Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 4 June 2014
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade
Exchange of Views: Mozambique Ministerial Delegation
As usual, I remind members, delegates and those in the Public Gallery to ensure their mobile phones are switched off for the duration of the meeting as they cause interference with the recording equipment in the committee rooms, even in silent mode.
It is a great honour for the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade to welcome the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Co-operation Mr. Balói and the delegation from the Republic of Mozambique. We are delighted to welcome them to this meeting.
Diplomatic relations between our two countries were established relatively recently. We opened an office in Maputo in 1996 and the first embassy in 2006. Mozambique's ambassador is accredited from London. The relationship between our two countries has grown very strong, principally founded on Ireland's overseas aid programme. The goal of our aid programme and the identified outcomes are consistent with the Millennium development goals set out by the United Nations. I am particularly glad to see that access to and availability of land and water, two subjects that are very dear to the heart of Irish people, have improved significantly with Ireland's support.
I am pleased to note the great economic strides that Mozambique has made in recent years. This has been reflected in the comments made by the IMF Managing Director, Christine Lagarde when she said: "The gains of the last decade, during which many countries in sub-Saharan Africa saw sustained high rates of economic growth and an impressive reduction in poverty, have been nothing short of remarkable...". That statement from a very powerful woman on a country like Mozambique is great credit to what has been done in the past 20 years since the end of the civil war which tore the country apart. The country has gone from strength to strength. We are delighted and we are also delighted to have such a strong relationship with Mozambique. The State visit during 2006 by our then President McAleese was very important. Equally the State visit by President Emilio Guebuza today will foster stronger relations between our two countries. It is not just the President who is here but he is accompanied by four Ministers and a delegation from parliament. That is evidence of the strength of the relationship between our two countries. It is against this background that President Emilio Guebuza has arrived. I know he has a very busy schedule for the next three to four days.
We are delighted that Mr. Balói is here today. He will make a short presentation which will be followed by a questions and answers session.
Mr. Oldemiro Marques Balói:
Distinguished Chairman, members and participants, ladies and gentlemen, allow us to express our appreciation to the Chairman for his welcoming words on behalf of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade.
We are profoundly honoured to address this committee, as an important player in Irish policy on supporting democracy and development in Africa, particularly in Mozambique. We appreciate the level that our bilateral relations have achieved and the commitment to its consolidation.
Peace in our country came from the decision of the nation to bring to an end many years of conflict that killed more than 1 million people and wrecked the social and economic structure of the country. Today, despite the challenges we are facing head on, the political landscape in Mozambique is one of stability and peace where civil liberties, freedom of the press, freedom of speech, assembly and association, free movement of people and political parties are guaranteed by law and have been in fact the right of our citizens.
Democracy has found its roots in Mozambique and the scars of poverty are being bravely attacked by our people, regardless of the challenges ahead. There is no peace without development. There is no development without peace. That is the reason that our approach to development at national, regional and international levels is based first and foremost on the need to secure and preserve peace and stability.
The continuing process of reconciliation, democratic consolidation, building of solid and inclusive democratic institutions are among the highest priorities of our Government. Let me reiterate that we are committed to the consolidation of democracy and political pluralism, as we believe those shared values are essential for development and stability. In this context we are now preparing another electoral cycle, the fifth since our first general elections in 1994, which followed the Rome Peace Agreement in 1992. After holding the fourth local elections in 2013, Mozambique will hold presidential, parliamentary and provincial elections on 15 October 2014.
These elections come under the framework of a new electoral law approved by the Parliament after a comprehensive dialogue and extensive consultations. We have been counting on our friends' and partners' experience to learn and consolidate our democratic process. Of particular importance has been the valuable role of the electoral observers, both national and international, in enhancing the transparency and credibility of elections. Under democratic rules, it is of paramount importance that all parties and contestants respect the rule of law and exercise politics through peaceful and democratic means, with no intimidation or violence. In this regard allow us to reiterate the important role of the opposition parties in the consolidation of democracy and pluralism. As part of this exercise we are pursuing dialogue with all relevant actors, mainly with the main opposition parties with which we have a platform for consultation and dialogue. The government will continue favouring dialogue. Once again we thank the Oireachtas for its contribution toward consolidating democracy, attaining the goals of promoting the wellbeing of all Mozambiqueans and promoting peace in the world.
