National Director of State Assets in Major Land-Grabbing Fraud

On June 5, 2014, the national director of State Assets at the Ministry of Finance, Sílvio Franco Burity, successfully petitioned the governor of Kwanza-Sul, General Eusébio de Brito Teixeira, for the legalization of 8,974 hectares of land, to be used for his own private agricultural and cattle rearing projects.

The land in question is located in the commune of Quimbalanga, in the municipality of Mussende, and consists of two contiguous holdings. Sílvio Franco Burity applied for the title deeds of the first holding, of 4,751 hectares, as the representative of Grano Gado Lda, a private company.

The director formally owns fifty per cent of the shares in Grano Gado, while his partner and managing director of the company, Manuel dos Santos da Silva Ferreira, owns the other half.

Unconcerned with current legislation, whether due to impunity or arrogance, Angolan leaders ignore the constitutional principle that the land belongs to the State, and turn it into their own private property.

As far as the law is concerned, the transaction between Sílvio Franco Burity and General Eusébio de Brito Teixeira is in conflict with the anti-corruption Law on probity.

The National Directorate of State Assets is responsible for inventory, management and control of all the State assets, including those under the tutelage of local authorities, such as in the province of Kwanza-Sul.

The Law on Probity establishes that “public servants should work for the common good, setting aside any fact which can influence or favor personal, family, corporate or any other interests that conflict with the good of the people”.

Besides, the same law defines as action conducive to illicit enrichment the acceptance of work or consultancy by third parties, wherever these parties may benefit from the action or omission “ensuing from endowments by public servants in the course of their duties”. The managing partner of Grano Gado could easily have [lodged] the application, but Sílvio Franco Burity showed himself to be the real manager of the company by using his position of public servant to facilitate the legalization of the land in question.

Astutely, on the same day, June 5, Manuel dos Santos da Silva Ferreira, the business partner of the national director of State Assets, also filed an application for the acquisition of another 2,913 hectares of land, contiguous to the south of that applied for by Sílvio Franco Burity. To the north, the land requested by the referred business partner borders the national director’s personal property. In the meantime, Maka Angola has discovered that the formal application made by Manuel dos Santos da Silva Ferreira is still pending, though the land has already been grabbed. Between them, the pair has taken possession of 11,887 hectares of land.

The lawyer Rui Verde states that, under this scheme, the partners are committing an act of “fraud, by breaking the law that prohibits the concession of territorial rights on areas above 10,000 hectares without the approval by the government”. Under the Constitution of 2010, only the president of the Republic has the authority to approve concessions above 10,000 hectares.

How, in the course of his duties, can Sílvio Franco Burity possibly demand accountability on State assets under the jurisdiction of General Eusébio de Brito Teixeira, when this person does him the “favor” of granting him land in record time?

Is it not strange that, in less than two years, the governor of Kwanza-Sul has gobbled  over 300 square kilometres of land in the province he controls, or the equivalent of an area 34 times the size of the Chinese-built Town of Kilamba? Official propaganda has been showcasing the Town of Kilamba, in the capital Luanda, as one of the largest housing developments in Africa.

In the same period, the governor legalized almost 350 square kilometres of land for the president’s family alone, another investigation which will soon be published. This amounts to the corrupt principle described by the maxim “one hand washes the other”.

The lawyer Manuel Neto believes that Angolan law “serves to show the West that our country has a veneer of a democratic legal system with modern laws”.

Maka Angola contacted the office of Sílvio Franco Burity for a formal reaction, but without success.

Immeasurable greed

An expert in agronomy contacted by Maka Angola is critical of large estates of land owned by a few individuals. According to the expert, who preferred to remain anonymous, such estates are not put to good use. “This goes back to colonial times, when, on average, only ten per cent of the land given was worked. Now it’s even less than one per cent”, he said.

According to the expert, “the only positive impact is job creation, though most pay badly and treat the workers worse than in colonial times”.

Members of the local community contacted by Maka Angola have disputed the claim of job creation. Quite the opposite, they denounce the expropriation of communal lands traditionally used for subsistence farming. The river Gango and the tributaries Quimbangala and Gazela flow through the land in question.

Elsewhere, in Kanguandja, in Quicombo commune in the municipality of Sumbe, Sílvio Franco Burity’s estate, with an area exceeding 2,000 hectares of land and a herd of over 1,000 cattle, is a source of better employment for expatriates, particularly the 15 Brazilians working there.

Another significant fact mentioned by the expert is the rate of investment required for an agricultural enterprise on an area of between 5,000 and 10,000 hectares. “As a general rule the investments for such extensions of land], are in the order of over US$50 million, apart from the cost of borrowing the money. This is why projects such as these are beginning to fail”, he said.