Assembly passes final reading of ethics bill

The Mozambican parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, on Friday passed the second and final reading of a bill regulating public service ethics, now renamed the Law on Public Probity.

The final version of the bill incorporates all the amendments proposed by the Assembly’s Commission on Constitutional and Legal Matters. The most significant of these is that duties and prohibitions that applied only to parliamentary deputies in the initial government bill now extend to members of all public bodies.

The article that has aroused most interest initially barred all deputies from receiving wages or fees from other public institutions and companies. This was seen as targeting those parliamentarians from the ruling Frelimo Party who also sit on the boards of companies.

For example, the Chairperson of the Constitutional and Legal Affairs Commission, Teodoro Waty, is also chairperson of the board of Mozambique Airlines, and the head of the Frelimo parliamentary group, Margarida Talapa, sits on the board of the publicly-owned mobile phone company, M-Cel.

The version passed on Friday extends this ban to all holders of public office (e.g. members of the executive at central, provincial, district and local levels). None of these officials will now be entitled to draw remuneration from other public bodies (except for teaching duties, intellectual property rights, or pensions from jobs held in the past).

A section in the initial bill concerning duties specific to judges and prosecutors has been withdrawn. The Assembly regarded these as matters that should be covered in the statutes of these professions.

One change significant for media professionals is that the amended bill bans all holders of public office from recruiting journalists still active in the media as their press attaches or consultants. This should end the practice of journalists working both as reporters and as government advisors, long criticized as compromising media independence.

A further useful amendment is a requirement that all public servants must obey legal deadlines, and avoid any unjustified delays in answering requests. Anyone who holds up decision for no good reasons can be subjected to disciplinary and civil proceedings.

The bill forbids public servants from “from promoting party, political and religious activities” in their workplace, during normal working hours. There is no ban on a political party such as Frelimo having branches inside the state – but the members of those branches can only hold meetings in their own time and not that of the state.

The final version maintains intact the obligation of all members of elected political bodies (the parliament itself, mayors, and the municipal and provincial assemblies) to declare their assets. This obligation extends to appointed political officials such as ministers, deputy ministers, and provincial governors, and to all judges, all public prosecutors, all managers in the central and local state apparatus, directors of the Bank of Mozambique, senior staff in the Mozambique Tax Authority, managers of the assets of the armed forces and the police, and the managers of public institutes, funds and foundations, public companies, and companies in which the state owns shares.

At the suggestion of the Constitutional and Legal Affairs Commission, the declarations will be deposited with the Attorney-General’s office – with the exception of the declarations of the Attorney-General himself and other prosecutors, which will be held by the Administrative Tribunal.

The bill was passed by the votes of the 175 deputies present from Frelimo and the Mozambique Democratic Movement (MDM). The 39 deputies of the former rebel movement Renamo abstained – even though Renamo members had supported the initial bill, and had voted for the final version inside the Constitutional and Legal Affairs Commission.

Explaining the abstention, Renamo deputy Manuel Pereira complained that there had only been an interval of two hours between passage of the first reading of the bill on Wednesday, and the committee stage. “This did not allow consultation”, he claimed.

Renamo also objected to the change of name of the bill (from “Law on Code of Ethics for Public Servants” to “Law on Public Probity”), and predicted that the people holding both parliamentary seats and positions on the boards of public companies would go on doing so, despite the bill.

It is true that some Frelimo deputies had claimed on Wednesday that this part of the bill could only take effect as from the next general elections, due in late 2014. The argument was that the regime of incompatibilities for parliamentarians could not be changed halfway through a parliamentary sitting. Some of the Mozambican media then assumed that this would indeed be the case.

But there is no mention of the date 2014 in the bill as passed. It simply states that the bill will become law 90 days after its publication. This refers to publication in the official gazette, the “Boletim da Republica”, which is automatic as soon as President Armando Guebuza has promulgated the bill. Even allowing for delays at the government printing house, this law is certain to take effect by the end of this year,

On or before that date the Frelimo deputies who are currently also paid for work on the boards of public companies must choose – either they resign from their Assembly seats, or they give up their company positions. The bill as passed does not seem to allow any other interpretation.

Post published in: Africa News

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