All the President’s Friends: Who Audits Angola’s Chief Auditor?
Yet more evidence has reached Maka Angola that the Angolan President’s vow to end corruption has continued to falter. Maka has already revealed at length how Exalgina Gambôa, the head of the Court of Accounts of Angola’s national audit office, had embezzled four million dollars from the court’s organizational budget to purchase luxury furnishings for her home.
New information has come to light showing that the court cannot afford to send its accountants around the country to audit government spending in the provinces because their travel budget was spent on luxury flights for the three Gambôa offspring.
President João Lourenço’s promise to tackle Angola’s kleptocratic culture of corruption has stuttered for a while. His campaign has so far failed not just on account of his narrow focus on the fortunes of his predecessor’s children but due to his inability to call out officials close to the current leadership for their equally brazen excesses. Why, for example, has Exalgina Gambôa escaped punishment for the obscene misappropriation of millions of dollars’ worth of Angolan public funds to purchase luxury furnishings for her own family? Meanwhile, the State had already given her, as “gifts”, two lavish homes that cost the public coffers approximately eight million dollars. It’s inexplicable, and it only gets worse.
Maka is in possession of damning evidence from the Court of Accounts revealing that Exalgina Gambôa routinely authorizes payments for her three adult children to fly business class to and from the Portuguese capital, Lisbon. They don’t even attempt to hide what they are doing – on social media, one of her sons proudly boasts of the many benefits accruing from his mother’s long friendship with President João Lourenço. Benefits that apparently include free international travel for the children of Lourenco’s officials. When did the national audit office’s budget become the personal travel budget of the President’s friends?
The case of Exalgina Gambôa is key to understanding why Angola’s Justice system is incredibly dysfunctional. Safeguards against this kind of behaviour are codified in Angolan law. However, no adequate enforcement mechanisms are currently in place. As such, even when there is concrete proof of corrupt practices and the embezzlement of public funds, the concerned are able to continue acting with impunity. Without a system in place to ensure ethical behaviour by government officials, they will continue to conduct themselves as Mrs. Gambôa has.
The Court of Accounts is, or should be, the final guarantor of probity in public spending. Yet, Ms. Gambôa refuses to resign despite evidence continually emerging of her persistent infractions. Clearly, Mrs. Gambôa feels that her friendship with the Angolan President shields her from prosecution, no matter how much money she diverts for her family’s benefit.
João Lourenço’s platform was predicated on eradicating corruption in Angola. He rightly noted how corruption’s toxic tentacles extended themselves across every level of Angola society, and he swore that any and everyone who had been on the take under his predecessor would feel the full weight of the justice system. Yet, into his second term, President Lourenço has yet to develop a strategy to remodel the Justice System to fit that purpose. It needed root and branch reforms to weed out all the incompetent and corrupt placeholders installed under the previous regime. Instead, he left in place the same corrupt officials. Who polices the police?
This lack of initiative has left the President increasingly isolated and dependent on the loyalty of a very restricted circle of family and friends, all of whom he has allowed to get on board the same old gravy train. This is not just a case of musical chairs in which the faces are different. Under President dos Santos, the most powerful got the biggest rewards, but at least there was a trickle-down of benefits to ensure compliance, loyalty, and silence. The difference now, apparently, is that only a favoured few are invited to share in the bounty resulting in disgruntled staff keen to shine a light on their unethical and criminal misdeeds.
Exalgina Gamboa was appointed as Chair of the Court of Accounts in 2018 and promptly became notorious for the arrogance with which this small-time economist began to exploit her position, dipping into the audit court’s operating budget for her own benefit. Maka Angola was soon tipped off on how she had blown over four million US dollars on luxury furniture not only for her official residence in the Malunga Condos in the suburb of Talatona but also for homes she was awarding to her adult children.
With evidence in the public domain, the president whose patronage put her in this position could have at least asked the Attorney General’s Office to investigate. Maka Angola handed over the evidence to the (soon-to-be-retired) Attorney General of the Republic, Hélder Pitta Groz, on October 14th, 2022. As far as we can tell, no further action was taken there, although the National Assembly President, Carolina Cerqueira, did respond on November 7th to say that “she had taken note of the allegations” and had set in motion the legal proceedings for a full investigation.
