EXCLUSIVE: Interests conflicted in Angola’s selective graft war

People's Liberation Movement of Angola (MPLA) supporters campaigning for its Presidential candidate Joao Lourenco in 2017, now Angola head of state. Photo, supplied

People’s Liberation Movement of Angola (MPLA) supporters campaigning for its Presidential candidate Joao Lourenco in 2017, now Angola head of state. Photo, supplied

from PEDRO AGOSTO in Luanda, Angola
LUANDA, (CAJ News) THE conflict of interest furore besetting one of Angola’s richest entrepreneurs, serving as a provincial governor, is contrary to the assurance made by the new administration to fight corruption.

President Joao Lourenco made the pledge as he assumed office, to succeed the long-serving Jose Eduardo dos Santos, whose reign from 1979 to 2017 was marked by rampant graft and nepotism.

In September, the new administration will mark two years in office but despite the pledge by the president to fight corruption in the Southern African country, some controversial appointments in key government positions have thwarted that commitment.

Among those appointments include Lourcenco’s selection of the multimillionaire Luís da Fonseca Nunes, as the governor of the southwestern Huila Province.

He is among surprise appointments in the ruling People’s Liberation Movement of Angola (MPLA) restructured and appointed influential business-people as Lournco assumed leadership of the revolutionary party.

A multimillionaire – with an estimated fortune of around €855 million – his time at the helm of the province has been marred by conflicting of interest as his business interests clash with his political duties.

Also a member of the Council of the Republic and the Central Committee of the MPLA, the business interests of the 12th governor of Huila runs deep.

He manages a group of 12 companies linked to the agro-industrial wood sector, metallurgy, construction and civil engineering.

With such a wide business portfolio, his appointment into public office was always going to be a risky affair.

Nunes, or his companies, are accused of unfairly benefitting from provincial government contracts.

Media recently reported the premier is a major shareholder in a construction company, Omatapalo, which won a government tender- estimated at more than $300 million- to carry out renovations of roads in the provincial capital, Lubango.

Earlier in August, it was reported the company, which prides itself of being “born with a DNA of construction companies over 70 years old”, had received close to $500 million during the last seven months.

Since the beginning of the year, Omatapalo had secured three contracts, with the major one a $196 million project to construct a ring road in the capital city.

COSEC Portugal majorly finances the project.

The contracts have been secured despite tender procedures being compulsory in the case of public works.

In its defence, the government stated that only companies of Portuguese or another European Union country’s origin and operating in Angola were eligible for the execution of the works.

Critics however pointed out Omatapalo was not the only COSEC-eligible company hence it should have competed with others like firms in a transparent tendering process.

Astoundingly, like Lourenco, the governor has been presenting himself as an advocate against corruption since his appointment.

He has been quoted as pledging “to do everything so that the evils of corruption, nepotism, flattery and impunity, already public and well identified by his excellence, the President of the Republic, find no fertile ground in our province.”

Maico Borba, the local sociopolitical commentator, was scathing of the administration of Lourenco.

“The goings-on in Huila are a disgrace to the so-called war against graft, as promised by the government when it took office,” he said.

Critics believe the anti-graft war targeted dos Santos’ loyalists and entrench Lourenco’s grip on power.

“As the politically-connected get richer by the day, the majority are sinking further into poverty. This is a betrayal of the masses who had so much hope in the new administration,” the analyst added.

An activist of the opposition National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), Celma Janota, urged citizens to vote MPLA out of power in the next election, possibly 2022.

“That is the only way to rid our country of poverty and corruption,” she said.

A majority of Angola’s estimated population of 31 million are poor. Lourenco promised them “an economic miracle” when he was sworn in.

According to the World Bank, the economy is suffering the effects of lower oil prices and production levels and was expected to have contracted by 1,7 percent in 2018. Angola is the second-largest producer of the commodity.

“Growth is expected to remain subdued in 2019 due to a faster-than-expected decay in mature oil wells and a lower-than-expected production from marginal oil fields,” the institute stated.

The World Bank stated subdued growth had resulted in reduced employment opportunities and incomes.

“These and an elevated inflation that is cutting into the purchasing power of the poor explain the stagnation in poverty reduction.”

– CAJ News

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