Angola’s Oil Data Show $8.6 Billion Gap, Watchdog Says

Angola, the second largest crude producer in sub-Sahara Africa, has gaps in its 2008 oil accounts amounting to billions of dollars and millions of barrels, according to a London-based anti-corruption group.

There is an $8.55 billion discrepancy between data published by the ministries of finance and petroleum, said a report published today by Global Witness. Sonangol, the state oil company, issued a third amount that was between the two.

While the southwest African country has published reams of data since 2004 under pressure for more transparency from donors such as the International Monetary Fund, the effort falls short because most of the figures are not independently verified and mistakes persist, campaigner Diarmid O’Sullivan said in a telephone interview.

“We’ve got no reason to think it’s because of any deliberate misrepresentation,” O’Sullivan said. “The problem is that the numbers are so confusing that there’s not a whole lot that people can do with them.”

Sonangol and the ministries of finance and petroleum did not reply to written requests from Global Witness to explain the accounting disparities, the group said. Officials at the three agencies did not respond to telephone requests today from Bloomberg News to comment on the report.

Conflicting Figures

The three organizations used different production volumes, average prices and exchange rates to calculate 2008 oil revenue, O’Sullivan said. As a result, the Finance Ministry reported $29.1 billion, the Petroleum Ministry $20.5 billion and Sonangol $24 billion.

At one point, the Finance Ministry registered an oil price of $187 a barrel, when the highest it’s ever been is $147 in July 2008. The ministry also reported 87 million fewer barrels exported than the Petroleum Ministry in 2008, the latest year for which figures were available, O’Sullivan said.

The Global Witness report said there was a $2 billion disparity in the amount received in 2006 for so-called signature bonuses, the payments by oil companies to the government for exploration concessions.

Sonangol’s 2008 accounts were audited by Ernst & Young with “some qualifications” on its findings, Global Witness said. The oil company’s accounts said it paid the government $201 million in dividends in 2008, while neither the finance nor petroleum ministries recorded the amount. Sonangol’s accounts show the state-owned company is 20 percent owned by unidentified organizations, the group said.

Oil Dependency

Vicky Conybeer, a spokeswoman in London for Ernst & Young, referred questions to company officials when called today.

Oil accounts for about 60 percent of government income and as much as 90 percent of export revenue, Jose Maria Botelho de Vasconcelos, Angola’s Minister of Petroleum, said in an interview yesterday. The country ranks 168th on Transparency International’s list of the world’s most corrupt countries.

“Clearly some people in the government have taken the point that they need to be seen to be more open and that’s good, but it’s only going to work if they improve the quality of the data,” O’Sullivan said.

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