Crisis, What Crisis in Angola?

As Angola’s economic crisis deepens, the country’s president has given priority to the construction of a war memorial at an estimated cost of US $72 million, and a further US $73 million going to a phantom category of “non-specific religious affairs and services”.  These projects fall under the Office of Special Works of the Presidency of the Republic. Both expenditures are part of the revised 2015 budget, passed by the National Assembly on March 20, which was slashed by 25 percent (over US $17 billion) – including cuts in the salaries of civil servants.

Despite the reduction of the budget due to the fall in oil prices, the president’s  set of priorities are baffling. Oil accounts for approximately 95 percent of Angola’s total exports, and its economy is mono-dependent on this commodity.

For instance, the largest state-funded religious project, the construction of the Sanctuary of Muxima for the Catholic Church, is to receive US $1.6 million, and under the heading of “Recreational, Cultural and Non-Specific Religious Affairs and Services”, the Ministry of Culture, gets an allowance of just US$3.3 million, on top of its main budget allocation.

However, the same category of “Recreational, Cultural and Non-Specific Religious Affairs and Services”, under the president’s office, has a budget tag of US $73 million. No explanations have been provided as to how these funds are to be spent or on what.

Decorating the palace in times of crisis

Meanwhile the Office of Special Works of the Presidency of the Republic has also an allowance of US $13.6 million to purchase furniture, décor and equipment for the palace of José Eduardo dos Santos. It seems that the time of crisis oblige the president to spend a fortune on new velvet sofas, gold and silver flatware for his feasts and for the refinement of his guests.

The revised state budget, which Maka Angola has reviewed, is a work of mathematical fiction, the culmination of political irresponsibility and parallel government structures. For example, for a total of US $2.4 million, the Office of Special Works plans to provide the infrastructure for 30,000 social houses, build 4,000 units in Zango and Sapú, and 10,000 units elsewhere, plus 10,000 so-called “evolving” houses, all in Viana District, in Luanda. That’s a total of 24,000 houses and infrastructure for another 30,000 at a cost of 29 times less than what has been allocated for a war memorial to celebrate the government’s controversial victory over the former rebel movement UNITA in the Battle of Cuíto-Cuanavale in 1987. By this logic, what then will it cost to build the memorial celebrating the government’s troops killing of the then rebel leader, Jonas Savimbi, in Moxico Province, in 2002? Wasn’t that the greatest of all victories, the one that brought the war to an end?

It is also worth knowing that the new furniture to be enjoyed by president Dos Santos and his family will cost five times more than the 24,000 houses he plans to offer the people of Viana.

Institutional anarchy

Why is the presidency of the Republic directly managing the building of houses? There is a Ministry of Construction, and another Ministry of Urbanisation and Housing as well as provincial governments and local authorities, all off which have the competence to fulfil the oversight functions.

The fact of the matter is that this confusion is the hallmark of president José Eduardo dos Santos’ rule: keep shuffling the missions of state institutions, creating confusion in government departments. In other words, divide and conquer.

To this end, the Ministry of Oil has a budgetary allocation of US $160 million to be used to create the infrastructure for eight social housing projects, designated “centralities” in government parlance, in Benguela, Luanda, Huíla and Namibe.

However, according to its bylaw, the Ministry of Oil “is the state body responsible for the oil sector, as well as for policy-making and for coordinating, supervising and overseeing all oil related activities.”

The Ministry of Urbanisation and Housing meanwhile has a budget of only US $16.3 million to build and provide infrastructure for two social projects (centralities) in Kuito and Cáala, respectively the central highland provinces of Bié and Huambo.

Even in the Ministry of Construction, budgetary rationality does not appear to pose a problem for its managers. As an example, the Ministry of Construction has US $10 million to build 3,000 houses, for the relocation of the residents of Boavista slope and Sambizanga in Luanda. The Ministry will spend three times as much as that on the first phase of protection and stabilisation of the Boavista hillside, with a budget of US $30 million. The slope, which overlooks Luanda’s magnificent bay, and surrounding areas will be taken over by the Portuguese Pestana Group and its Angolan business partners with connections to the top leadership. According to information provided by the government to the public, a total area of 180,000 square metres will be used for the construction of a five star hotel, luxury apartments and offices.

