Audit Court in Leadership Crisis

Following Maka Angola’s report on Audit Court President Exalgina Gambôa’s US$4 million dollar spend on home décor for her government-gifted US$4 million dollar private residence, evidence has emerged of anger and disbelief amid the Audit Court Plenary Advisory Judges who were rushed into approving, without proper scrutiny, the Court’s annual accounts.  The whole process appears to have been crafted to obscure evidence that without due authorization Exalgina Gambôa had far exceeded the amounts for magisterial perquisites permitted by law, and in so doing had committed a crime and brought the Audit Court into disrepute.

A scathing letter from Elisa Rangel Nunes, President of the Second Chamber of the Audit Court, dated June 22nd, expresses her dismay that an institution, “defined in the Angolan Constitution as the body that sits at the apex of supervision and control of public spending” has been irredeemably tarnished by its most senior official whose corrupt behaviour has now gone viral in the public domain. Judge Rangel writes “the institution is now viewed by Angolans as unfit to meet its goals” because of the “improper acts” of its administrator.

News of the scandal broke when Maka Angola reported in detail based on irrefutable documentary evidence that Judge Gambôa had diverted obscene amounts of public money from the Audit Court Reserve Funds to remodel, decorate and furnish a brand-new property costing more or less the same amount which had been gifted to her by the state on account of her position. So far no explanation has been forthcoming from her for these and other enormous sums which she authorized for a separate property which appears to have nothing to do with the Court of Auditors at all. Sources close to Judge Gambôa have questioned whether there is any possibility this mystery property might be to the benefit of members of her family? Maka Angola has put these allegations to Judge Gambôa and awaits her answer.

In her letter, Elisa Rangel bravely acknowledges that she failed in her duty to verify and audit the President’s actions. It is clear that Maka Angola’s publication of indisputable evidence shocked Judge Rangel into awareness of the procedural illegality of her superior’s access to and disposal of public money, resulting in her writing a coruscating letter to Judge Gambôa.  The letter itself, in effect, is an admission of guilt – that in the absence of effective control over Audit Court President Gambôa’s disbursements, she was able to execute the “economic capture” of the institution she was appointed to supervise.

We notified the Audit Court of the allegations and gave them the right of reply prior to publishing the evidence sent to us regarding Audit Court President Gambôa’s spending habits. The official response, issued on June 16th by their public relations department (with no word from Judge Gambôa herself), cited various Angolan laws and regulations which in their understanding duly awarded Judge Gambôa the authority to approve any spending she alone might deem appropriate, The response also noted that the Court Plenary had endorsed this. “The Court’s spending is accounted for in the Annual Reports which are drawn up and approved by the Plenary Session of the Court of Auditors”, as decreed by the laws and regulations concerning the rights and accoutrements of Magistrates[1].

However Judge Rangel make three significant points in her letter to Judge Gambôa, which point to a failure to follow the procedures which would have prevented any overspend or infringement of the law.

First she points to the President’s autocratic administrative style and the shortcuts in procedure by which she was able to get her spending approved by the Plenary.

Secondly she points to the maximum spending limits established by the Court for residences and furnishings of the Judiciary.

And thirdly she points to the legal requirement for independent financial audit by an external body[2] as per Article 50 of the the Law governing the Internal Structure and Governance of the Court of Auditors:

“External control of the Court of Auditors is subject to [the rules] set out in law for all those responsible for financial affairs and takes the following forms:

(b) Annual external vetting of the accounts of the Court’s coffers, this being the ultimate guarantor of the probity of the services which are the legal responsibility of the Court.”

Judge Rangel emphasizes that the legal requirements for the “analysis and evaluation of spending and receipts from the Court’s coffers, through annual accounts, have the exact same stringent requirements as they would for the Court’s own analysis and evaluation of the spending and receipts of other public institutions”. She goes on to write: “compliance with the law may appear irksome but it constitutes a form of protection”

Elisa Rangel then outlines how Exalgina Gambôa has broken the law by her failure to comply with the internal verification procedures of the Court of Auditors’ Reserves. She notes that the annual financial report was presented in individual sealed envelopes that were only handed to each of the Counsellor Judges of the Court Plenary seconds before the start of the plenary session that rubber-stamped approval. In other words, Judge Gambôa gave her colleagues no opportunity to study the accounts, or question them, before putting their approval to the vote.

