Revelations that the government of Armando Guebuza took on more than $2 billion in debt in secret are creating a deepening economic crisis.
The Group of 14 (G14) budget support donors have all suspended their contributions to the government budget, the President of Portugal, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, confirmed yesterday.
Portugal holds the rotating chair of the G14 and Marcelo Rebelo is on a visit to Maputo. (O Pais 5 May) The IMF had already announced that it would not release any more funds from the agreed standby credit. The G14 is already down from an earlier 19 budget support donors and lenders.
Economic and Finance Minister Adriano Maleiane yesterday announced the first spending cuts. These include a hiring freeze and limits to government travel. But he guaranteed that health and education would not be sacrificed. (O Pais 5 May)
Maleiane said that donor budget support was $467 mn per year, corresponding to 12% of the state budget. (O Pais 5 May) Spending cuts will clearly be much more severe.
The IMF issued a general warning Tuesday in its Africa “Regional Economic Outlook” that African countries, including Mozambique, that have been forced to turn to the IMF for support will need to cut their budget deficits. And Roger Nord, deputy director of the IMF Africa Department, told Bloomberg that it is still not clear how large are the Mozambican secret debts. (Lusa 4 May) This will fuel rumours that more debts are still to be revealed.
There are at least three loans to parastatal companies taken in secret in 2013. They are the Mozambique Tuna Company (EMATUM $850 mn), revealed last year and recently renegotiated, and two newly revealed loans, Proindicus to provide maritime security, particularly for offshore oil and gas operations ($622 mn), and Mozambique Asset Management (MAM), set up for maritime repair and maintenance ($535 mn).
At a press conference Thursday 28 April Finance Minister Adriano Maleiane said that the Proindicus loan is to be repaid in the next 5 years at an interest rate of 3.75% with the first payment of $24 mn due in May. Over the 5 year period, the repayments will be running at an average of $119 mn per year. For the MAM loan, the repayment period is 4 years at an interest rate of 7.7%, and the first payment of $124 mn is also due in May. (AIM 28 April)
Thus payments of $148 mn are due this month. An estimated $321 mn in debt repayments will be due next year (2017) on the secret loans – Proindicus $119 mn/year, MAM $124 mn/y and Ematum $78 mn/y. This comes on top of servicing the government’s remaining debt.
In addition the government has admitted previously unannounced loans to the Ministry of Interior. These appear to be suppliers credits for $221 mn taken between 2009 and 2014. No further details have been provided, but the items imported appear to include new armoured cars for riot control and equipment for the riot police, who have been doing most of the fighting against Renamo.
This huge increase in spending at a time of cuts to IMF and donor funds creates a serious financial hole for the government.
The Attorney-General’s Office in a press statement Friday 30 April said that investigations into the Proindicus and MAM loans were ordered on 20 April, and that investigations into the Ematum loan were launched in August 2015..
Mozambique’s total public debt stood at $11.64 bn as of 31 December 2015, Prime Minister Carlos Agostinho do Rosario told a Maputo press conference Thursday 28 April. Foreign debt was $9.89 bn. Confirmed domestic debt was $1.75 bn, while a sum of $233 mn was still being reconciled. (AIM 28 Apr)
Fitch, the third largest credit rating agency, has downgraded Mozambique from B to CCC. It says the debt to GDP ratio is already 83% and with expected continued devaluation it is likely to exceed 100% this year – “the highest figure in 15 years and compared with only 37.8% in 2011”.
The Mozambican Debt Group (GMD) points out that the government’s own figure for total public debt, of $11.64 bn, means that the debt now stands at 69% of GDP. The foreign debt is 53% of GDP. GMD is a civil society organization that has been working on debt issues for many years, and says the limit of sustainability is normally regarded as 40%, and Mozambique’s debt is substantially over that.