In 2013, when the investment contract for US $280 million was signed for the Pestana Luanda Bay project, the Portuguese news agency Lusa reported that “the initiative will form part of the Official Urbanisation Plan for the Neighbourhood of Boavista.” At the time, Angolan officials also claimed that they had already created conditions “to relocate around 7,500 people who had been living there in appalling conditions, to housing provided with minimum standards, as well as social infrastructure and basic sanitation.”

Working out the arithmetic, 3,000 houses to be built by the government for the 3,000 families to be evicted from Boavista, will cost an average of US $3,333 each. What kind of minimum housing standard and basic sanitation can the Angolan government provide to the families with this level of investment? Likewise, the US $30 million to be used to protect the hillside are merely an indirect way to channel public funds into the Pestana Bay Luanda project.

Full-bellied crisis and Kopelipa’s pocket

With a full belly, the government goes on talking about the economic crisis while the president hands over US $25 million to his Bureau of Intelligence for propaganda. In addition to this paltry sum, according to the regime’s books, the Intelligence Bureau of the President, headed by the minister of State, General Manuel Hélder Vieira Dias Júnior “Kopelipa”, has a gross budget of US $674.9 million for the “Administration and Management of State Affairs”.

The regime hardliners, as well as the unwavering ruling MPLA rank and file, can always allege that such a budget is required to guarantee the security of the state. But let us review the security services which make up the intelligence community. The State Intelligence and Security Service (SINSE) has a total budget of US$ 387.5 million, while  the External Security Service (SIE) has US$ 150 million, and the Military Intelligence and Security Service (SISM) manages US $21.4 million. In total, the intelligence community will receive US $558.9 million from the 2015 budget.

Inspecting corruption

There is  one institution dedicated to “inspection, auditing and supervision of the activities of  state bodies, as well as those of autonomous and independent authorities”. This is the Inspector General of State Administration (IGAE), whose Presidential Decree nº 215/13 endows it with ministerial status as an “auxiliary body” of the president, in his capacity as head of government. In other words, it has no autonomy or initiative beyond doing the president’s bidding.

Therefore, the IGAE also has easy pickings in the state budget, rendering it indistinguishable from the institution of scams. For this fiscal year, in the current economic crisis, the IGAE has a budget of US $2.1 million “to create a database, statistics and to develop its website”. In 2014, the IGAE needed US $2.2 million for the same reason. Back in 2013, the IGAE spent US $272,000 on the same website and database. Further back, in 2012, the IGAE received US $388.6 thousand, and the previous year, 2011, US $398.6 thousand to create the very same database and website. Including the current budget, the IGAE will have spent over US$5.3 million on a phantom website.

In a rebuttal to Maka Angola, IGAE claimed that it has only been spending US $213,000 a year in maintaining the website. Furthermore, it accused the author of “computing, in a lump sum, management costs, maintenance and hosting of the website, with other services of communication and solidification of IGAE’s database, which resulted in its inflation.”

Maka Angola simply compiled the allocations in the state budgets from 2011 to 2015 listed under the same heading of “to create a database, statistics and to develop its website.” As such, this portal maintains what it has found in the state budgets for a crude website without a back office, which has the name of the owning institution wrong.

There is little hope of a judicial intervention to tackle institutional corruption. The Office of the Attorney General is more concerned with rolling stock; It has a budget of US$7.3 million to be spent on the acquisition of vehicles for its magistrates this year alone.

The revised state budget for 2015 shows how the head of the government,  president José Eduardo dos Santos is shameless and insensitive. His kleptocracy and incompetence are a lethal cocktail for the future of Angola