Equatorial Guinea Pledges Oil Revenue Transparency

Equatorial Guinea President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, who has held power for more than three decades, said his country had entered a new era of accountability and transparency.

A five-point policy initiative commits the government to greater transparency on oil revenue, judicial independence and press freedom, Obiang told the Fortune Global Forum in Cape Town today.

“The country went through a period of crisis,” Obiang told reporters. “No one was helping us to develop. After the discovery of oil there was a rather weak initial response from companies interested in investing. Now we feel secure in our position and it is the right moment to invite companies with confidence to invest in our country.”

The policy initiative will help the country rejoin the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, Obiang said. It was ejected earlier this year from the organization of companies, governments and civil groups that aims to clean up the oil and mining industries for failing to meet guidelines.

Russia’s OAO Gazprom Neft, the oil arm of the world’s largest gas company, has said it plans to produce crude off the coast of Equatorial Guinea within four years after signing an accord with the African nation’s state energy company June 25.

‘Special Circumstances’

Obiang has ruled sub-Saharan Africa’s fourth-biggest oil- producer since 1979, when he seized power from his uncle in a coup. He won a fourth term in elections in November last year, securing 95.4 percent of the vote. Groups including New York- based Human Rights Watch said conditions were not in place for a free and fair contest, and have accused Obiang of human rights abuses and pilfering the country’s oil wealth.

Allegations that the country lacked an independent electoral commission and failed to publish a voters’ roll were incorrect and none of the parties that participated in the vote complained, Obiang said.

Asked about his succession plans and whether his lengthy rule was good for democracy, he said: “My country is democratic. In my own situation there are special circumstances. I have liberated the country. You can find development in every corner of Equatorial Guinea and the people appreciate this. This may be the reason why my candidacy is always supported.”

Oil Wealth

With a population of about 660,000 and an $8.1 billion economy, Equatorial Guinea has Africa’s highest gross domestic product per capita, World Bank data shows. At the same time, average life expectancy is 50 years and 148 out of every 1,000 children die before the age of five.

“Substantial resources” from the oil industry would be invested in health, education and other services, and the environment would be protected, Obiang said.

A 2004 U.S. Senate investigation into money laundering found that Washington-based Riggs Bank was holding as much as $750 million in accounts controlled by Obiang, his family members or government officials.

Obiang said he was unaware of any public funds being diverted from the country and that many allegations made against his government and his family were untrue.

“I will not say everything is well in Equatorial Guinea,” he said. “We ask the skeptics and the critics to trust the government and the society of Equatorial Guinea. Evaluate us by our actions.”

Only seven countries rank lower than Equatorial Guinea on Transparency International’s 2009 list of global corruption perceptions.

Obiang has appointed Lanny Davis, a special counsel under President Bill Clinton, as a technical adviser on his reform and transparency program.

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