Maputo — The work of the Mozambican parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, ground to a halt on Wednesday, as the deputies failed to debate either the second reading of the controversial bill granting enormous benefits to parliamentary staff, or a motion submitted by the main opposition party, Renamo, censuring Attorney-General Beatriz Buchili for the report she had given to the Assembly in late April.
The censure motion was on the order paper, but the majority Frelimo Party wanted to delay the debate. The Wednesday session should have begun at 09.00, but until 11.00 only the Renamo parliamentary group was present in the chamber.
The spokesperson for the Assembly’s governing board, its Standing Commission. Alberto Matukutuku, confirmed that the censure motion had been postponed to a date that will be announced later.
Frelimo had asked for the delay, and the Standing Commission “after a lot of debate” accepted postponement of the motion, Matukutuku said. This was a foregone conclusion given Frelimo’s majority on the Commission – but it has been standard practice in the past to accept such delays when requested by one of the parliamentary groups.
Matukutuku admitted that Renamo’s censure motion “was submitted in due time, obeys the standing orders, and there’s no problem with it”.
The rapporteur of the Frelimo parliamentary group, Telmina Pereira, confirmed that originally it was scheduled to debate the censure motion on Wednesday – but this became impossible because the written opinion on the motion, from the Assembly’s Commission on Legal and Constitutional Matters, was only distributed to the deputies on Wednesday morning.
Under Mozambican parliamentary procedures, opinions from the Assembly’s working commissions are essential before any legislation or any motion can be discussed by the plenary.
The Frelimo group, Pereira said, had not yet had time to consider the Commission’s opinion. It thus believed “the conditions do not yet exist to hold a debate on the motion in plenary. Hence the Frelimo group has suggested that the point be delayed for a better opportunity when we can all go to the debate with the necessary preparation”.
The motion has not been withdrawn from the agenda, she stressed. “We just thought we should look for a better date so that we can discuss the matter on a footing of equality”, Pereira added.
However, this sitting of the Assembly was due to finish on Thursday. Although Matukutuku announced that the closing session has now been postponed to Friday (because of Thursday’s celebrations of the end of the moslem fasting month of Ramadan), it is clearly impossible to hold a meaningful debate on the censure motion before then. Indeed, nothing at all is being discussed in plenary on Thursday.
The Renamo censure motion claimed that Buchili’s report “was full of fragments that do not dignify the scale of the institutions she represents”. Her attitude towards the Assembly, Renamo complained “is to be condemned”.
As for the content of the report “this deserves to be rejected by the entire Mozambican people”, particularly because, in Renamo’s view, the Attorney-General “covered up illicit actions and serious crimes”.
In particular, Renamo protested that Buchili’s report had nothing to say about the bribe of ten million US dollars offered to Frelimo by the Abu Dhabi-based group, Privinvest, which was the brains of the entire illicit scheme known in Mozambique as “the hidden debts”.
The ten million dollars, Renamo accused, was transferred to a Frelimo account in the country’s largest commercial bank, the Millennium-BIM, in four instalments between March and July 2014. This claim, never confirmed or denied by Frelimo, comes from documents presented by an agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) at the trial in New York in late 2019 of Privinvest official Jean Boustani.
The Assembly also failed to debate the second and final reading of the bill granting extravagant privileges and benefits to parliamentary staff. The bill passed its first reading unanimously last week: all the opposition deputies voted with Frelimo to grant the benefits, much to the obvious annoyance of the Ministry of Economy and Finance.
The Ministry pointed out that the new benefits will cost the state budget about 104 million meticais (about 1.8 million US dollars) a year, and threatened that the benefits will not be paid, if they are not covered by the budget.
The bill caused a wave of revulsion in civil society. A petition from the civil society coalition, the Budgetary Monitoring Forum (FMO), urged the Assembly to withdraw the bill.
The FMO said the benefits in the bill “are totally disproportionate with Mozambique’s public sector and the fact that the country has not been able to provide basic services such as water and transport, health and other essentials for the survival of the majority of the population.”
FMO spokesperson Adriano Nuvunga accused the Assembly of “showing total lack of awareness of the people’s unbearable suffering”.
Without a second reading, the bill is in limbo, and cannot be sent to President Filipe Nyusi to be promulgated. The Assembly plenary will not meet again until the end of year sitting, which normally begins in October. This delay gives the deputies time to reflect, and amend, or possibly withdraw altogether, the controversial bill.
A spokesperson for the Frelimo group told AIM that the Assembly commissions must now work on the suggestions made during the debate on the first reading, and must also analyse the petition submitted by the FMO.