I thank members for their attention.
I join the Chairman in welcoming the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Co-operations and his delegation. Mr. Balói mentioned that he is engaged in updating the electoral process and this would be the fifth general election since 1992. Who is entitled to participate and who is entitled to vote? How widespread is the franchise to enable people to vote?
It is welcome that our Ministers have made regular visits to Mozambique during the past number of years. We have a very substantial development programme, which I think amounts to €36 million in 2014.
Naturally we hope it would be possible to increase trade between both countries, which is relatively small currently. The goals outlined in our development programme rightly support sustainability, inclusive growth and reducing poverty. Substantial progress has been made in a number of areas, which I welcome, through the impact of Irish funded initiatives, particularly in regard to education. These include the development of schools infrastructure, improved learning outcomes and the necessary and welcome increase in participation in school. An issue that is raised regularly by African delegations appearing before the committee is the lack of essential progress in the number of young school girls completing their education. It must be a source of concern. Mozambique has made progress in respect of enrolment and retention rates among girls. Are initiatives in place that are aimed at participation and achievement by girls in particular?
I also welcome the improvements in health outcomes, which is important. As a country, we take pride in the fact that those initiatives have been assisted by funding from our taxpayers. We are happy with that.
GDP in Mr. Marques Balói's country is estimated to increase by 50% over the next five years, and I hope that can be achieved. Is that realisable in the present context? Does he hope to achieve that growth?
There has been a substantial flow of foreign direct investment into Mozambique, much of which is targeted at the exploitation and harvesting of natural resources. Are benefits accruing to society in general from FDI?
Will Mr. Marques Balói update the committee on the security situation, which was troublesome some time ago? I hope his visit will be productive for both of our countries.
I welcome the delegation. Mr. Marques Balói began by referring to the 1 million people killed during the conflict. There have been disturbing reports that the security situation in Mozambique has deteriorated, particularly over the past few months, and it is possible that conflict could break out again. Nobody wants that to happen. Which international organisations or countries are involved in the peace talks? There was mention of some opposition groups returning to the jungle and so on, but we are relying on Western media. I am interested in Mr. Marques Balói's views on that and on how to rejuvenate the peace talks. There is resentment among the rebel groups, which clearly do not feel they are part of society. However, reports suggested that only a partial group was talking about returning to the jungle.
Mr. Marques Balói is wearing glasses. At the end of last year, Mozambique's first ophthalmologists and optometrists graduated with the help of Irish students from the Dublin Institute of Technology. The Mozambique Eye Care Project is a Dublin-based and funded initiative to train optometrists through a degree programme at the University of Lúrio. A total of 170 Mozambicans have qualified as optometrists and they have been trained to deliver eye care and glasses to millions of visually impaired people in the region. Is Mr. Marques Balói aware of the programme? If so, is it working? Can anything else be done via Irish educational institutions to assist in the training of Mozambican professionals in other aspects of health service delivery?
Another issue raised with the committee regarding many African countries, and Mozambique in particular, is the lack of proper land titles for farmers, which has led to land grabbing and so on. Many farmers and NGOs have been critical of the approach of giving over large swathes of land to multinational companies for intensive farming. There is a great deal of criticism regarding environmental impacts, the displacement of farmers and their families and the fact that most of the food produced is for export markets. What impact is that having on the price of food and on smaller farmers? Many farmers who sold their land have complained that promises made regarding new land, money and investment in agricultural infrastructure and social services have not been delivered. How does the Mozambican Government respond to these claims? Are there programmes to address land grabbing and so on? The Chinese Government is significantly involved. How is that working out? Mozambicans are working on these projects but the committee has heard reports about the poor quality of building work in some African countries. Chinese companies are involved in building in Maputo and many people have been killed on those sites because of a lack of health and safety regulation. What is the Mozambican Government doing to prevent deaths?
I welcome the members of the delegation. They have arrived in a rainy Dublin, but when I visited Maputo a number of months ago it was also raining, so they are used to that.
I would like to acknowledge the work of Irish ambassador, Mr. Ruairi de Burca, and his staff in the Irish embassy. They have been effective in establishing and maintaining positive relationships between Ireland and Mozambique.
