Uttalande: Våra partners i Moçambique (JA!) om pandemin och strategier för förändring

Maputo, April 10th, 2020

For a State of Emergency with Social, Environmental, Economic and Gender Justice:

Mozambican civil society proposals in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

1. Preamble and context

The world is experiencing a tremendous humanitarian crisis due to the COVID-19 pandemic, an infectious disease caused by a newly discovered coronavirus. Shortly after the first cases of infection with this virus were confirmed, the disease quickly became a pandemic, reaching every continent in the world. As of the date of publication of this document and according to the World Health Organization [data from 7 April], a total of 1,279,723 positive cases, 72,616 deaths and 293,879 people recovered in 211 countries had been confirmed.

In view of the exponential growth of cases and the burden this represents in health systems, several countries in the world have taken protocol measures to reduce the risks of massive contamination by the coronavirus.

The President of the Republic of Mozambique announced, on March 30th, through Presidential Decree No. 11/2020, the government’s decision to declare a State of Emergency throughout the national territory, in effect from April 1st to 30th, 2020, with the possibility of extension. The decision was ratified by the Assembly of the Republic, through the March 31st Law No. 1/2020, and subsequently the Council of Ministers approved, through the May 2nd Decree 12/2020, the administrative execution measures for the prevention and containment of the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, in force during the State of Emergency. This is the first time that a State of Emergency has been declared in the history of our country, which raises legitimate concerns and uncertainties among citizens.

The concerns of the various social movements, unions, social activists, academics, artists, and other Mozambican civil society groups and organizations represented here revolve around the need for vigilance regarding the reduction of political and economic rights and freedoms. While we seek to collaborate with the government in order to increase effectiveness in the fight against the pandemic, it is also in our interest that the implementation of the State of Emergency does not result in a drastic retreat in the protection of fundamental rights and in the implementation of democratic principles and good governance.

It is in this context that we present our analysis on the possible implications of the State of Emergency for citizens; our demands and proposals for the government in the short and medium-long term; and, finally, an articulated civil society action plan.

 

2. Civil society concerns about the State of Emergency context

In general terms, Decree 12/2020 limits the exercise of rights, freedoms and constitutional guarantees, considering that it requires the partial suspension of the right to come and go, prohibits agglomerations of any nature, intensifies the control of people in real time through geolocation, controls the information produced and disseminated by the media regarding the pandemic, among other restrictive measures. It also defines some measures to protect social groups that may be more impacted by the crisis, such as the ban on the termination of employment contracts as a result of the measures enacted.

While agreeing with the relevance of most of the announced measures, we consider, however, that this action plan contains gaps that could compromise the implementation of these measures effectively, and especially, that can contribute to the worsening of social tensions, poverty, hunger and of violence.

Our main concerns include:

Political-military situation

We are concerned about the armed conflicts in Cabo Delgado, Nampula, Sofala and Manica. We consider that the war context constitutes a risk factor for the compliance with the rules for the prevention of COVID-19, as well as the implementation of the State of Emergency. The intensification of this conflict in recent weeks implies a greater movement of people in search of refuge and protection. Without the due monitoring of these movements by the state, particularly the health sector, we will be able to witness a scenario of high spread of the virus in these regions.

Social security, protection of employment and work

In Mozambique, only 10% of the economically active population are salaried workers (INE 2017). The majority of the population is in the informal sector or without an occupation, without any labor and / or social protection, and live in a situation of food insecurity (below 1 USD / day). The city of Maputo and its province, in particular, depend to a large extent on products imported from South Africa, whose borders are closed, which is likely to result in a food shortage.

We are concerned that the State of Emergency decree has a different impact on economically active Mozambicans, depending on family income, the nature of the employment relationship (formal or informal), the sector (essential or non-essential), geographic location (space rural or urban).

We are also concerned that the impact is more pronounced on workers in the formal and informal sector, who depend on daily income, do not have a permanent job with social and labor protections, and therefore have no savings. Our concern extends to permanent workers in the formal sector, as we believe that the State of Emergency can open doors for arbitrary dismissals and violation of labor rights. After all, during times of crisis or calamity, the impossible quickly becomes possible, despair can deepen expropriation and exploitation (See proposal by the Confederation of Economic Associations of Mozambique that suggests the suspension of employment contracts for six months and the replacement of salaries with subsidies paid for by donors).

Dissemination of information

In this regard, it seems essential to ensure that families in rural and urban areas are able to access relevant information on the prevention of coronavirus, and measures to be implemented in a context of State of Emergency, taking into account that not all have access electricity, radio or television and that the messages are mostly shared in Portuguese. Thus, the use of national languages and alternative means of disseminating information is essential.

