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Daily Archives: October 30, 2008

Assembly 2009 budget tops 78 million patacas


by Sara Farr
The private budget for lawmakers and staff at the Legislative Assembly has reached a new record, increasing as much as 20 million patacas from last year, to 78 million patacas. Lawmakers yesterday unanimously approved the Assembly’s private budget, which sees an increase of 34.5 percent compared to that of last year’s. 

The main reason for the increase in the budget is due to “expenses with staff”, which increased by 17.5 percent to 8.2 million patacas. Susana Chou, president of the Legislative Assembly, told lawmakers yesterday that the
Assembly had hired new staff and that was already accounted for in next year’s private budget. But the Assembly is getting more than just new staff, according to Chou, where 648,000 patacas will go towards getting new vehicles to replace the old ones that have been serving lawmakers and staff for the past 10 years. However, the budget will see a 780,000 pataca cut in “capital expenses”, a drop of 52.7 percent over that of last year, as in 2009, the Assembly will not need to renovate its parking lot. But a 200,000 pataca has been tagged for “transportation equipment” and 500,000 to renew IT equipment, which falls under the category “machinery and equipment.” In addition, lawmakers also unanimously rejected pro-democracy lawmaker’s proposal to hold an open-door debate at Assembly in order to brief the public on the new transport system the government is wanting to implement. Ng Kuok Cheong said that given Macau’s transport system costs the government around 250 million patacas each year, it would be a “good idea” to hold a debate session as it is an issue that directly affects the
lives of hundreds of thousands of locals who rely on public transport. According to the proposal, the government
plans to increase bus fares from 2.5 patacas within Macau to 3.5 patacas. However, for commuters who use the electronic bus pass, the fare will be cut down to just two patacas, after the government subsidises the two bus
concessionaires. “The government hasn’t presented a detailed plan and has not justified the subsidies the bus concessionaires will be entitled too,” Ng said, justifying the proposed opendoor debate. Ng also said that it is “unacceptable” that the government allows bus companies to increase fares by 40 percent over the next two
years. Only six of the 24 lawmakers present voted in favour of the open-door debate, namely Ng himself, fellow pro-democracy lawmaker Au Kam San, Jose Pereira Coutinho, Kwan Tsui Hang, Leong Iok Wa and Ieong Weng Ian.

Zambia gears up for final rallies in tight presidential race

by Justine Gerardy*

A former diplomat vowing stability and a fiery populist promising to aid the poor geared up yesterday for their final rallies in a neck-and-neck contest for Zambia's presidency.
The two leading candidates, acting President Rupiah Banda and opposition leader Michael Sata, have wallpapered Lusaka with their posters on dirtbins, bridges and lamp posts ahead of today's vote.
Radio airwaves jingle with Banda's slogans, urging people to vote "for continued development" and "economic prosperity for all Zambians," while Sata's banners promise lower taxes and more jobs.
Economic themes ring strongly in a country that has enjoyed years of sustained growth thanks to soaring global prices for copper, Zambia's main export.
Banda — the 71-year-old who took over after late president Levy Mwanawasa's stroke four months ago — has built his campaign on promises to continue existing policies, which he says will boost the economy in one of the world's poorest countries.
The retired diplomat had been seen as a political outsider when he became vice president two years ago, but he outmanoeuvred a dozen rivals within the ruling Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) to become the party's candidate.
Banda is fending off a tough challenge from the opposition Patriotic Front leader Sata, a 71-year-old known as "King Cobra" for his stinging political skills.
Sata lost to Mwanawasa in the last election, but built a strong base of support in Lusaka and copper-belt towns that are home to most of Zambia's jobs.
He has vowed to transform Zambia within 90 days of taking office by forcing foreign companies to hand 25 percent stakes to local investors, while embarking on social spending to provide better jobs and housing.
They were both expected to appear before large crowds yesterday in Lusaka, to make their final appeals to voters.
Two other candidates are potential spoilers for either side in a close election, which will name a president to ride out the end of Mwanawasa's term in 2011.
Hakainde Hichilema, 46, of the United Party for National Development, is seen as a dark horse contender, while former vice president Godfrey Miyanda of the Heritage Party is seen as an also-ran.
Sata and Hichilema have already voiced fears of vote fraud, accusing electoral authorities of planning to rig the ballots.
The election commission has denied the charges, but the controversy recalled tensions after the 2006 vote, when Sata supporters rioted for days in Lusaka to protest his loss.
Despite recent economic successes, the new president will inherit formidable problems.
More than 60 percent of the population live on less than two dollars a day, while more than one million people — of a population of 11.7 million — have HIV.
The commodities boom that powered recent growth now threatens to turn to bust, as global economic worries have sent copper prices tumbling by 50 percent from their peak in July.
Worries about the future and discontent about the way the ruling MMD has shared Zambia's mineral wealth have earned Sata many supporters in Lusaka.
"In short, what people need is change," Salinda Kayombo, a 49-year-old driver in Lusaka, said. "The MMD's term is through."
"He said he'll change the country in 90 days and if we reach 2011 with no change, we'll chuck him out. Zambians are awake. We want someone whose promises come true."
But Banda supporters argue equally adamantly that Zambia should stay the course.
"We want continuity," said Prince Simwaka, a 28-year-old butchery worker who believes Banda will win. "I'm hoping that he'll proceed with what Mwanawasa was doing."