I chair the Irish section of AWEPA, which is an organisation comprising African and European parliamentarians. In that capacity I received funding from Irish Aid for a project to monitor parliamentary oversight of aid and I welcomed parliamentarians from Mozambique to a conference in Dublin last June which was opened by the President of Ireland. In turn, I visited Mozambique a number of months ago and met Mr. Eneas Comiche, who is the chairman of the planning and budget committee of the Mozambican Parliament. We had lengthy, frank and good meetings in the parliament with him and other parliamentarians. We discussed budgets and financing. Ireland gives general budget support. Should that be targeted at particular areas, including, for example, support for the planning and budget committee? We were taken by the fact that budget committee members travel throughout Mozambique when preparing their budget submission, which is a novel development.
Like many African countries, Mozambique has significant natural resources. The developed world has been responsible for depriving countries such as Mozambique of all their natural assets and wealth. How strong is the will of the Government and Parliament to prevent illicit capital flight and to ensure there is no corporate tax avoidance? Even though the corporation tax rate is 35%, one multinational company paid less than 0.5% of its pre-tax profits to the country. Mozambique was, therefore, deprived of significant wealth and resources that it needs.
With regard to parliamentary oversight, there is a need for a strong opposition in Parliament, and it is good that Renamo and the MDM party are in Parliament. How strong is the opposition? It is through parliamentary debate that we enhance democracy.
To come back to the budget, the other question concerns the Mozambican Parliament and its committees calling in multinational companies to address these issues and answer directly to Parliament. This is to ensure they pay their just taxes within the country in order that any tax concession or tax break has a very limited timeframe and does not go on forever such that the benefit is to the multinational company, not the country.
With regard to education, we visited a technical school and saw the potential of skills-based, craft-based and trade-based education. Are there many developments in this regard? In addition, is there access to further education for children from poorer areas?
Will the delegates outline Mozambique's role within the African Union in dealing with conflicts, for example, in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic?
I welcome the Foreign Minister and his colleagues and hope their visit to Ireland will be mutually beneficial. To what extent are Mozambique's indigenous industries growing? For example, are home-grown industries developing in parallel with foreign direct investments?
With regard to aid, can Mozambique be sure Irish aid directed to it and adjoining countries goes to the people who most deserve it and for whom it is intended? Have issues or disparities been identified in this regard? In other words, is there cost effectiveness and do we get the benefit for the people for whom it is intended?
In recognising that Mozambique had its own civil war, to what degree has the peace process bedded down and continued? For example, is there a danger that it can revert back to form and what are the possible reasons for this? Is it possible to put measures in place to avert a return to war?
My last point concerns the degree to which reconciliation has taken place between the opposing factions in the civil war. To what extent has this benefited Mozambique? Recognising the degree to which it has emerged internationally and is seen internationally as a place in which the investor can have confidence, to what extent has poverty been targeted specifically by the government and international agencies in co-operation with it?
The delegation is most welcome. I will kick-start my contribution by noting that when we review the figures for Mozambique, the amount it receives in aid is phenomenal. It is also phenomenal that our little island of 4 million people will this year alone provide €36 million. We do not want to shout about this too loudly because we are supposed to be in the depths of recession, the IMF has just left and people might be wondering why we are spending all of this money in Mozambique. Having said that, I am proud that we are using our development aid funds to target particular provinces in Mozambique. I would like the delegates to comment on the situation in some of them.
How does it feel to be running a country that has the world's highest growth rate? While there has been 7.5% growth for the past ten years and it is continuing at 7%, Mozambique is, however, listed as one of the world's poorest countries. Is there a contradiction in this regard? How can one have such massive growth and still be so low in the UN poverty statistics? It worries me that 80% of the population are engaged in agriculture, most of whom are probably engaged in subsistence farming. Does having 80% of the population engaged in agricultural production indicate, in the Foreign Minister's opinion, a weakness in the Mozambican economy? Is there a case to be made for attempting to diversify and industrialise the production of farm produce?
There was a Marxist or perhaps a Leninist phrase: "educate to be free". I am delighted that the Dublin Institute of Technology has done such a wonderful job. I actually get my glasses at the DIT and know that it has a lovely little shop and campus on Kevin Street. I am interested in education. Given its competitive nature and that Mozambique has a competing partner in South Africa which has probably the most advanced education system in Africa, what is Mozambique doing to increase education provision?