Defense, security and the institutions of justice

It is known that if poorly managed, the State of Emergency can result in abuse of power and excessive use of force by the police and the armed defense forces, leading to a scenario of distrust contrary to the spirit of collaboration to which people are being called to. On different occasions, the police showed a clear lack of preparation for social interaction in crisis situations, which is why we are concerned about preventing the implementation of the measures enacted by defense and security agents from being carried out in a repressive manner, resulting in violence and human rights violations.

Health and Environment

If, on the one hand, the pandemic has forced a reduction in human activities harmful to the environment and health, on the other hand, we see an increase in the use of disposable plastics (gloves, masks, bottles of mineral water) that may not be disposed of in an environmentally correct manner. We are concerned that there may be neglect by the public and private sector in relation to environmental standards, including environmental monitoring mechanisms for business activities in the context of the State of Emergency. In this context, we also fear a relaxation in relation to environmental policies and measures by micro, medium and large companies due to the decrease in their profit, which can contribute to the increase in pollution and health impacts. Finally, water has been identified as a key element in the fight against COVID-19, both for consumption or for personal hygiene, however permanent access to water is a privilege of some (according to the government’s five-year program 2020-2024, by 2019, 52% of the population living in rural areas and 83% of urban areas, have access to a safe water source).

Social confinement, gender-based violence and militarization

Social confinement presents challenges with different dimensions depending on income, gender relations, access to primary goods, biopsychosocial health of those confined, and cultural systems. In other contexts, confinement has resulted in an increasing number of cases of domestic violence (especially against women and children) and labor-related violence of all types.

In a context of social confinement and scarcity of essential products, inequalities between men and women, people of different social status, people with disabilities, ethnic, religious groups and marginalized sexual minorities, especially, may provoke an increase in social tensions and violence. Thus, we call for due attention to be paid to the intersections of these crises with the reality of the State of Emergency.

Agriculture

Peasants and small farmers make up 70% of the Mozambican population, and despite being the majority, they face difficulties in food production and have not received adequate support. This situation can drastically worsen the implementation of preventive measures against COVID-19.

 

We, the various organizations, collectives and undersigned individuals, express our collective apprehension regarding the impacts that this pandemic and the measures taken to contain its spread in Mozambique may have in our country. We also express our intention to collaborate with the Mozambican government in mobilizing society so that together we can overcome the current crisis as quickly as possible, guaranteeing social, economic, environmental and gender justice.

 

3. Demands and proposals for the government

With the political will and connection of efforts between the different social actors, crises such as the one we are experiencing today may offer an opportunity to expand the redistributive function of the State, by expanding access to basic social services, expanding the social protection system, and reorienting production processes.

Considering that the measures enacted will affect different social groups in disproportionate ways, and may have particularly negative and marked impacts on the population that already lives in precariousness, poverty and / or vulnerability (women, girls, children, prisoners, the elderly, people with disabilities, informal workers) we developed a series of proposals that the government should implement alongside the measures taken in the State of Emergency decree:

In the short term:

1.With a view to increasing the capacity of the national health system:

a) connect all of the health infrastructure and services in the country (public and private) in order to respond to the present emergency, guaranteeing free access to all citizens;

b) mobilize all final-year medicine and nursing students in higher education, public and private, for the country’s wards, health centers and hospitals; and

c) to request immediate support from China, Russia and Cuba and other key countries in terms of medical personnel and materials needed to fight the pandemic.

2. In order to ensure the safety and protection of groups potentially most exposed to the virus:

a) ensure the availability of protective and hygienic material for the health team that is on the frontlines, for all employees who provide services to the public, for formal and informal workers engaged in essential activities, and also for persons deprived of their liberty in detention centers;

b) institute the mandatory use of masks for facial protection in public places, and reinforce and supervise the implementation of additional protection measures in the collective transport of people and goods, such as vehicle disinfection and hand washing at the time of entry and passenger departure.

3. In order to identify the vulnerable groups at greatest risk among the prison population:

a) take measures to reduce this population;

b) continue to protect the rights of those who remain in custody, taking into account their great risk of contagion, ensuring medical care and psychological support;

c) ensure the adoption of measures to establish hotlines in places of detention, which allow the prisoner population to make complaints and reports, and involve the families of the prisoners and their legal representatives in verifying the conditions and treatment of those in detention.

