October 16, 2003

Anti-corruption bill passed

The Mozambican parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, collectively passed a bill introducing new anti-corruption measures. The bill had passed its first reading at the last parliamentary sitting in April, and in the intervening period the Assembly's legal affairs committee amended it in line with the April discussion.

The changes strengthen the bill in that they afford added protection to whistle-blowers. It specifies that nobody who denounces any act of corruption can be subject to any disciplinary measures at their workplace, or any other form of harassment.

The bill also imposes new obligations on auditors. Whenever an audit reveals signs of corrupt practices, the auditors must inform in writing the Central Anti-Corruption Office (a body functioning under the Attorney-General). Failing to do so will lead to temporary suspension of the auditor's licence, and fines of up to two billion Meticais (about 84.000 US $).

But the amendments weaken the original bill's attack on the discretionary powers of officials. The bill discussed in April said that, unless other laws specify a different time limit, all requests to a state authority must be answered within 45 days. If there is no answer within that time, the request is automatically deemed to have been granted.

The amendments bring the time limit down to 30 days - but remove the whole point of the exercise by saying that if, after 30 days, there is no reply, the request will be deemed to have been rejected. However, another clause says that all administrative acts that affect citizens' rights must be fully explained. So, if a request languishes on a desk for 30 days, the citizens can presumably demand to know why it has been rejected. Furthermore the reasons must not be explained "in an obscure, contradictory or insufficient manner which does not clarify the motivations".

The bill is aimed at all corrupt dealings involving officials who work in the state, municipalities, publicly-owned companies, private companies in which the state is the main shareholder, or companies that have been granted leases to operate public services. Any of these officials who requests money or other advantages in return for abuse of their positions can be sentenced to up to eight years imprisonment.

Officials who deliberately fail to carry out his or her duties, or hold them up, can be sentenced to a year in jail. Such officials will escape penalties if they voluntarily repudiate the bribes or hand the money back before they have carried out the corrupt act or omission requested of them.

All decision-making officials must declare their assets, update the list of assets every year, and provide a final list on leaving office. As a check on illicit enrichment, this is greatly weakened in that the declarations are not made public, but are held in an archive of the institution in question. Investigators in disciplinary or criminal proceedings, however, may demand to see them at any time. (Agencia de Informação de Moçambique, Maputo)

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