In welcoming the delegation I suggest we have a long way to go in our relationships. For example, I see that we only import €240,000 worth of goods from Mozambique. It is a huge country, but that is all we are buying from it, which might suggest some Irish aid should be provided on the trade side in terms of developing markets and so on. Moreover, we export just €2.7 million worth of goods to Mozambique. Overall, there is definitely plenty of room for improvement in the area of trade.
I will conclude by congratulating Mozambique on successfully coming out of a terrible civil war, having gained its independence in 1975. I ask the Foreign Minister to outline his view of the world in the light of the following perspective. Mozambique receives massive amounts of European aid. The European Union, among others, observed the 2009 elections which were not deemed to be very democratic. It is alleged that the European Union was very influential in compelling the Mozambican Government to change its electoral law. How do the Foreign Government colleagues feel about this? Do they see it as a threat or something positive that when the providers of aid do not like a particular aspect of Government, they pressurise Mozambique into changing it? I am happy for productive and progressive changes to happen, but from a political perspective, is there undue weight behind aid donors when they want Mozambique to correct its ways?
Before I hand over to the Foreign Minister to answer questions, I welcome to the Visitors Gallery His Excellency Valeriu Zgonea, President of the Chamber of Deputies of Romania. He is most welcome to the Irish Parliament and I hope we will see him later.
There are many questions for the Mozambican Foreign Minister. As he can see, members have a real interest in the situation in Mozambique. Let me add one further question. Given that we have such strong relations, that Ireland has a resident embassy in Maputo and that we are obviously eager to grow trade between our two countries, would the Mozambican Government, particularly the Foreign Minister, consider opening a resident embassy in Dublin? It would be a good way to strengthen our relations further, particularly in the area of trade.
Mr. Oldemiro Marques Balói:
I thank members very much for their questions which clearly show their interest in the situation in Mozambique. I will try to be deep but brief and we will see if I get the balance right.
My biggest challenge is not answering the questions of this committee but rather doing so in such a way as to please the members of my country's Parliament. My hope is that they will realise it is correct to approve the Government's budget for foreign affairs because we are really working. I hope they realise life is not easy for me.
I will now address the issue of elections and voter participation. The political landscape in Mozambique is changing rapidly but there are basically three kinds of political party. The first are those sitting in Parliament, of which there are three. Then there are those who do not sit in Parliament but are constantly active between elections. The third group consists of those that only show up at election time. The performance and visibility of each group is obviously different. Peak participation is around election time, when more than 20 parties seek parliamentary seats. The registration process has just concluded and we expect that around 8 million people will vote. This is around 87% of registered voters. To ensure that most people vote, there is a permanent civic education campaign. Abstention was one of the major problems in the last election and this is surprising in a young democracy such as Mozambique. It is more common in mature democracies such as Ireland. Something is wrong and we are working hard to reverse it.
I agree with the suggestion that the potential for bilateral trade should be explored more fully. As was mentioned earlier, the trade balance is not favourable to Mozambique, and this is why my delegation is here today. We aim to raise the level of co-operation between our countries. We are here to ask you, among other things, to help us help ourselves. We are concentrating on self-explanatory sectors such as agriculture and agri-industry. We must produce and process goods so we can export goods with added value and consume high-quality goods. The education and health sectors are important in the formation of human capital as they help improve levels of productivity over time and have a positive influence on the performance of the economy.
The participation of girls in education is a complex matter that has been identified by the people of Mozambique in general and by the Mozambican Government in particular. There is a cultural component to this issue and it also relates to the level of development. It is a matter that is tied to poverty. Some parts of Africa have a patriarchal societal model and others have a matriarchal pattern of cultural development. Mozambique is so huge that it has each model in different parts of the country, and this is an influencing factor. The cultural influences to which I referred act indirectly rather than directly. Poverty means that families must engage in agricultural production, but the technology is poor, as is the quality of seed. Infrastructure has not yet responded to the needs of agriculture, and for cultural reasons, girls are expected to help their mothers solve these problems. Girls are expected to engage in farming, fetch water for the family and take care of younger children. These facts mean that solving the problem of the participation of girls in education will take some time, but the trend in this matter has been positive.
