Angola: Fight Against Corruption Falters Again

In the week that the International Red Cross launched an eight-million-dollar appeal to help feed the starving population of drought-ridden southern Angola, the Angolan Audit Court (the equivalent of the National Audit Office) is due to rule on the legality of a highly controversial government property purchase worth more than ten times that amount.

Maka Angola was tipped off in November last year that the Angolan Minister of Transport had agreed on behalf of the government, to buy property from a lifelong friend at an inflated amount in what gave the appearance of both a conflict of interest and an attempt to defraud the public purse. The Welwitschia Business Centre and Chicala buildings had been on the market for several years at a lower price when Transport Minister Ricardo Veiga D’Abreu (in the photo) stepped in to offer his childhood friend Rui Óscar Ferreira Santos Van-Dúnem a staggering 91-million-dollars[1] to take them off his hands.

We passed on the information to the Office of the Attorney-General of the Republic with a formal complaint of suspected criminality requiring investigation. Our complaint alleged that, in the first instance, the Welwitschia building was not fit for the purpose expressed by the Transport Minister as the motive for purchase, as it was partly given over to residential apartments. Secondly, that the value of the building had been exaggerated taking into account the previous price at which it was offered for sale. Our information suggested that the newly-inflated price being asked of the government was the result of a ‘sweetheart deal’ between the minister and the owner – at the very least involving a conflict of interest.

The Attorney-General’s office initially announced it would proceed to investigate, only to later announce that the complaint could be archived. To date there has been no mention of the findings of any official investigation. And yet, a reliable source has let us know that the Audit Court is preparing to authorize payment in full this very week.

According to information from the Finance Ministry, once given the go-ahead, payment of 85 million US dollars will be made in two tranches, first via Treasury Bonds, and then from ordinary Treasury Account resources.

What this amounts to is that Angolan taxpayers, who might reasonably expect their government to use its resources to counter the drought and incipient famine in southern Angola, will instead see another exorbitant sum go into the private pockets of well-connected Angolans.

We are told that the Finance Ministry expressed objections to this unlikely property deal but were told to follow “ordens superiores” – orders from above usually meaning from the highest-ranking levels of the Angolan State. The question remains why the Office of the Attorney-General failed to use all the legal means at its disposal to suspend or freeze a transaction tainted by rumours of corruption which is ruinous for the State coffers. If the information given to Maka Angola is correct, shouldn’t the Attorney-General’s office have given speedy attention to investigating a potential crime of such magnitude? Why didn’t it order a freeze pending resolution?

How can the Finance Ministry explain its own U-turn? In fact, in total contravention of the President’s directive to chase up all allegations of corruption how is it even possible that evidence can be swept aside while politically exposed persons continue to bleed the public purse? How can the Transport Minister justify paying just an exorbitant amount to a lifelong friend for buildings that failed to sell at a lower price and which do not meet the specification for government offices?

Even supposing that Ricardo Veiga D’Abreu is innocent of any wrongdoing and followed due procedures to reveal the potential conflict of interest, allowing others to assess the worth of the planned property acquisition, it is unacceptable that the Justice System fails to follow its own procedures to investigate complaints of corruption and at the very least offer a report of its findings, particularly if the evidence would clear government officials accused of possible wrongdoing. There is nothing to show that the Attorney-General’s office has taken any action on this case – without which the Audit Court and the Finance Ministry see their hands tied. And once the millions of US dollars have disappeared into private hands, it proves difficult – if not impossible – to recover these public funds.

It defies common sense for one or more branches of government to be given the leeway to make payments in disputed arrangements of this kind, with no respect for due legal process. Under General João Maria de Sousa, the Attorney-General who served the notorious kleptocracy of the Dos Santos Administration, the organization was more inclined to observe the law of the jungle than the Laws of the land. Survival of the fittest in those days assured impunity only for the best connected and richest Angolans. Even so, General de Sousa took care not to publicize those cases he shunted off into the archives rather than investigate. If your intention is to conceal the crimes of the corrupt, it is probably advisable not to announce publicly what you are up to.

How can society at large, and those who take political office in the belief they should serve the general public, sustain their faith that the fight against corruption in Angola is serious, and intended to apply to all regardless of rank? If Justice is to be done, it needs to be seen to be done. That is, that from the moment a complaint of suspected criminality is made, there should be due process from beginning to end and not just a cover-up or an attempt to fob off or gag those who come forward with evidence.