- Making heavily-indebted Congo Brazzaville's management of oil revenues more transparent is the key to the country's development, organisations point out. Major trade partner France was given a special responsibility to push for more transparency in Congo's oil sector.
French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin "must deliver on oil transparency in Congo," the London-based organisation Global Witness today demanded. The group focuses on the links between the exploitation of natural resources and the funding of conflict and corruption.
This week Minister de Villepin is to visit several African countries, including oil-dependent Congo-Brazzaville. Whilst there, Mr de Villepin was urged to follow through on France's recent commitments to champion revenue transparency.
- Making heavily-indebted Congo's management of oil revenues more transparent is the key to the country's development, as the IMF and World Bank have recognised, Sarah Wykes of the UK group says.
France was seen to have "a particular responsibility" to help. The former French state oil company Elf's "secret system of kickbacks, influence-peddling and oil-backed loans, culminating in its support for both sides in Congo's 1997 civil war, led the country down the path of indebtedness and unaccountable government," Ms Wykes says.
The Congolese government has now committed to improve transparency under a programme by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), but serious question-marks remain about the pace of reform.
The IMF itself has noted recently that "improving transparency and accountability in the transactions of the national oil company remains an important challenge". Congolese civil society organisations and church leaders have made repeated appeals for the support of the international community to ensure better management of their oil income; as yet to no avail.
France played a leadership role at the Evian Summit, where the G8 recognised the urgent need for improved transparency in the management of revenues from oil, mining and gas in resource-rich-but-poor countries.
This includes disclosure of payments made by extractive companies and of revenues received by governments, as advocated by the international 'Publish What You Pay' coalition, which calls for stock market and international accounting rules to require oil, gas and mining companies to disclose their net payments to governments for resource access on a country-by-country basis.
Global Witness and its coalition partners today said they believed it was now time for the French government "to move beyond words" to take concrete action. "Given France’s major historical and economic links with Congo, Mr de Villepin's visit is the perfect opportunity for his Government to begin implementing its commitments on revenue transparency," said Ms Sarah Wykes.
- He should use his time in Congo to encourage the Government to begin piloting disclosure of its oil revenues through the EITI, and to respond to civil society's concerns about where the oil money is going, she added.
According to the IMF and World Bank, Congo Brazzaville's debt currently stands at US$ 6.4 billion, with servicing of oil-backed loans taking one third of total government revenue. The French company Total (formerly TotalFinaElf) accounts for two thirds of oil production.
Oil accounts for more than half of Congo's GDP and has by far surpassed forestry - or subsistence agriculture, which employs most Congolese - as the mainstay of the economy. Since 2001, Brazzaville officially has emphasised on an increased accountability and transparency in its oil sector, although critiques say little has happened in practical terms.
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