Some decades ago, far fewer girls were enrolled in school than boys, but now there are often more girls than boys. However, as family difficulties intensify, these girls tend to abandon school. The main problem is no longer enrolling girls in schools but keeping them there. This can be done by educating parents. Adult illiteracy is high in Mozambique, at over 50%, so unless parents and grandparents are educated and learn the crucial importance of education, we will continue to face these problems. This is why adult education is a key component of our education system. Supporting the struggle of women for empowerment is another way of motivating people to study. Seeing women in government, parliament and positions of leadership can motivate families to send girls to school.
The Government of Mozambique aims to finance its own budget, and I believe this is realistic. We are quickly reducing dependency on our co-operating partners. I emphasise the word "reducing" because, as our capacity to finance the budget increases, our needs increase faster. We are trying to reduce the gap as fast as possible. Based only on what we in Mozambique call the traditional economic sectors, we can sustain our growth. These sectors have driven Mozambique to an average growth of 7.2% in the past ten to 15 years. Now we have discovered gas and coal, and this will produce income in 2018.
In the meantime, we have two non-recurring sources of income due to sales and purchases of assets between the investors. Although it is non-recurring, it is nevertheless very useful. In the medium term, we will be in a much better position to finance our budget both through growth of the so-called traditional sectors, namely, agriculture, industry, tourism and services, and due to the benefits we will accrue from these new discoveries.
Foreign direct investment benefits the citizens greatly. We would like it to be more beneficial in terms of creating jobs but foreign investors are in the upper level of the economy and being in the upper level often means they use high technology and capital intensive techniques rather than making labour intensive investments. This is why our bet - it is a common belief everywhere - is to promote the development of the domestic private sector, mostly at the level of micro, small and medium enterprises. These sectors are by their nature job creators. We are trying to match the big investments with these sectors through linkage processes. From the outset, we want to ensure that the services required by the big investors are provided by the private sector, and preferably domestic companies. The first big investment attracted into Mozambique was the Mozal aluminium smelter. We have learned from that project and are trying to implement this approach in all the big projects we develop. However, we do not have big expectations from the new discoveries when it comes to job creation. We want to get things upstream and downstream. That is where we will build our competitiveness in terms of medium-sized enterprises.
A question was raised about Chinese construction in Mozambique. There is a misperception in regard to how Mozambique is dealing with China. There is a general fear when it comes to China that problems arise in terms of its human rights and its approach to the environment. I remind people that it is the Government's responsibility to enforce its own laws and regulations. If one ties it, they fulfil it but if one loosens it, they may take advantage. That applies to all human beings. We do not have cases of deficit due to bad construction. We may have one or other building with problems of quality but that is not because of China; it is because the person who was paid to supervise construction did not do his job. It is the system that failed. We refuse to attach that to a particular country because it happens with everyone, even among Mozambiqueans. I refer to micro, small and medium enterprises. We try to give them opportunities to build small schools, small factories, houses and so on. Besides the fact that a minority of them under perform, a certain number disappear with the money after they receive their first payment. These are Mozambiqueans. It is a human problem, not a problem of nationality.
Budget support is a precious tool for Mozambique not only because of the money, although that is critical, but also because of the externalities of the process. We need to manage the budget accurately. We need to train people. We need to be accountable. We are, by nature, accountable to the Parliament but because it is providing us with budget support, we are also accountable to it. That helps to improve the system because, underlining all this, there is a problem of human capital, which is weak everywhere without exception. Through budget support we interact intensively and we learn to finance our budget. That is not a tradition with co-operating partners but we are also learning to use the money in a transparent and credible way. It is a win-win situation and that is why we value the budget support. In the past we received credits and grants from everywhere, many of which were channelled through NGOs, but when it came to measuring the impact of these grants nobody, including the Government, had the figures. That is why the concept of concentration and co-ordination arose and that is what we are trying to implement jointly.
Capital flight and corporate tax evasion are challenges. We prevent capital flight by maintaining peace and stability. Investors need to trust a country. Macroeconomic stability is also important. We are doing well in this regard, as Ms Lagarde has noted in a recent statement. We are focused on providing even more peace and stability. That is why investors trust us and remain in the country. Corporate tax evasion is a matter of efficiency of our fiscal authority, which is striving and succeeding. The levels of tax collection are improving every year and we have a strong entity that is delivering a good performance.