4. In order to reallocate funds from the state budget to face the pandemic and implement the measures proposed here:

a) reverse the funds destined for official (State) trips abroad and for the celebration of official festive dates; reduce by at least 10% the salaries of all civil servants who hold leadership positions across the country, from April to December (as recently implemented in Malawi);

b) mobilize large companies and mega-projects to make significant contributions to the State budget, with their annual revenues, regardless of other taxes and fiscal responsibilities inherent to their business activities;

c) publish the budget balances carried over from 2019 (including capital gains) and also a contingency plan, which may naturally change according to the situation; rigorously implement a policy of zero tolerance to misuse of funds and corruption, and punish offenders under the terms of the law.

5. In order to rapidly increase agricultural production and productivity across the country:

a) implement concrete measures that allow cooperatives, associations of producers and peasants, and small and medium-sized farmers to have the necessary inputs and incentives to increase and distribute their production and thus guarantee our sovereignty and food security, focusing on crops with a shorter vegetative cycle (potatoes and vegetables).

b) prioritize producers who are closer to urban centers, in a first phase. This should include efforts to find out and monitor the location of surpluses in agricultural production and food stocks, in order to channel them to regions with a shortage of products.

c) reactivate the production of green areas and backyards on the outskirts of cities, rethinking the concept of “Farm Houses”, making native seeds and organic and / or agroecological fertilizers available, ensuring commercialization through economic agents and making efforts so that irrigation systems work better. These measures should be financed by redirecting the State budget for 2020 from the least productive and least priority sectors to agriculture; and by raising additional funds.

d) prohibit the liberalization of genetically modified seeds under the pretext of hunger and product shortages, as they constitute a serious threat to our biodiversity and food and economic sovereignty both in normal times and in periods of crisis, as well as the implementation of support programs for agriculture based on the promotion of chemical fertilizers, which would jeopardize soil fertility, biodiversity and peasant agriculture.

6. In order to control the rise in prices of essential and basic products to combat the spread of COVID-19:

a) guarantee incentives for the production of rapid response, favoring small and medium-sized local companies;

b) import essential goods and establish reserves;

c) reduce or suspend the payment of VAT on essential goods, reflecting on the price for consumer;

d) take all necessary measures to ensure that producers, distributors, and other actors do not take advantage of market imbalances, severely punishing economic opportunism.

7. At the level of monetary policy:

a) inject money into the market, for credits intended for operation and investment, with immediate effects in the economic sectors defined as priorities;

b) create credit lines with subsidized interest, or provide guarantees to be granted through commercial banks, for companies that produce for the Ministry of Health, within a period of 6 months, renewable;

c) reduce interest rates, mandatorily for commercial banks, and for economic agents with activities considered priority.

8. In order to reduce the social and economic impacts of the crisis:

a) prohibit any dismissals of workers during the State of Emergency period, except dismissals for just cause and in accordance with the Labor Law. In cases where the employer has to suspend activities, he must continue to pay 75% of the salary, according to the Labor Law.

b) when the employer is demonstrably unable to pay the workers’ wages, the INSS shall provide an unemployment benefit under the State of Emergency to its beneficiaries, equivalent to the sick benefit, regardless of contribution history.

c) not subsidize large companies or transnational companies (even if they have a national subsidiary) as a way of avoiding layoffs or preventing bankruptcy. No tax reductions or exemptions for these companies should be accepted, either during the crisis or in the post-crisis period.

8. In order to also protect informal workers, who make up 88% of the economically active population:

a) pay an unemployment benefit to informal workers registered with the INSS during the State of Emergency period. In the case of those who are already registered with the National Institute of Social Action (INAS), subsidies equivalent to twice the current allowance over the next 6 months should be disbursed (to effectively encourage people to stay at home since they would not need to use other sources of income in the informal environment);

b) introduce a basic basket or universal basic income for informal workers who are not registered with the INSS or the INAS, and, in the long term, ensure their integration with INAS, taking advantage of the current crisis to reorganize the informal sector .

9. In order to ensure respect for human rights by defense and security agents:

a) ensure that the implementation of the measures enacted by the State of Emergency by the defense and security forces does not result in repression and intimidation of citizens;

b) properly guide and train these agents, who must always be properly uniformed and identified, as well as properly monitor their actions so that they act in a peaceful manner, and act promptly to punish and remove agents who act with truculence.

10. In order to ensure environmental protection:

a) prohibit the flexibility of licensing processes or environmental standards under the pretext of stimulating the economy;

b) suspend all processes that, by law, require public consultations or community consultations for the duration of the State of Emergency.

11. In order to ensure basic health conditions necessary to combat the spread of COVID-19 in urban and peri-urban areas:

a) guarantee free energy and water services for all citizens, in particular for those in the poorest social groups (income below the minimum wage), while the State of Emergency remains;

b) guarantee regular water supply for urban and peri-urban neighborhoods that are not covered by the public supply network.

