Corruption and war make life difficult in Angola

Nov 22, 2001 01:00 AM

The dam in this mountainous scrubland stood unfinished for years until The Netherlands decided to foot the $ 2 mm bill for completion. With waterborne diseases such as malaria and cholera endemic, providing clean water to thousands of peasants struck Dutch officials as a worthwhile cause.
Their largess came with a condition: No government official was to touch any of the money. All disbursements would be handled by an international relief agency. "Otherwise, the work would never get done," said The Netherlands' ambassador to Angola, Jan Eric van den Berg. "I have seen it happen too many times here. Money has a way of disappearing in Angola."
This is a country on the take, disfigured by senior government officials whose corruption is so malignant that it has metastasised to virtually every level of Angola's public sector, according to diplomats, relief workers, academics and Angolans from all walks of life.

Only Nigeria produces more oil than Angola in sub-Saharan Africa, but little of the revenue trickles down to the 12 mm people who live in this former Portuguese colony. President Jose Eduardo dos Santos and the authoritarian political party that has governed Angola since its independence 26 years ago funnel the bulk of the country's resources into its unpopular, unyielding civil war against a stubborn rebel militia and pocket much of what remains.
Civil servants earning as little as $ 50 a month take their cues from the ruling party, the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola, known by its Portuguese initials, MPLA. Graft here far exceeds the solicitation of petty bribes by traffic police and customs officials that happens at the margins of other poor countries, say diplomats, political analysts and relief workers.

Here, underpaid teachers demand payment to enrol students in public schools that are nominally free. Doctors and nurses at state-run health clinics ask patients for a fee before treating them. Public hospitals frequently run short of supplies that are sold on theblack market, and police, port authorities and employees with the motor vehicle department demand a tip.
"If you want to get anything done in Angola, you must pay off someone," said Henriques Lopes, 23, who last year dropped out of Agostinho Neto University, the only public college in Luanda, the capital, when a professor demanded a $ 20-a-week bribe that Neto couldn't afford. "I blame the government for that." Lopes adds, "There is no right and wrong anymore. People feel they must do whatever they can to survive."

A 1996 government survey found that nearly half the schoolchildren in Angola had to make some kind of payment to an administrator to enrol in school. Another survey in 1998 concluded that 67.5 % of doctors, lawyers and other professional workers on the state's payroll acknowledged that they would accept a bribe in return for services.
The development arm of the United Nations wrote in 1998 that Angola's civil servants suffer a "crisis of values, principles and ethical standards of behaviour." "Because the leadership acts with such impunity and such disregard for the welfare of others, they set an example for how all structures of government should engage with the public," said John Rocha, executive director of Angola 2000, an advocacy organization that promotes good government and an end to the civil war.

As it enters its 27th year, the war between the formerly Marxist MPLA and the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola, or UNITA, has devoured most of Angola's money. About 40 % of the national budget was devoted to military expenditures in 1999, compared with less than 5 % for education, 3 % for health care and about 12 % for salaries and benefits for the country's 200,000 civilian employees.
Calculating how much money dos Santos and his Cabinet rake in is difficult because the government budget doesn't account for nearly $ 3 bn in annual oil revenue. In the last democratic elections, held nine years ago, Angolans mocked the choices confronting them with the slogan:"UNITA kills. The MPLA steals."

Source: Chicago Tribune
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