In that region of the continent, Mozambique has a role. We are one of the founders of the South African Development Community, SADC, we were a member of the Frontline States, FLS, and we are chairing the Community of Portuguese Language Countries until July. That last organisation has eight members, five of which are African. In March, we finished our term on the African Union Peace and Security Council. We are pretty busy. We are also involved in the Great Lakes region. Some of the SADC's members belong to the Great Lakes region organisation, those being the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Angola. Although an infant democracy, Mozambique enjoys a good reputation worldwide. Even before everyone was seated at the SADC, we were asked to chair it in specific contexts.
There is the principle of subsidiarity. This word is hell for me, even in Portuguese, but members get the idea.
Mr. Oldemiro Marques Balói:
Yes. It means that, in central Africa, the regional organisation is the one that leads, and we show up when we are asked. We follow the course of events in the Central African Republic, Mali and Guinea-Bissau. Wherever there is a hotspot in Africa, we follow it closely and are available to help by all means in the region, on the continent, in the African Union or even in the UN. We have very much been involved.
Our industry is developing, but more slowly than we would like. With developments in human capital formation and infrastructure, though, we are getting there. Our ambition is to have an agri-industry. Agribusiness is developing rapidly, but we are not happy yet. There have been positive developments, mostly at a higher level in the sector. Development depends a great deal on the economic basis. We need to empower people in rural areas, where the overwhelming majority live. In the past ten years, the Government has introduced two basic programmes. First, approximately $300,000 is provided per year per district to finance local initiatives. This is paying off, in that things are happening. There is a problem with the repayment of those loans, but that has not led us to give up, as the impacts on production, productivity, management skills and so on are very positive. Second, a slightly larger amount of money is provided per district to address infrastructural issues such as road maintenance and well boring. Small needs that belong to the infrastructure component can also be financed locally. This is the basis of our work and, in five to ten years, it will pay off even more powerfully because we are addressing two issues, those being production and productivity.
As to what extent peace will prevail, we Mozambicans are generally good learners. The destabilising war that lasted for 16 years was a hard, sad and tough lesson for us. This is why every segment of Mozambique is involved in bringing it back fully - the churches, civil society, parties, the Government and our friends abroad. By asking the question, the committee has shown its concern, and this is an additional source of encouragement for us. The answer is that, yes, peace will prevail.
We must take into account the fact that Mozambique has a newborn democracy and is a new country, in that a country is only considered mature if it is more than 100 years old. We are not even 50 years old. Our multi-party democracy is even younger. We are all going through the learning curve. Obviously, as in a classroom, some go quickly through the learning process and others go more slowly. This is what is happening. We are not learning at the same pace and never will, but we will reach a level at which we can at least realise one thing, namely, that democracy has nothing to do with violence. Rather, it is a tool to make one's point. We are getting there. Fortunately, we will have elections in October. These will clarify many matters. We have a new electoral commission, which is trusted by everyone because every party in the Parliament is represented on it. We are all committed to holding good, credible elections to eliminate a certain perception that I will address when answering another question in a few minutes.
We are striving in terms of the business environment and are achieving good results. Tomorrow, there will be a business seminar where a great deal of information will be provided. We might be able to share with the Houses the representations that will be made at that seminar, so I will not use much of the committee's time addressing that issue.
As to the question of growth versus poverty, I am glad that members are impressed with the growth of the Mozambican economy, but please bear in mind that we started from a very low base. We need many years of this kind of growth to overcome poverty, or at least its shocking aspects.
Again, to encourage ourselves, let us look to the trend. The trend is fairly positive. One has growth of the economy and the population. Moving around the country, those who have been in Mozambique, particularly NGOs, can testify as to what they saw 15 to 20 years ago and what they see now. There has been a clear change. One of the debates at home is on the distribution of wealth, feeding the budget properly and encouraging people to continue to be participative in discussing priorities for each part of the country in the national context.
