Seeking IMF Bailout, Debt-Laden Congo Steps Up War on Corruption

Updated on
  • Government pledges arrest of officials in coming days
  • IMF has demanded governance reforms before bailout agreed

Authorities in the Republic of Congo plan to arrest more officials as part of an anti-corruption drive to meet conditions set by the International Monetary Fund for a bailout.

Oil-producing Congo owes creditors at least $9.14 billion and sought support from the IMF last year. The Washington-based lender has insisted the government make “bold and immediate governance reforms” before any package is considered.

Congo’s intelligence service last month arrested Jean-Didier Elongo, director-general of public procurement in the Treasury, for alleged misappropriation of funds. Elongo has denied the allegations. Other officials are being investigated will be apprehended in the coming days, Communications Minister Thierry Moungalla said by phone from the capital, Brazzaville, on March 3.

“More investigations are ongoing which will result in several arrests of top government ministers and other cadres in the coming days,” Moungalla said. “The fight against corruption this year is a priority and there won’t be any sacred cows.”

Congo ranks among the world’s 20 most corrupt nations, Transparency International, an anti-graft campaigner, said last month. Debt has more than tripled since 2010 to more than 110 percent of gross domestic product because of a series of pre-financing deals by the state oil company that have been used by people close to or part of President Denis Sassou Nguesso’s family as vehicles for corruption, according to Global Witness.

Due Process

Elongo’s detention by the intelligence service, instead of by the judiciary as required under Congolese law, suggests that due process is not being followed and that the judicial system lacks the capacity to tackle corruption, said Tresor Nzila, head of the Congolese Observatory of Human Rights.

The government plans to create a special unit within the judiciary to combat corruption and will seek help from the IMF to train Congolese judges in the fight against white-collar crime, Moungalla said.

Among other reforms the IMF has called for are the creation of oversight bodies to monitor state-owned companies, and a “declaration of assets by high-level officials,” according to a Dec. 20 statement. Article 74 of Congo’s constitution states that all officials in top government posts, including the president, must declare their assets.

‘No Respect’

“In order for the current arrests and fight against corruption not to be considered as an operation to placate the IMF, Article 74” must be implemented, said Clement Mierassa, a former minister of industrial development and leader of the opposition Congolese Social Democratic Party. “Sadly, neither the president nor his ministers has ever respected Article 74 of our constitution.”

Congo’s government will only take action against officials where investigators have found evidence of wrongdoing, Moungalla said.

“The fight against corruption is ongoing, but we can’t accept names of government ministers being thrown about for public vendetta without proof of anything,” he said.

(Updates with comment by minister in final paragraph.)
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