12. In order not to interrupt school activities entirely:

a) use existing means of communication, including new technologies such as the internet;

b) make available reading sheets and exercises and other material alternatives to continue with the classes;

c) consider the implementation of a teleschool program on public and private televisions.

13. In order to ensure the wide dissemination of information regarding symptoms, forms of prevention and measures to be taken regarding COVID-19, and also regarding measures related to the State of Emergency:

a) produce and disseminate information programs in different media – television, radio, community radio, etc. – with a particular effort to convey content in the local language, and in language adapted to the social context of each location;

b) disseminate massively the service numbers that are open 24 hours a day, guaranteeing access also to groups with special needs, such as the disabled (deaf and mute) and street children;

c) disseminate daily, by the same means, messages that contribute to deconstruct the stigma, discrimination and any type of violence that may be exacerbated by this crisis.

14. Bearing in mind that the levels of domestic violence and sexual abuse tend to increase as a result of exacerbating social tensions and the situation of poverty:

a) create a hotline or service office to receive complaints and reports, which has the competence to act promptly on these situations. We stress that the impacts of violence and sexual abuse are more exacerbated on women, girls and children, so it is necessary to ensure that these groups are cared for and monitored during the crisis.

15. With a view to more efficient decision-making and coordination of government actions related to combating the spread of the pandemic and the State of Emergency:

a) create crisis offices in the main ministries, which report directly to the Minister and have the functions of 1) advising decision-making centers to take urgent and extraordinary measures; 2) concentrating information on the evolution of the crisis and the responses of the respective sector; 3) coordinate, monitor and supervise the implementation of decisions related to the crisis and the performance of the public sector. These offices should perform their functions with the maximum speed and transparency, ensuring the participation of and consultation with civil society organizations that are representative of the different sectors, thus allowing not only for the scrutiny of public activity but for better collaboration between government and civil society organizations.

In the medium and long term, in a post-crisis context:

Production and distribution systems, climatic and public health factors, are, when combined, considered the vectors of viral transformations, including the emergence of COVID-19. This means that it is necessary to rethink intensive production systems with chemicals, the use of products that facilitate negative viral changes, and to engage in production and exchange systems that prioritize people and the environment. It is urgent – as soon as the situation of COVID-19 in our country and in the world is under control – that we rethink current economic models of development in order to change the paradigm.

It is also necessary to rethink the role and functions of the State in the Mozambican economy and society, and to abandon neoclassical theories that suggest minimizing the role of the State in the economy and in the market, disclaiming in this way the responsibility of the State. Yes, we need to strengthen governance structures and practice active citizenship, to regain confidence in State institutions, which is essential for reducing the effects of pandemics and other crises. Civil society has a fundamental role to play in this regard.

4. Civil society action plan

Taking into account Article 32 of Decree 12/2020, the different organizations, unions, collectives and individuals from civil society represented here propose to implement activities within the lines of work listed below, both individually and in partnerships and collaborations. These activities are intended to support the government in dealing with the whole situation surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, and its social, economic and political implications. Most of the plans presented here aim to strengthen the social fabric in order to encourage more active citizenship on the part of all Mozambicans, including groups systematically excluded or made invisible in decision-making processes.

We propose, during the crisis and post-crisis periods, to:

· Maintain a vigilant, critical and constructive attitude regarding the different measures implemented by the government and other socio-economic agents, elaborating and disseminating analysis and proposals that aim to reflect on the impact of these measures, encouraging debate and collective learning;

· Collaborate for the mass dissemination of useful information to ordinary citizens about COVID-19 and about the limitations and implications of the State of Emergency, through traditional and alternative means of dissemination of information, including community radio, mobile phone networks, giving special attention to local languages, and ensuring that educational messages are child-friendly. Also mobilize artists and other people linked to the arts and culture, looking for innovative and creative ways to stimulate active citizenship, during the crisis and also beyond;

· Help monitor and inspect the implementation and compliance with the rules enacted by the State of Emergency. Civil society will be able to collaborate with the government in order to practice and encourage a collective attitude of self-surveillance, ensuring compliance with the enacted rules, and empathy, solidarity and responsibility among people;

· Make efforts to increase the visibility of reports and analyses by ordinary citizens regarding the current situation, focusing on first-person reports. This may contribute to a better understanding of how different social groups are being impacted by this crisis, what the perceived threats are, and how different families, neighborhoods, villages and communities are organizing and mobilizing themselves to collaborate with enacted measures;

