Thursday, 27 January 2011

Respected figures hit government response to poverty, inflation

Two respected establishment figures attacked the government on economic issues in articles in O Pais 17 January. Tomas Vieira Mario, chair of the Mozambican chapter of the regional press freedom body, MISA (Media Institute of Southern Africa), sharply criticised the government response to reports of increasing poverty by attacking the messenger. And Prakash Ratilal, president of Moza Banco and former governor of the Bank of Mozambique, says that “Mozambique, considered a country with huge land and water potential and which has received immense donor aid, has turned itself into a trading country, essentially importing consumer goods.”

Tomas Vieira Mario points to the way government officials and ministers are responding to recent studies showing that poverty is not decreasing by “rising up against technically solid institutions which they control, negating the scientific validity of the results of the surveys [and] discrediting, demotivating, and marginalising highly skilled national researchers, which will end only in dismantling solid institutions” that are praised for their research and have international standing.

In a TV interview, the Prime Minister blamed the National Statistics Institute for asking the wrong questions, because the results did not capture “the significant advances in our country,” Mario continues. The Prime Minister added, “it is not possible, for the ordinary Mozambican citizen, to say that Mozambique is poorer.” The governor of Inhambane said that the SETSAN (the food security technical group) report that 45,000 people in his province were hungry had been “invented to attract donor support”. For President Armando Guebuza, to say poverty is increasing is to show a lack of self-esteem.

Officials “repeat the argument that the 'evidence' of the naked eye refutes statistics.” But what their naked eye sees is Maputo, “one of the richest African cities”, where luxurious mansions and international standard shopping malls are being built. More fancy cars are in circulation. That is obvious to the naked eye, he notes. Yet it was also Maputo which had public demonstrations against poverty in February 2008 and September 2010, he notes.

Prakash Ratilal in his article says that “agriculture, agro-industry and light industry contribute little to national production,” and the government has no fiscal, labour or other policies to break the numerous blockages facing small businesspeople. Inflation increases because more money circulates but little is produced locally.

“The only way out is to give priority to the micro-economy, make use of natural resources and locally available capabilities, and promote national initiatives,” and these “small and medium projects must be pushed forward with the support of the state and the donors.” Ratilal concludes: “National interest must take priority over the interests of special groups and individuals.”

(The articles appeared only in the print edition, not on-line. Poor quality copies available on request.)

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