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Angola: Promoting Accountability At the Country Level
Source: allafrica.com
Source Date: Friday, April 26, 2013
Focus: ICT for MDGs, Internet Governance
Country: Angola
Created: Apr 29, 2013

The text below is the full version of Mr. Rafael Marques de Morais' presentation delivered at the OECD 17th Development Assistance Committee Network on Governance, on April 25, at the OECD Conference Centre in Paris.

You can also download the PDF version of the presentation here.

Promoting Accountability at the Country Level: Experiences from Angola

In 2009, the Angolan President, José Eduardo dos Santos declared a zero tolerance policy against corruption, and criticized members of his own cabinet who engage in self-dealing through being simultaneously public officials and businesspeople.

He also denounced his own party, the ruling MPLA, over which he has been presiding since 1979 while also serving as President of the Republic, for being "timid" in overseeing his own government.

A year later, the government passed new and comprehensive anti-corruption legislation that harmonized several existing laws into the Law on Administrative Probity.

These two initiatives established the political will and a fresh legal framework to tackle what has become the most serious problem in the country: corruption.

But these political measures were outlined in a context in which there are virtually no checks and balances regulating the functioning of the state in Angola.

The President, who has been in power for 33 years, is the head of the state, the head of government, the de facto head of parliament through the presidency of his party, which holds more than two-thirds of the seats and votes only in accordance to his instructions.

The office of the attorney general, which is tasked with overseeing the application of laws, including the acts of the public administration, is legally a branch of the presidency.

Yearly, President dos Santos has been openly earmarking tens of millions of dollars, from the Presidency's budget, to allocate to a media and public relations company belonging to two of his children, Welwitschea "Tchizé" and José Paulino dos Santos.

Last year, he also authorized the disbursement of US $5 billion to another son, José Filomeno dos Santos, to be managed at will, under the guise of a Sovereign Wealth Fund.

The Attorney General in Angola is himself a businessman and a person of interest to investigators in money laundering proceedings in Portugal. A number of judges are also engaged in shady business deals.

This absolute control by the corrupt officials themselves over the investigation and oversight mechanisms that could expose and control their own racketeering further fuels corruption, and is inexorably choking the Angolan State.

Within the ruling MPLA, corruption is the main driving force. The party has set up tens of specialized committees to control skilled labor such as doctors, engineers, economists, etc.

Party membership and loyalty are essential for individuals to climb the public administration and social ladders. Weeks ago, the MPLA leadership awarded tens of members of such committees state of the art Nissan SUVs worth US $135,000 each.

Furthermore, traditional media, which is either controlled by the government or owned by leading members of the regime, glamorizes high-level corruption and celebrates the regime's cronies as examples of success.

Corruption can make a public official massively rich and powerful. At one given moment, untold riches are within his reach. Wealth and a lifestyle of which his or her parents could have never dreamed about, which he or she would never have believed to be his or her lot in this life.

Patronage becomes a way of the world, a fact of law. Moral standards become eroded and ordinary public servants have little choice but to follow the model of corruption in order to try to improve their livelihoods.

Thus, being corrupt has acquired a socially and morally accepted status.

Restoring Order

Under these circumstances, how to restore a sense of what is right and wrong?

As elsewhere, in Angola, the main novelty is that the civil society organizations, expert or simply vocal and proactive citizens, bring to the fight against corruption their local knowledge of how the state works in practice and an awareness of the problems of the population (particularly the poor), as well as their examples of courage.

In 2009, Maka Angola, then an irregular blog, seized on the presidential zero tolerance policy speech to become an anti-corruption watchdog and serve as a springboard for civil society awareness on the subject.

The initiative took place in a context in which the government had managed to stifle alternative voices, and had a landslide electoral victory of almost 82 percent in the 2008 elections.

To date, the traditional media and the political parties have shown themselves incapable of responding to the challenge of promoting viable alternative policies and of offering effective hope of change and better prospects for good governance standards, democratic reforms and better living standards for the Angolan people.

At Maka Angola, we took advantage of the online media to bypass the State media as well as the supposedly private media, both of which are under the control of the ruling elite.

While internet reaches only about three percent of the population, the hunger for independent news has produced innovative ways of dissemination, namely by printing articles of interest, photocopying and distributing them.

Often, international broadcasters in the Portuguese language, mainly Deutsche Welle, amplify some of Maka Angola's investigations for the benefit of many Angolans in the countryside, through shortwaves.

But rather than just investigating, publishing and expecting the relevant sectors to take the matters forth, as it would happen in a normal society, we adopted an innovative approach. We are challenging the judiciary by lodging criminal complaints against some of the officials found contravening the laws.

