Op-Ed: Turning Mozambique’s ‘scandal’ into progress

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IN the so-called ‘Mozambique tuna scandal’ and $2bn debt default, officials of the southern coastal African nation did something even more tragic than abandoning a spanking new fleet of fishing and security vessels, maritime radar sites, and the makings of a ship repair facility they had ordered and received. They abandoned an historic opportunity to lift the nation from devastating poverty and misery. But it’s not too late, writes Gregory Tosi*.

Mozambique’s widely reported failure to launch its maritime projects set back the country’s desperately needed and widely endorsed plan to harvest its rich offshore fisheries, build a maritime industrial sector, and protect its Indian Ocean coastline and rich natural-gas reserves from pirates, poachers and terrorists. All of which promised to create jobs, boost the economy, and lift Mozambique out of the ranks of the world’s poorest nations.

Breathless claims that the Mozambique maritime projects were a sham deal to grease palms and line pockets have been debunked. You can see with the naked eye in Mozambique’s capital of Maputo and from Google Earth that the boats and equipment were delivered by the contractor, the global shipbuilder Privinvest. That’s just one of many reasons why the US conspiracy case in Brooklyn, N.Y., against Privinvest sales executive Jean Boustani who secured the deals, is running aground.

Indeed, an independent assessment of the Mozambique projects by retired US Navy Admiral Gary Roughead, a former chief of US Naval Operations and former Commander of the US Pacific Fleet, found ‘the vessels, systems and equipment procured by Mozambique are appropriate to the tasks for which they were acquired, including commercial fishing and coastal security.’

Beyond advancing Mozambique’s own economic and security interests, Roughead said, the projects ‘could serve as a template for coastal African nations seeking to rightfully benefit from their natural resources and lift their populations out of poverty.’

Another retired US Navy Admiral, Stanley Bryant, testified in the Boustani trial that the Privinvest contracts for boats and systems sold to Mozambique were real and appropriate for the country, calling the deliveries ‘fantastic’ and both cutting-edge and what Mozambique needed.

As the scandal claims fall apart, the most important question ahead is, how can Mozambique benefit from the maritime projects that now lay fallow? The short answer is, greatly.

By operationalising the coastal surveillance systems it bought and received, Mozambique’s naval forces could surveil, control, and provide security in the Mozambique Channel of the Indian Ocean—a crucial maritime route for tens of thousands of tankers, cargo ships and military vessels. Mozambique could levy and earn fees from vessels passing through its waters, and perhaps even more lucratively, provide maritime security services for the oil and gas companies operating there.

By scraping off the barnacles and launching its purchased fishing fleet, Mozambique could wrest control of its multi-billion-dollar offshore fisheries from China and other nations and bring its seafood home to feed its economy and protein-malnourished people. Mozambique could be the one to benefit from its natural fishing resources, catch poachers and impose fines, and monitor and enforce valid fishing licenses.

By completing and firing up its shipyard investments, Mozambique could become a major pit stop on the Indian Ocean for ships needing repair and maintenance, and also serve the offshore oil and gas industry’s maritime industrial needs.

In his trial in New York, Privinvest sales executive Jean Boustani testified his belief that the Mozambique maritime projects were not only legitimate but essential to the country’s future.

‘These projects are historical projects,’ he said. ‘These projects can make billions for the Republic of Mozambique. And they are game-changers in Africa and for the economy. All that the government of Mozambique needs to do, and I urge them and please to [current] President [Filipe Jacinto] Nyusi, put the plug in the socket and activate this project. That’s it.’

*Gregory Tosi is an attorney practising international trade law in developing countries. He also builds personal submersibles and small boats.

 

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