- Maria das Neves, Prime Minister of São Tomé and Príncipe, is struggling to establish a new majority government without the country's second largest party, the MDFM. The MDFM was forced to leave government after Ms Neves accused Ministers of that party to have tried to sign contracts of future oil production without her knowledge.
Prime Minister Neves today presented the list of a new possible majority government to São Toméan President Fradique de Menezes for approval. Ms Neves' proposal includes the Liberation Movement of São Tomé (MLSTP) of the Prime Minister and the smaller Independent Democratic Action (ADI) of the President, but it excludes the Force for Change Democratic Movement (MDFM), which is only marginally smaller than the MLSTP.
The proposal came after São Toméan Foreign Minister Mateus Meira Rita and Natural Resources Minister Tomé Vera Cruz - both of the MDFM - yesterday handed in their resignation. The two Ministers had been accused of signing oil deals abroad, without the previous knowledge of Ms Neves.
The Prime Minister accused ex-Foreign Minister Rita of having signed an oil production agreement with a company referred to as 'Energem Petrolium', without having government backing. Ex-Resource Minister Vera Cruz was said to have prepared an oil producing protocol together with the Angolan government, also without the knowledge of Ms Neves.
Politics in the small island state of São Tomé and Príncipe have slipped into instability after it became known that the archipelago has enormous offshore oil reservoirs, which are scheduled to start producing black gold in 2007. An aborted military coup in July last year was also believed to be related to the soon-to-come oil revenues. The coup makers made harsh allegations of government corruption and mismanagement, in particular directed at Minister Vera Cruz.
According to President Menezes, the current political crisis in São Tomé was connected to values, greed and mistrust in an era of preparations before becoming an oil producing nation. In what was believed to be a critique mainly directed at the MDFM Ministers, President Menezes called on São Toméans to "finally become honest with one and another."
The current political crisis however also is seen as a backlash for the President, who during the March 2002 elections had supported a centre-right coalition between his party and the MDFM against the leftist MLSTP, an ex-Communist party that ruled the archipelago from independence until 2000. President Menezes however has found Prime Minister Neves of MLSTP to be a person of trust and confidence.
Speaking to the press in São Tomé today, President Menezes nevertheless questioned Prime Minister Neves' motives for provoking the resignation of the two MDFM Ministers. As far as he had understood, Ms Neves indeed had been previously informed of the two contracts, he said. President Menezes however confirmed that a recent national meeting on oil had put Ms Neves in charge of the country's oil policy and that she was to be informed of such foreign contacts.
The MLSTP meanwhile has announced that it still wishes to have the MDFM within a broad national unity government. A party spokesman said that while the MFDM was still welcome in the coalition, the two Ministers that had resigned were not.
Also Prime Minister Neves said she was not against a further board coalition and that she only insisted on removing the two Ministers that had "created the crisis." The MDFM however insists on keeping all its Ministers or none. Unless President Menezes surprisingly should turn down the Prime Minister's proposal, the MDFM thus probably will form the new opposition in São Tomé in the nearest future.
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