Mozambique: Renamo walks out of parliament

Mozambique’s main opposition party, the former rebel movement Renamo, boycotted the country’s parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, on Thursday, walking out of the chamber just as Prime Minister Aires Ali began to reply to a debate on food subsidies.

The debate only took place because Renamo had demanded it as a supposedly “urgent matter” – Renamo deputies wanted an explanation of why the government had abandoned its plans to introduce a subsidised basket of basic foods, and what had happened to the 335 million meticais (12.4 million US dollars) budgeted for this scheme.

Renamo had called for explanations from the government, but stormed out of the Assembly before the Prime Minister could finish making the government’s case.

Renamo’s excuse was that it too wanted the right to make final comments in the debate. But in any debate the time allocated to each parliamentary group is agreed upon in advance. The Assembly’s governing board, its Standing Commission, divides the available time between the three parliamentary groups in proportion to the number of seats each of them holds. That proposal is put before the Assembly plenary which usually accepts it.

This time the ruling Frelimo Party and the Mozambique Democratic Movement (MDM) kept within their time limits, but the Renamo deputies overran.

Renamo then insisted that, since it had asked the question of the government, it should be given extra time in order to sum up. This would have been an innovation in Mozambican parliamentary procedure.

Assembly Chairperson Veronica Macamo then called a lengthy interval while the matter was discussed by the Assembly’s Legal and Constitutional Affairs Commission. Eventually, the Commission chairperson, Teodoro Waty, told the plenary that, although Renamo arguably did have a right to sum up, the time should come from its original quota – which it had used up.

This led to furious protests from Renamo, including attacks on Macamo who was said to be “partisan”.

Frelimo deputy Alfredo Gamito retorted that in reality Macamo had followed all the due parliamentary procedures. The problem was simply that the Renamo group “handled its time badly”.

Macamo called for a vote on whether to grant Renamo more time, but the Renamo group postponed the inevitable by demanding a further interval. The ten minutes granted stretched out to about half an hour, but eventually the Renamo plea for more time was defeated by 161 Frelimo votes to 44 Renamo ones, while the six MDM deputies present abstained.

So when Macamo invited the Prime Minister to conclude the debate, all 44 Renamo deputies rose to their feet and trooped noisily out of the room.

Noting that the very people who had demanded that he address the Assembly had now left the chamber, Aires Ali stressed that the subsidised food basket was one of the emergency measures drawn up by the government, when faced with rising prices on the world and national markets.

But the food basket was only to be activated only if the price rises continued. “This was a precautionary measure, to be set in motion if there were further increases, which didn’t happen”, said Ali.

Instead, there were declines in the prices of key foods, and the Mozambican currency, the metical strengthened against the US dollar and the South African rand, which made imported food cheaper. The Mozambican market was also well supplied with food grown in the country since there was a good harvest this year, Ali said.

He promised that the government will continue to monitor food prices and the cost of living, and if necessary mitigation measures would be taken.

Post published in: Africa News

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