Johannesburg – Angola’s government must account for a staggering $32bn missing from state coffers in a country where most suffer immense poverty despite the nation’s massive oil wealth, Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday.
The revelation comes the same week that Angola announced yet another huge offshore oil find and after deals were signed on Tuesday with seven major oil companies to drill there.
New York-based Human Rights Watch said the missing money was identified by the International Monetary Fund in a December report and is believed to be linked to Angola’s state oil company Sonangol.
It includes $7.1bn transferred into escrow accounts overseas and $24.9bn that appear as "an unexplained discrepancy in government accounts".
The IMF said the money disappeared between 2007 and 2010 from Angola, Africa’s second-largest oil producer after Nigeria, and amounts to 25% of the country’s gross domestic product.
Human Rights Watch previously had identified more than $4bn in oil revenues that went missing from Angolan government accounts between 1997 and 2002. That money never was recovered.
Telephone calls from South Africa and Portugal did not go through on Wednesday to the office of President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, his spokesperson Mario Jorge or to the press office of the state oil company Sonangol.
In the past, Angola’s Finance Ministry has denied that the southern African country has a major corruption and embezzlement problem.
Transparency International, the coalition that fights corruption, ranked Angola in the top 20 most corrupt countries in the world this year.
The missing money was found as a result of reforms that were instituted among the conditions for an IMF loan of $1.4bn – a paltry amount compared to the massive discrepancy.
"Angola’s government has taken credit for improving transparency over its oil revenues and auditing the state oil company," said Arvind Ganesan, business and human rights director at Human Rights Watch.
"But the disappearance of $32bn raises serious questions about its efforts and underscores the need for public accountability."
Angop, the state news agency, on Wednesday quoted Sonangol CEO Manuel Vicente as saying that the latest find in Angola’s Kwanza Basin seabed means the country is "entering a new era" in the oil market.
Norway’s Statoil company compared the latest discovery to one off Brazil that has yielded major amounts of the high-quality light oil that is most prized.
Statoil’s senior vice president for exploration, Erling Vagnes, described it as "some of the best unexplored acreage left on the planet".
More than half of Angola’s population lives below the international poverty line, child and maternal deaths are among the highest in the world and 30% of children are malnourished, according to the UN Children’s Fund. Healthcare is limited or nonexistent in many rural areas.
The country still is recovering from a 27-year-long civil war that ended in 2002. Even today, only 77% of children attend primary school and just 21% attend high school, according to a US State Department report that cited long lists of human rights abuses.
Dos Santos has ruled the country since 1979 and appears intent on retaining power through constitutional reforms in 2010 that abolished direct presidential elections.
Instead, the president will be the head of the political party that garners the most votes, and dos Santos’ party has a stranglehold on power.