· Monitor the performance of defense and security forces, valuing their role at this time and also making society aware and clarify that the performance of these agents has legal limits that must be complied with, and that respect for the human rights of all is not negotiable. It is also important to make visible the difficulties that this sector faces, to give due support to its actions, to praise positive actions and also to repudiate and denounce situations of abuse of authority and brutality;

· Find ways to engage with churches and other religious institutions and connect efforts, recognizing their important role in this situation and taking into account their presence and ability to mobilize throughout the national territory;

· Encourage all political parties to demonstrate their usefulness and commitment in combating the pandemic and the crisis situation we are experiencing, challenging them to overcome their usual rhetoric, lower their individual flags and work for the common good;

· Survey children’s educational needs and collaborate with the Ministry of Education and educational institutions in the search for alternatives so that students can continue to study from home;

· Do not allow the war situation in Cabo Delgado to be further invisibilized, and continue to disseminate information and analysis on the attacks and to encourage a public debate on the subject;

· Actively promote actions and initiatives of solidarity, empathy and citizenship among all, in habitual and alternative ways, with a view to using this pandemic situation and consequent crises as an opportunity to strengthen our social fabric in an inclusive and participatory way;

· Create a civil society alliance in response to COVID-19, seeking to connect and coordinate the implementation of the different axes contained in this action plan, and other initiatives that may arise.

 

5. The key question

How can we reflect on the future of our country, having as an experience the current context of crisis?

In the current global scenario, even before the COVID-19 pandemic, we were already experiencing a multitude of crises – such as the climate crisis, the food crisis, the inequality crisis, the biodiversity crisis. This global health crisis highlights the connections and disconnections of a deeply unjust society, and considering that it will certainly not be the last, we must take this opportunity to look at the future of the country taking into account certain priority aspects:

1) The increasing inequality in our country and around the world, the result of a socio-economic system of development and capital accumulation that depends on the exploitation of workers and nature. We must seriously reflect on how to change this scenario, not in an saviour-like way and looking at the poor as people who need charity, but as subjects with rights who are constantly denied their rights, and who, endowed with the necessary tools and support from the government and civil society can play a leading role in improving their living conditions.

2) Our inability to ensure our food sovereignty, which must necessarily involve the support and empowerment of small farmers, the largest portion of our population, in order to increase their productivity with methods and practices that do not threaten public health, environment or biodiversity. In a country that meets all the conditions for the practice of agriculture, we are still absurdly dependent on imports today for food, and we would certainly be much better equipped to deal with the current crisis if we had already taken this issue as a priority. May this crisis remind us of the urgency of this agenda.

3) The need to rethink the power and benefits that we give to companies in our country, in particular transnational companies. We need to ensure that companies pay taxes and obey the laws and rules imposed by society, so that the State can have its own funds to implement its activities, depending less and less on external donors. We need to put the interests and needs of the people ahead of the interests of transnational companies and national elites, for inclusive and sustainable development. In crisis situations like this, many governments subsidize their large companies to save them from bankruptcy, withdrawing important funds that should be channeled to other areas and perpetuating an irresponsible and greedy attitude on the part of companies, which continue to pay absurd dividends to its shareholders instead of keeping reserves for moments of crisis. This happened in the financial markets crisis in 2008, and it is happening again in 2020. We need to launch the life saver for people and small and medium-sized national companies, not for transnational corporations.

Right now, we have a crisis of enormous proportions that we must deal with in an agile, inclusive and transparent way. But as soon as possible, it is equally urgent to rethink the path we are tracing, and to start moving towards sustainable social, economic and human development. Civil society must be seen as an ally of the government, playing a fundamental role in building active citizenship, by all, and for all. This is the challenge – and also the opportunity – that this COVID-19 pandemic presents us with.

Signatories

Organizations and Collectives:

  1. Academic Action for the Development of Rural Communities – ADECRU

2. Alternactiva – Platform for Democratic Debate for Social Emancipation

        3. Associação para Saúde e Desenvolvimento Rural (Association for Health and Rural Development)

4. HIKONE Mozambique – Association for the Empowerment of Women

       5. Centro de Integridade Pública (Centre for Public Integrity) – CIP

       6. Forum Mulher – FM

7. Justiça Ambiental – JA!

       8. Observatório do Meio Rural (Rural Environment Observatory)- OMR

       9. Rede Criança (Child Network)

     10. Rede para a Integração Social (Network for Social Integration) – RISC

11. Research for Mozambique – REFORMAR

     12. União Nacional de Camponeses (National Union of Peasants) – UNAC

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