September 23, 2004

Few changes in governance proposed

According to numerous newspaper reports, the constitutional amendments which are currently under public debate would change nothing fundamental in the Mozambican constitution. The system thus remains presidential, with a heavy concentration of powers in the hands of the President of the Republic, who is both head of state and head of government. The 1999 proposals would have made the Prime Minister the head of government, and would have obliged the president to consult with the Prime Minister before appointing any other members of the government. Under the current proposal the Prime Minister has little autonomy, the president has a free hand in appointing government members, and there is no provision for votes of confidence. And, should parliament reject the government programme, it is not the government that falls - instead the President can dissolve parliament and call fresh elections.
The only significant change the current amendments have picked up from the 1999 ones is that the President would no longer be immune from prosecution. Should the President commit crimes in the exercise of his duties, he could be impeached and tried before the Supreme Court. For this to happen, parliament would have to call for impeachment by a two thirds majority. The amendments also stipulate that nobody may hold presidential office for more than two consecutive five year terms of office. The current constitution is slightly ambiguous on this point, but seems to allow three consecutive terms of office.
The amendments propose a new body, the Council of State, which would have no decision making powers, but would advise the President. It would consist of the speaker of parliament, the prime minister, the president of the constitutional court, the ombudsman, any former presidents or speakers, the runner-up in the presidential election, and 11 "figures of recognised merit", seven chosen by parliament and four by the President. The Council of State would give advice whenever the President requested it, and would be obliged to make its position known on any dissolution of parliament, or declaration of war or a state of emergency or of siege.
Furthermore, states of emergency and of siege are envisaged in the current constitution - but not defined. Certain rights and freedoms cannot be touched by a state of siege or of emergency - including the right to life and physical integrity (i.e. a state of emergency cannot be used as a justification for execution or torture), the right to citizenship, the right of accused persons to defence, and religious freedom. Under a state of siege or emergency, the freedoms of expression, of the press, of assembly and of demonstration may be curtailed. Goods and services may be requisitioned, and citizens may be detained - but the reasons for the detention must be made public within five days, and the detained person brought before a magistrate within ten days. The likelihood of any future President declaring a state of siege or emergency seems remote. After all, even at the height of the war of destabilisation, when the very existence of the Mozambican state seemed threatened, no state of siege was declared. Likewise, there was no state of emergency declared during the catastrophic flooding of early 2000. (Agencia de Informacao de Mocambique, Maputo)

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