By Eduardo Coles
During the Watergate scandal that eventually brought down US President Richard Nixon, the vital question was posed by Senator Howard Baker: “What did the president know and when did he know it?”
The same questions, regarding the so-called “hidden loans”, need to be asked of our own president, Filipe Jacinto Nyusi.
“What did the president know about the three loans, amounting to over $2billion, and when did he know it?”
Officially he knew nothing.
We are told it all happened in the second term of President Guebuza, and since they were supposedly not disclosed to anyone outside a small clique — let alone parliament — there was no reason for him to know.
It seems that either he did not know about the deal at all, and it was cooked up between senior defence staff, the presidency, and the finance ministry; or alternatively, if he did know, he was too junior within the government to do anything about it.
But none of that makes sense.
Near the end of his state visit to Portugal last July, Nyusi was questioned by journalists Isabel Silva Costa and Carla Henriques about the US $ 2.1 billion loan. He conceded that “many people were part of it, my people were led by the government that contracted the loans”.
In response to a question on whether the three state-owned companies that contracted the loan were under his control, Nyusi became visibly annoyed, saying “the Ministry of Defence is neither a business owner nor a trustee. I don’t understand why false and disconcerting information is being forced on the people”.
And here seems to be the rub. Was the President telling the truth?
At the time of the deal, Filipe Nyusi was minister of defence, and like many Mozambicans, I am sceptical how someone in cabinet and responsible for the navy could NOT know about the purchase of patrol boats.
And at all the cabinet meetings, did he never think to ask how they were being paid for?
President Guebuza travelled to France to meet President Hollande and the two men visited the yard where the boats were being built.
At the time, deputy defence minister, Agostinho Mondlane even told French broadcaster, RFI, that the patrol boats would “combat piracy, terrorism and illegal fishing”.
Really? Defence minister Nyusi’s own deputy knew! But somehow the minister himself heard nothing.
Then, just the other day I came across an article in a relatively niche magazine, African Energy Intelligence, that triggered my antennae.
It referred in passing to a company called Monte Binga, describing it as a parastatal that reports to Mozambique’s minister of defence. It went to say that Monte Binga, has shares in the firm ProIndicus, which in turn was caught up in Mozambique’s hidden debt scandal.
But far from just reporting to the defence ministry, Monte Binga is apparently OWNED by it.
Named after Mozambique’s highest mountain, it was created around 1996 by the ministry for defence. Since then it has developed a wide range of interests, entering into a consortium led by Chinese firm Kingho Investments to carry out a viability study for a new coal mine in the western province of Tete. (Editor’s note: In February 2020 it was reported that the National Institute of Mines (INAMI) had revoked the Kingho licences, supposedly on the grounds that no work was ever started.)
During Nyusi’s time as minister, there were some particularly notable Monte Binga contracts. In March 2009 it set up a fishing company, Hong & Binga Fishery Food Development Lda, in partnership with the Chinese firm Poly-Fuzhou Hongyong Pelagic Fisher.
More telling, it formed a private security company, Monte Binga Segurança Lda, with a South African-British minority partner, Blackwatch Security.
In 2013 it signed a US$6m contract with the North Korean Haegeumgang Trading Corporation (in direct contravention of UN sanctions) to upgrade and refurbish Soviet era military equipment, including early warning radar, anti-tank missiles, tanks, and truck-mounted surface-to-air missile systems.
And last, but not least there is Proindicus. Established as a joint stock company on 21 December 2012 in Maputo, Proindicus, is jointly owned by Monte Binga and the State Information and Security Services (SISE).
In addition, the first Proindicus loan agreement with Credit Suisse, was signed in February 2013, in the presence Euginio Henrique Zitha Matlaba, adviser to none other than defence minister, Felipe Nyusi
Are we seriously expected to believe that the minister, the favoured son of FRELIMO and shortly to become the candidate for president, knew nothing about a major company that was OWNED by his ministry?
A company that was signing high-profile deals with Chinese, North Korean and South African entities and which was a major partner in the very firm taking out loans worth hundreds of millions of dollars, signed by the minister’s own adviser, and ordering dozens of patrol boats and other surveillance equipment to combat piracy, terrorism and illegal fishing?
If we are meant to believe this, there seem only two explanations. Either Filipe Jacinto Nyusi is incompetent, or he is not being entirely truthful.
No-one has ever suggested that the President is less than able at his job. And the activities of Monte Bingo directly contradict his claim that the ministry of defence is not a business owner.
The loans scandal really is our Watergate moment.
So, what did Filipe Nyusi know, and when?
It is time for us to be told the truth.