Furthermore, she says the main body of the Annual Report only reflected the “sum of movements in receivables and outlay relative to the 2021 financial year, while the full breakdown of spending by beneficiary from January through December of that year was only contained in a single appendix attached to the report, with each amount expressed in the national currency, the Kwanza.”  Judge Rangel points out, “This annexe is the only record of those disbursements on furnishings not destined for the Court itself but for a private residence, as reported by the journalist who questions the excessive amounts spent.”

Judge Rangel reflects that the Plenary Advisory Judges were given no opportunity to verify, or question, individual spending items to ensure budgetary compliance. “I personally had no opportunity to study the full picture of monetary spending, item by item, and could never have imagined that such excessive amounts could be diverted to furniture to fill a single residence.

In fact, there are maximum spending limits laid down by law for the acquisition, furnishing and decoration of residences for the Court’s Advisory Panel of Judges. “The Court may only spend a maximum of 200 million Kwanzas (the equivalent of US$ 500,000 dollars) on the property itself, and a maximum amount of 85 million Kwanzas (US $ 200,000 dollars) on décor”, i.e. a sixth of the actual spend.

“I can now state for the record that the Audit Court Plenary gave its approval to the annual report without due consideration or proper oversight as none of those present was given the time or opportunity to question the individual amounts laid out [in the appendix]. “I admit my own blame in this matter, my mea culpa”, writes Judge Rangel, “that as one of the Court Advisory Judges who approved the contents, we inadvertently gave you the comfort you sought.”

This alone is an admission that the Plenary Judges failed to meet their obligations and failed in their duty of care by glossing over a report which was intentionally drafted to obscure illegal spending and which they failed to note had not been subjected to an independent external audit as required by law.

Elisa Rangel goes on to excoriate Exalgina Gambôa’s autocratic administrative style, noting that in practice it is useless for individual Judges to try to question any of the Audit Court President’s actions or spending, “given that her administration is clearly self-serving, and she has installed a Governance Board which does not dare to challenge or question her.”

This leads Judge Rangel to wonder “how on earth this journalist was able to gain access to the data, with specific sums and dates for all that was spent out of the Reserve Fund. This information can only have come from the departments forced to pay the contractors who had access to the paperwork signed by your own hand.” 

“And now this journalist is asking pertinent questions regarding concrete information with such specific detail that it is terrifying”. “Where does this end?”, questions Luisa Rangel. “How many more acts remain to be scrutinized and made public.” She ends her letter with advice to the President “that she and all her cohort must act with greater care as we are all public servants and must be accountable and transparent in all we do while in this role. This advice is clearly too little and too late.

As Pepetela has remarked, the next step in light of Elisa Rangel’s letter is for an immediate in-depth independent external audit of all the Audit Court’s accounts and reserve funds over that and preceding years so that the Audit Court President can be held to account for any and all irregularities.

This is a task that falls to the National Assembly, the peoples’ parliament, which is required by law to act on the information of financial malfeasance now in the public domain, in accordance with the Law of Governance and Procedures for the Court of Auditors.  Article 10, Clause 3 clearly states:

“It is a legal requirement that the accounts of the Court of Auditors, including its Reserve Coffers, undergo an independent audit process, with the designated firm to be selected on the basis of public tender.”  Why haven’t the peoples’ representatives in the National Assembly already acted? It appears they have distinguished themselves only by their total somnolence and failure to organize open competition for the legally required independent audit that would hold self-dealing officials such as Exalgina Gambôa to account. It is now a matter of utmost urgency that the National Assembly stir itself (or be required to stir itself by presidential decree) to act as the law requires.

[1] Law 7/94 Statute regarding Judicial and Public Ministry Magistrates.

[2] Article 50, Law 19/19