A Record Budget for the Presidency, the Military and the Spooks

Angola’s 2013 budget has been hailed by government propaganda as its greatest ever, owing to how much is being spent on social sectors and in the fight against poverty. The State Budget Bill, approved by the National Assembly on January 15, is expected to become law on February 14.

Spending this year is up some 50 percent from 2012, taking the overall budget to a record high of AKZ 6.6 trillion (around US $ 69 billion).

In fact, 33.5 percent, over one third of the budget, is allocated for the “social sector,” which includes health, education, housing, environment, and social protection.  It is also true that more is being spent on the “social sector” than ever before.

But the headline numbers are misleading. Moreover, focusing on the figures fails to notice that, in essence, the State Budget Bill legalizes in fact presidential unaccountability in the management of the public resources.

The legal provision on Spending and Special Funds establishes a special regime for the budget execution, accountability, and “special spending” related to the sovereign bodies and public services that carry out internal and external intelligence services tasks. In essence, all functions of the state are subordinated to the maintenance of a generalized culture of fear and suspicions. Thus, citizens in the public sector and beyond are enlisted into spying against each other for the regime’s survival.

Furthermore, the same provision earmarks credits, on the state budget, aimed at setting up special funds “to work as strategic reserves of the state” for expenditures on intelligence.

Then, the management and accountability of the special funds, according to the draft law, is to be exclusively regulated by the President of the Republic, in his capacity as head of government. In simple terms, the president gets a legal authorization to self-regulate himself, as chief-executor of the budget, in a novel way of establishing checks and balances.

For the first in a series of articles on the 2013 budget, Maka Angola addresses the presidential spending, as well as the military and security budgets, and compares them to social spending.

Soldiers and Guns for the President

The Presidency alone has a budget of US $1.8 billion, which is more than the funds for the Ministry of Health (US $1.5 billion). Of this sum, José Eduardo dos Santos will personally spend US $1.4 billion on military defense, which accounts for 81 percent of the presidential palace expenditures. The President’s personal arrangements for the defense might suggest that he is feeling more unsecure or that he is running a parallel presidential army.

Overlooked by many in the budget, is the US $67.9 million Dos Santos will spend on paying his paramilitary personnel. Besides this budget item, there is more US $150.2 million allocated to the members of the Presidential Guard Unit (UGP) and the Presidential Security Unit (USP). An average presidential guard has a salary of up to US $1,050 a month, and the average calculations suggest that Dos Santos still has on its payroll a dedicated presidential force of over 11,000 men. The salary of a UGP soldier is five times more than that of an average army soldier.

But in terms of keeping the reins at the presidential palace, it is not all about armed personnel. Public relations are also an important part of Dos Santos’ strategy. The presidency has an overall budget of US $49 million for marketing, up from the $40 million in the 2012 budget, which were all allocated to a private company, Semba Comunicação, belonging to two of Dos Santos’ children. So, the Dos Santos’ family sought to promote the patriarch and the country’s image by showcasing how open they are about nepotism and corruption. Yet, all this money has not enabled the Presidency to update its website regularly. The Ministry of Social Communication, whose job is to control the state media and the government’s image, has less than half of the presidency’s amount for marketing, and it cannot run its website either.

Defending the Country

As far as the defense and public order are concerned, both account for 17.6 percent of the country’s total budget, up from 15.1 percent in 2012, while social sector spending has only increased 0.6 percent in the same period.  The Ministry of Defense has the largest budget of all, at US $ 5.7 billion, while the Interior Ministry has a total planned spending of US $4.7 billion.

In spite of the largesse on defense and homeland security spending, which keeps increasing in times of peace, the funds barely trickle down to those who most need them – soldiers and police officers. Despite all the cash flowing, the army has difficulties in paying its pensioners and war veterans who have been regularly staging small protests to demand what is owed to them. The Angolan Armed Forces has an extremely high rate of tuberculosis among its rank and file due to the lack of basic living conditions in the barracks. In the provinces, many garrisons are still largely made of straw and mud quarters. The situation of the police forces, particularly in the provinces, is also dire, as anyone who has driven throughout Angola will attest, knowing how many times he or she must make a “contribution” to a hungry officer who cannot afford his children’ school fees.