ALL EXPENSES PAID
The lack of concrete action has simply given Mrs. Gambôa more time and opportunity to feather her nest.
And like any mother hen, she ensures her chicks (and ‘grand-chicks’) are well looked after. Along with Hailé, Eliana and Edivaldo Cruz, the next generation is also being treated to luxury travel from Luanda to Lisbon, where a single one-way business class ticket typically costs $5,000 US dollars. None of the adult Gambôa children works at the Court of Accounts, but they have all secure well-paid jobs: Exalgina’s eldest child, Hailé da Cruz, is on the board of UNITEL Money and before that was on the board of Banco Yetu, where the audit court has several accounts. Coincidentally, it’s through these accounts at Banco Yetu that the funds are diverted.
Gambôa’s daughter, the architect Eliana da Cruz, is employed as a project manager for a public-private company, Imogestin, S.A. where her father, Rui Cruz, has been chairman of the board for the past 22 years. Meanwhile, the youngest son, Edivaldo Cruz, who used to be employed at Standard Bank Angola, now boasts on his Linkedin profile that he is “an entrepreneur, investor, consultant, blogger, conference speaker and father” – so why would he need his mother to buy airline tickets for him to take his family on holiday to Portugal? And yet it was the Court of Accounts that was invoiced for a Christmas holiday requiring an outbound business class flight from Luanda to Lisbon on December 19th, with the return on January 13th. And the Court of Accounts is also paying for his sister’s air travel (business class round trip between Luanda and Lisbon) departing on March 23rd, 2023, and returning on April 8th.
It’s no surprise then that they also feel entitled to special treatment at the airport, with Mrs. Gambôa ensuring that a request is made in good time to the Foreign Ministry’s Director-General of Protocol for her family to be admitted to the VIP “Protocol” Lounge. Mr. Edivaldo was authorized to use the VIP lounge on May 3rd en route to Lisbon and then again in July for another trip to the Portuguese capital, where he was followed two days later by his sister Hailé Cruz. This is just a sample of the regular round-robin trips – we have evidence going back to 2019 when the head of the Court of Accounts authorized four airfares to take her daughter to Portugal for Christmas. Exalgina herself was seated alone in the first-class cabin while her daughter Eliana had to make do with business class. The other two tickets were for her two assistants seated at the back in economy. They were apparently supposed to be bodyguards but were just there to carry their Christmas shopping.
ONE LAW FOR THE PEOPLE, ANOTHER FOR THE PRESIDENT’S FRIENDS?
Angola’s ruling party has always ensured that there is a legal framework for the perquisites attached to public service, but nowhere does it state that rewards should be extended to anyone other than an accompanying spouse, and only then for an official trip overseas travelling on the national airline. As our legal adviser, Rui Verde, notes: “The law expressly refers to spouses, and in so doing excludes anyone else. If it were to contemplate other family members, it would use a different form of words such as ‘spouses and children’ or some such phrase.” In this case, not only are the trips for non-spouses, but they have nothing to do with official business. This is clearly unlawful.
Under the Angolan criminal code, the benefits doled out to Exalgina Gambôa’s adult children constituted several felonies, including but not limited to peculation, trafficking of influences, and a failure to declare financial benefits in kind. And, as Rui Verde notes, the fact that the actions were repeated year after year compounds the offence. It seems that president Lourenço has given up on fighting corruption. He has been unable to surmount the weakness of his lame-duck presidency, as many of the senior members of his own ruling party abandon him. Then perhaps he should take a leaf out of his predecessor’s guidebook and make it possible for ALL government officials to pass on perks to their immediate families – or even beyond. At the very least, he should make sure that the armed forces’ top brass and their families enjoy similar or better perks. No doubt that would silence some of his harshest critics: as the saying goes, “keep your friends close – and your enemies even closer.”