Of the population, 8% is involved in agriculture. There is a low level of education and technology. Seed quality is also low and there are problems with infrastructure, in particular roads to deliver goods to markets. I agree that we have a quality problem in respect of education. We are not yet at the level of competing with neighbouring countries, most of which have always been stable. They have not faced war. The comparison should not be with South Africa but with Angola which had a war as we did. Such a comparison would be relatively fair. We all know what South Africa is. However, we are competing with ourselves to develop and progress all the time. We are not happy with our situation and try to ensure that year after year it improves. A few years ago, we tried to ensure that the maximum number of children had access to school. The economy could not support that but the political will and determination was there to achieve it. As the economic situation progresses and the fight continues to change mentalities to make everyone believe in and commit to improvements in education, the results will appear. We are well aware of this and are fighting hard to reverse the situation.
I was asked how I see the situation in Mozambique given that we have received a great deal of aid, the elections held so far have had problems and donors are putting pressure on us. Pressure from donors used to be stronger. It is no longer that strong as we are no longer very dependent. We continue to be dependent but to a lesser extent than in the past. When I was Deputy Minister for Co-operation, I was also co-ordinator for the emergency programme. We were still at war. My predecessor is here. He was Deputy Minister for Agriculture and the co-ordinator and when I was appointed I took over from him. We were fully dependent on foreign aid. When we reached peace, the dependence was still very high and we could hardly take our own decisions even on issues having to do with our sovereignty.
The de-mining programme is my responsibility as Minister with responsibility for foreign trade, which does not make sense. De-mining is a matter for defence. We were in a confidence building process, however, and while the Government thought it was not necessary, the donors - at that time they were donors and not co-operating partners as we call them today - imposed on us the condition that de-mining be in Foreign Affairs. We had to accept.
NGOs are foreign organisations and they are supposed to be registered and controlled by the Minister for Justice. However, as the Minister for Justice was far from the donors, responsibility for NGOs was given to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. The third component has to do with immigrants. That is by nature a matter for the Ministry with responsibility for the interior. However, for the same reason, it is with the Minister for Foreign Affairs.
Fortunately, we concluded in the Ministry last year a functional analysis which was carried out through outsourcing. Now that we are no longer as dependent as we have been in the past, we have taken the decision that de-mining will go to the Ministry of Defence by the end of the year. Responsibility for NGOs is in the process of being transferred to the Minister for Justice and immigration matters are about to be transferred to the Ministry of Home Affairs. It is not enough to have legitimacy, one must have the power to impose that legitimacy, which takes time. Nevertheless, it was useful and it will continue to be useful to interact. We believe in a world of interdependence and that is what we are striving for.
Elections have never been perfect. We have attempted from one election to the next to improve, which is why our electoral law is far from being stable. Before almost every election, it is subject to revision to incorporate contributions from national and international organisations, including the constitutional court, domestic entities and other observers, particularly the European Union, which has been very proactive in making contributions. Most of those have been incorporated in our electoral law.
We have challenges but we know where to go and how to get there. Simply put, things take time. We will have a resident embassy as soon as possible. Our friends understand us very well and multi-party accreditation is a powerful tool for countries as poor as Mozambique. I thank the committee very much.
I thank the Minister for updating the committee on the progress of his country over the last number of years and the strides that have been made. We are very proud of our development aid programme in Mozambique and it is good to see the country is less dependent on aid than it was a number of years ago. As the Minister rightly said, we have given €36 million to Mozambique this year, which is obviously there to support its people and reduce poverty.
We have seen the impact at first hand. We are aware of the importance of farmers being helped with expertise and providing assistance in other areas, including in dealing with the incidence of HIV-AIDS. All of this work is extremely important, in respect of which I thank His Excellency most sincerely. It is good to hear that the Department of Foreign Affairs in his country is considering opening a resident embassy here as soon as possible. That development would make a great difference, particularly in growing trade. It would also mean that there would be much more contact between the ambassador of Mozambique with this Parliament and Ministers here.
We have had a wide-ranging and interesting discussion in the past hour and I thank Mr. Marques Balói for giving of his time. I hope he has a very successful conference tomorrow when the Mozambique-Irish Business Forum will take place in Kilmainham. I hope it will lead to an increase in business and trade between our two countries. On his final day he be will taken to County Meath, which means that he will get to see a little more of Ireland than just Dublin. Perhaps when he returns, he might travel further afield. I wish him, his officials and all of the parliamentarians well. Parliamentarians play a very important role in democracy and we look forward to continued dialogue between our fellow parliamentarians.