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Elections in Angola: time to tackle corruption

The unofficial results of Angola’s elections are expected on 25 August and they are likely to show that the ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) will hold on to power even though José Eduardo dos Santos, who has been president for 38 years is not standing.

This is not cause for celebration unless it brings change. Corruption has for too long enriched a small ruling elite while more than two thirds of the country’s population live in poverty.

Angola is the archetype of a captured state. It scores only 18 and ranks 164 out of 176 on the 2016 Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index indicating rampant corruption.

This has been well documented, most vividly by the 2013 Transparency International Integrity Award winner Rafael Marques de Morais, in books and articles.

President Dos Santos’ two children control the most powerful state enterprises. His daughter Isabel heads Sonangol, the oil giant, and his son Jose Filomena, heads the US$5 billion sovereign wealth fund. Sonangol was rated by Transparency International as one of the least transparent of all big oil producers.

This kind of nepotism and cronyism has stopped ordinary Angolans from benefitting from the country’s natural resource wealth, especially when oil prices were high. Now that they are lower, it is the public services that have been cut rather than the wealth of the elites. Despite some improvement, Angola’s child mortality rate, remains one of the worst in the world.

The country has a per capita income of US$6,800 technically making it an upper middle-income state. But tell that to the millions who live on less than US$3 a day. They cannot access proper healthcare while Isabel dos Santos is lauded as the first female African billionaire.

In 2015, Transparency International identified Isabel dos Santos as one of the prime examples of grand corruption in the world.

What can be done? More actions and fewer words to tackle corruption in Angola:

  • The new leader should seize the opportunity and be courageous to break the chains of corruption.
  • Citizens should be allowed to demand transparency and accountability without fear of any threat to their rights.
  • The cycle of patronage for jobs and contracts must be stopped. Greater transparency in procurement and the publication of official data on open and accessible platforms is an antidote to deals done behind closed doors.
  • Angola should become a full member of the Extractives Industry Transparency Initiative and report how it uses is oil product. Talks are still stalled.
  • There should be greater scrutiny by the receiving countries of money leaving the Angola that is used to buy luxury goods, particularly if secret companies are used to hide the true beneficiary. Transparency International is advocating global registers of beneficial owners of companies and trusts to help stop the corrupt laundering illicit wealth.
  • Lawyers who set up secret companies for the corrupt and the businesses who sell goods to them should be sanctioned if they do not conduct proper due diligence. In the case of Portugal, this is particularly important because of the historical ties with Angola. In some countries this will require new laws; in others the full implementation of laws that already exist.

Any new leader in Angola cannot simply pay lip service to ending corruption. They will need the help and pressure from the international community to make this happen. Unfortunately, the ballot box is not a guarantee of success.

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