Hand in glove with the culture of institutional corruption is the culture of fear, due to the authoritarian nature of the regime. People not only fear being subjected to violence but also fear losing their jobs and their livelihoods, if they are found to upset an influential public official.

I will give you the most mundane example of the consequences one might suffer. In 2010, the driver of one of the Angolan deputy attorney generals lost his job for unintentionally driving me, on a weekend, in a neighbor's car. Naively, he told his boss that he had met me.

The act was illegal but the driver, fearing further retaliation, preferred to stay jobless for more than a year rather than denouncing the case.

That is why a proactive role is paramount to break the boundaries of fear and educate society and magistrates about what fighting corruption entails, its consequences and benefits, in the long term, for the whole of society.

Back in 2009, I exposed a web of corrupt deals, worth billions of dollars, involving a triumvirate of officials closest to the President, including his current vice-president Manuel Vicente, and the minister of State and head of the Intelligence Bureau in the presidency, general Manuel Hélder Vieira Dias "Kopelipa."

The deals were tied to them being engaged in joint-ventures with foreign companies that were seeking government contracts and that were involved in the privatization of state assets and with investments in Portugal. I lodged a criminal complaint against them in 2012.

The recent US State Department country report on Angola mentioned the case and the lack of response by the Office of the Attorney-General. On April 22, the same office delivered its decision and the full report on its investigations to my address. It notified me a year later after it shelved the case.

The Office of the Attorney-General argued that there were no wrongdoings in the private business affairs of such officials even though their companies engaged in joint-ventures with the state worth hundreds of millions of dollars, including major shares in two oil blocs. The lateness of the official notification preempted any possibility for me to appeal the decision.

But this, in and of itself, is already a positive step, for the decision enables law students, CSOs and the public in general to learn about the official arguments and to be able to challenge them. Meanwhile, whilst the Prosecution Services closed the case in Angola - there are several ongoing investigations in Portugal on the same individuals, some based on the work of Maka Angola.

Mercedes-Benz terminated a joint venture it had with General Kopelipa in Angola, which was used to sell cars to the presidency, and was supposed to invest over US $200 million in an assembly plant for trucks and buses. There is also an investigation in the United Stated of America into the US oil company Cobalt, which I exposed as being in a joint venture with the triumvirate to secure oil bloc contracts in Angola.

The watchdog function of the media is perhaps the most obvious with regard to corruption, and we at Maka Angola can draw on many more examples where we have acted as a catalyst for corruption awareness, both domestically and in other relevant jurisdictions, by highlighting malfeasance.

Nevertheless, the reporting on corrupt or ethically questionable dealings has not resulted in immediate investigations, prosecutions or resignations, but does arouse the ire of the public, which in theory is able to exercise another form of sanction: voting the government out of office.

In Angola, however, this is not at present a viable scenario. Youth groups have been trying to emulate an Arab Spring in Angola by attempting to stage protests calling for the president's resignation because of corruption and misrule. The government reacts with violence and that generates other social and political dynamics.

Furthermore, the tens of investigations already published have proven that high-level corruption is protected by impunity, and it delegitimizes the government's rhetoric of political and social concern for the people's welfare.

The current discourse from the president is no longer about the zero tolerance policy against corruption that he spoke of a few years ago, but rather an attempt to justify the extent of corruption within its own regime: "[Some] say that there is corruption in the country, but there is no country in the world where there is no corruption."

The whole point of our efforts is to engage the whole citizenry in turning the issue of corruption into an issue that simply cannot be ignored, to give it the attention and reputation it deserves as a crime.

Turning the anti-corruption conversation into a prime focus of citizens' participation in the political and socio-economic realm is also a measure of the success of such efforts.

For CSOs, expert or vocal individuals, fighting corruption and promoting good governance means much more than simply the reorganizing of government so that it works more efficiently.

We must see corruption as a social cancer that impoverishes and disempowers the poor, increases social and economic polarity, destroys the social fabric, damages democracy, and institutionalizes inequities and malpractice so that any chance of escaping from such systems and structures becomes less and less possible.

Even if regulation and oversight are in place to curb corrupt behavior and the abuse of power, we must be aware that any effective measure for real change will only come from the people and through the people.

Success in working against corruption will depend on whether a lasting cultural change can be achieved. It is the people who must stop paying or demanding bribes.

It is only if the people consider corruption immoral, if the people report corruption when they see it, and if they support the work of organizations fighting against corruption - it is then and only then that change will truly have arrived.
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