MAVERICK CITIZEN WEBINAR
Former Mozambican finance minister Manuel Chang ‘must be sent to the US for corruption trial’
While Manuel Chang waits for a South African court to decide his fate, civil society organisations warn that the former Frelimo politician will receive immunity for his crimes if he is sent back to Mozambique.
‘It is corruption that is failing the people of Mozambique”, perpetrated by former liberation movement Frelimo which has been in power for 46 years, says Prof Adriano Nuvunga, chairperson of the Budget Monitoring Forum, a Mozambican civil society organisation. He was speaking during a webinar discussing the role of civil society in holding the corrupt accountable.
Nuvunga said that as one of the richest countries in Africa, Mozambique was facing what he termed a “resource curse” which has spurred corruption as the elites scramble for control of these natural resources.
He told the webinar that the country was facing infrastructure collapse even before Covid-19, with the state unable to pay health workers and teachers as a result of the corrupt dealings of the then finance minister Manuel Chang.
He said a combination of corruption and wasteful management resulted in the country having a “miserable” education and health system, with resources meant to be allocated to them being taken away by corruption.
Chang was arrested at OR Tambo International Airport just more than three years ago while in transit to the United Arab Emirates. He has been awaiting extradition in a South African prison since December 2018.
Chang is linked to multibillion-dollar corruption in Mozambique that implicates political elites in that country. His extradition is being sought by the United States and Mozambique. However, several NGOs in Mozambique and SA have gone to South Africa’s courts in an effort to prevent Chang from being sent back to Mozambique. They claim he will not face justice there.
According to Nuvunga, former Mozambican president Armando Guebuza discovered massive natural gas reserves during his second term in office and tried to unsuccessfully change the constitution to get a third term. He then went to America to borrow against future revenues from the gas.
The intention was to get money even before production from the gas reserves began. Guebuza allegedly colluded with international players to arrange for the money to go not to Mozambique, but to a network of oligarchs. Chang was reportedly key to the scheme, which involved $300-million in kickbacks — and now Mozambique sits with a $2-billion debt.
Guebuza’s son is said to have pocketed $30-million from the scheme, with the role of the former president said to have been central.
Director of the Helen Suzman Foundation Nicole Fritz said the ordinary citizens of Mozambique had been prejudiced the most by the loan, as well as unsuspecting investors from the US whose money was lost through greed and insufficient vigilance.
Fritz said it would be against SADC regulations to extradite someone to a country where they would enjoy immunity, which would be the case if Mozambique is successful in its bid to extradite Chang.
Fritz said that SA Justice Minister Ronald Lamola had agreed to Chang’s extradition to Mozambique even though the question of immunity had not been addressed. She asked how it could then be certain that he would not get off the hook.
After a group of civil society organisations approached South African courts to stop Chang’s extradition to Mozambique, Judge Margaret Victor found it was irrational that Lamola had made the decision to extradite Chang to Mozambique, that it must be set aside and that SA authorities were to surrender him to the US.
Fritz said: “If we have to take our responsibilities seriously as civil society, there has to be solidarity with the most victimised by these crimes and our legal systems need to be bolstered.”
She said that one had to pay tribute to the people of Mozambique for fighting this case, despite the threats they faced.
Fritz said South Africans should be asking why their government supported Mozambique’s case for extradition. She pointed out that the Constitution enjoined South Africans to show solidarity with the people of Mozambique and other countries in the region, and to promote regional good governance and human rights.
Nuvunga said Mozambique could have benefited greatly from the gas deal were it not for corruption.
He said the reason his organisation and other civil society groups were opposing Chang’s extradition was that the Mozambican judiciary was allowing people to get away with corruption and the exploitation of resources, and that Chang would not be prosecuted for his crimes because there was no formal indictment against him by the government.
Commenting on the criticism of distrusting African systems of justice in favour of the US, Nuvunga pointed out that the SADC Tribunal had been disbanded and there was no regional institution that could take on such cases. DM/MC