and fuel (although basic foods are already zero-rated for VAT).
Munguambe pointed out that none of the country's minimum wages come anywhere near covering the cost of a basic package of goods and services. The new monthly minimum wages, that took effect on 1 April, range between 4,591 and 14,340 meticais (between 72 and 224 US dollars, at the current exchange rate), depending on the sector.
But, according to the OTM's calculations, for an average household of five members, the basic basket of goods and services costs almost 40,000 meticais a month.
Munguambe also attacked the policy, announced by Minister of State Administration, Ana Comoane, of prioritizing the dependents of veterans of the independence war for access to jobs in the public service.
The level of unemployment in Mozambique is "very high", he said, and in theory all citizens are equal before the law. The government should not, in the OTM's view, promote policies that divide society.
Munguambe warned that the trade unions "reserve the right to mobilise a national demonstration or strike as a way of expressing its rejection of the high cost of living".
Nonetheless, the OTM warned workers not to become involved in acts of vandalism and should only obey the guidelines issued by the unions.
The government, however, according to the Minister of Economy and Finance, Max Tonela, claims that it has obtained 50 million dollars from its international partners to cushion the high cost of fuel, plus 85 million dollars "to increase the fiscal space for the State to finance the poorest households".
Speaking to reporters last Friday, during a visit to Mozambique by Abebe Salassie, director of the African Department of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Tonela said the State had come under enormous financial pressure because of the costs of the terrorist raids in the northern province of Cabo Delgado, of the Covid-19 pandemic and, more recently, of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
"These factors have exerted huge pressure on the state budget", said the Minister.
Asked about the passenger transport crisis, Tonela did not explain how the "passenger subsidy" or the digital card would work.