Maka Angola has been researching the distribution of food supplies to the army and the police, and it has been finding that most contracts, ranging from tens of millions to hundreds of millions of dollars, are awarded to phony companies belonging to senior generals, government officials and their cronies who often do not deliver the goods.

Comparatively, a closer look reveals that of the 33.5 percent allocated to social spending, health only gets 5.29 percent and education 8.09 percent, totaling 13.38 percent. The Presidency’s own budget remains much higher than the funds allocated to the entire health sector, which receives US $1.3 billion

Elsewhere in Africa, while few governments meet the Abuja Declaration’s commitment to spend 15 percent of their budget on health, several do spend over 10 percent and many commit as much as a quarter of all spending to education.  It is a shame for Angola that countries like Cote d’Ivoire, torn by a recent conflict, spends 30 percent of its budget on education. Very small and rather poor countries like Swaziland, Lesotho and Burkina Faso, spend 24, 17 and 16.8 percent of their total budgets, respectively, on education. Angola, as the second largest oil producer in Africa, and with a regime obsessed with the idea of being a regional power, cannot dream of competing with South Africa, which spends a quarter of its budget on education, or Ghana that exceeds the 30 percent threshold.

More for Spooks, Less for Agriculture

The contradictions on spending surpass any reasonable understanding. For instance, the government continues to promote the idea of diversifying the economy to break the dependency from oil, which accounts for more than 95 percent of the country’s exports. But these stated goals are contradicted by the fact that the Intelligence and Security Services (SINSE) has US$ 695 million at its disposal, while the Ministry of Agriculture gets a lower budget of US $611 million. Angola has a great potential to be a competitive exporter of agricultural produce for it is endowed with some of the most fertile soils and water resources in Africa. Nevertheless, spooking is the priority.

By the same set of priorities, spying abroad is more important than having a coherent foreign policy. The Foreign Intelligence Services (SIE) has an allocation of up US$ 340 million for intelligence gathering abroad alone, while the entire budget of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is US $380.4 million.

Angolan embassies abroad are a nightmare to deal with, either by Angolan or foreign nationals, due to the distressing levels of staff incompetence, arrogance and lack of guidance on clear policies towards their host countries and their own citizens. China is the exception, due to its overwhelming role on Angola’s national reconstruction. A recent report by the Angolan Embassy in Beijing, stated it had issued over 221,000 visas to Chinese nationals in the last six months. Prior to this period there were already, according to official data, over 258,000 Chinese nationals working and living in Angola.

It is possible that the bulk of the funds earmarked for spying abroad are for outsourcing intelligence services to international profiteers at unreasonable costs. What is certainly questionable is the Angolan government’s own legitimacy to engage in such large-scale and expensive operation, as this budget would suggest.

The rationale for development, often hailed by the regime, also does not make sense when it comes to its priorities in the distribution of resources. Seven of Angola’s 18 provinces have lower or similar budgets than that allocated to the Foreign Intelligence Services. Lunda-Sul (0,40%), Namibe (0.41%), Zaire (0.42%), Kwanza-Norte (0.46%), Cunene (0.48%),  Bengo (0.50%) and Kuando-Kubango (0.57%) also benefit from Public Investment Programs managed from the capital Luanda, but when implemented, do not add that much to the overall expenditures in the abovementioned provinces. They remain lesser important than the foreign adventures of the regime, which is apparently investing more on rather expensive gadgets and assignments than the fictional James Bond and his crew.

But it is more likely that the money is being used by Dos Santos to bankroll his trademark conversion of national money into honeypots for high ranking and privileged officers of the army, police and security services. These officers gorge themselves on ill-gotten wealth plundered from state coffers in return for their complicity, support and silence.