You Too, Lopo!

The story of the MPLA parliamentarian Lopo do Nascimento, as a moderate, credible and critical voice in Angolan politics, is worthy of a biography. For years, many sectors of society, both at the heart of the regime and in the opposition and civil society, nurtured the hope that Nascimento would be the ideal presidential candidate who would bring them together. They saw him as providing a moral centre that was otherwise lacking in national politics. Yet, at the same time, many people felt that Nascimento, who has served as prime minister and as secretary-general of the MPLA, lacked the courage to confront President José Eduardo dos Santos and the members of his powerful inner circle.

Nascimento’s clean image was called into question in 2011 when he took on the position of chairman of the board of Coba, one of Portugal’s main civil engineering and environmental consulting firms.

In 2010 Nascimento set up a business consortium with the Angolan national oil company, Sonangol, which bought a 49 percent share in Coba. At the time, Nascimento was a member of the National Assembly, and he continues to combine the roles of parliamentarian and chairman of Coba.

According to the Angolan Constitution, a serving parliamentarian may not perform “administrative or managerial functions or any role in business enterprises or other institutions that pursue financial gain.” The Constitution also prohibits parliamentarians from holding office in or being employed by foreign companies or international organizations.

Also, the Law on Public Probity makes it illegal to obtain economic gain by influencing the “disposal or application of public funds” in any way.

At the time the deal was concluded in 2011, Coba’s chairman Ricardo Oliveira told the daily newspaper Diário Económico that “about a year ago, Lopo de Nascimento’s group proposed this partnership, a process that is now complete”.”

At the time, no one questioned how Sonangol, a public company, might have been part of the corporate group which included the MPLA Member of Parliament.

In an interview with the daily newspaper Público, Ricardo Oliveira explained the shareholder structure of Primagest, the Angolan company that acquired Coba:

“I have already mentioned that the leader of the consortium is Sonangol, and the leader of Sonangol is the engineer Manuel Vicente. As the leader, it [Sonangol] has a majority stake. Another key person for us is Dr Lopo do Nascimento, who is part of this consortium and is already our partner in Angola. There is also an Angolan bank, and I don’t need to know anything else. If there is someone else, it is someone with a minority position.”

No information is publicly available regarding the amount invested by the Angolan consortium or the finance contributed by the Angolan State, via Sonangol. Sonangol’s 2011 financial report makes no reference to the investment in Coba and does not list Coba among its associated companies.

On the occasion of Coba’s 50th anniversary, celebrated at the Centro Cultural de Belém in Lisbon, Lopo do Nascimento spoke before an audience of 700 guests, in his capacity as shareholder and chairman of the board.

“Next year we will go to Algeria and, together with Sonangol, we will enter into three new African countries. These moves should be performed in a similar perspective to the one we used in Angola, through partnerships with local entrepreneurs,” Lopo do Nascimento said at the event.

This leads us to the conclusion that Sonangol can be used for anything.

However, the fundamental question remains: why and for what purpose does the country need laws, if even the elected representatives of the people do not respect them?

The Constitution is clear on the fact that Lopo do Nascimento’s role as a parliamentarian is incompatible with his corporate position. Moreover, the MPLA parlamentarian maintains a contractual relationship with a foreign company. As the chairman of the board, he has legal responsibilities towards Coba, contradicting the Constitution of his own country.

In fact, several MPLA parliamentarians are engaged in combining legally incompatible duties. In fairness, there are also members of parliament from the opposition parties who do the same, believing they enjoy impunity. The former secretary-general of UNITA and current member of the National Assembly, Paulo Lukamba “Gato”, is a good example. While in parliament he is also the chairman of the board of Yoka, a venture and investment company.

Given the frequency of these practices and the impunity with which they are openly carried out, the National Assembly may as well tear down the Constitution and declare Angola a state of anarchy.