Mitha’s position is supported by an interview in the Financial Times (4 May) with LNG entrepreneur Charif Souki, who argues that although there is an oversupply of LNG at the moment, exports from some producers such as Algeria are declining, and there will be a shortage by 2021-22 – which is just when Mozambique’s gas will come on line.
Reaction to the debt
Taking over $2 bn in secret government debt without parliamentary agreement violates various Mozambican laws, and has caused a substantial outcry. Although President Filipe Nyusi, as Defence Minister in the previous government, must have known about the loans, it is becoming clear that many in the new government, including the Prime Minister and Finance Minister, were not initially told about the secret loans.
Prime Minister Carlos Agostinho do Rosario said that the transition from one government to the next “meant that we became aware and had gradual contact with the dossiers on these debts, as we dug deeper”.
There were threats of demonstrations on Friday and a huge police presence in Maputo, including new armoured cars – leading to the local comment that this was part of a new transparency, showing the people what the secret money had been spent on. In the event, despite social media messages, there were no demonstrations. But government offices were closed, giving many people an unexpected four day weekend (Monday was May Day holiday).
President Nyusi has been trying to play down the seriousness of the crisis. He told journalists yesterday (4 May) that “I believe the no donor is interested in sacrificing Mozambicans”. Nyusi said the problems is not the debt itself, which he claims is sustainable, but the “incorrect way it was contracted.” (Noticias & O Pais, 5 May) But he admitted it was necessary to “disinfect the house” in order to regain the confidence of donors. (Lusa 4 May)
But Teodato Hunguana, a former Constitutional Council judge and still influential in Frelimo, accused the government of violating the Constitution. Taking this debt in secret implies that “we have two constitutions: one that was adopted by the Parliament and the other we do not know, that is not public.” (Lusa 4 May) Former security minister Sergio Vieira calls the loans “a crime against the country”.
Comment: Political power
The secret loans and other recent reports raise questions about where power rests in the Mozambican government.
Finance Minister Adriano Maleiane confirmed last week the Ematum and Proindicus are both owned one-third each by the Institute for the Management of State Holdings (IGEPE), the public fishing company Emopesca, and the State Intelligence and Security Agency (SISE). MAM is owned 98% by SISE and 1% each by IGEPE and Emopesca.
In practice, SISE is controlled by the presidency and not by the ministries of defence or interior. And it is notable that huge military investments for coastal patrols are under SISE and not the navy.
Meanwhile @Verdade (4 May) revealed that in 2012-4, after the 2010 riots, the government set up a monitoring centre to intercept mobile telephone, SMS and internet traffic. The equipment was bought for $140 mn from the Chinese ZTE Corporation. But the purchase was done through Msumbiji Investment Limited, where the son of the former president, Mussumbuluku Guebuza, is Chief Executive Officer (CEO). And the monitoring centre is under Casa Militar, the presidential guard.
A law passed by parliament on 16 March this year legalises this interception. The equipment also contain the ability to deal with encrypted communication, and to locate specific mobile telephones. http://www.verdade.co.mz/tema-de-fundo/35-themadefundo/57818-governo- de-mocambique-esta-a-ouvir-e-a-ler-as-comunicacoes-de-todos-os-cidada os
In Mozambique the military has always been weak, in part to prevent a military coup. Under Guebuza, the power of the military was further weakened. The war against Renamo is largely being fought by the riot police under the Interior Ministry. The power of security services under SISE and Casa Militar has been increased. Has President Nyusi gained control over interior and security, or are Guebuza-allied forces still dominant there? jh
In a comment two weeks ago I argued that Frelimo will try to maintain unity by not expelling or disciplining corrupt members. But it has been noted that predominant parties do sometimes split when there are economic crises. And I’ve been pointed to an interesting thesis by Marthe Vaagen. She argues that “electoral authoritarian regimes have remained more resilient in the face of economic crisis than other varieties of authoritarian regimes.” Her thesis compares the PRI in Mexico, which split after an economic crisis, with the UMNO/BN in Malaysia, which did not.
Credit: All Africa