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DR Congo - Corruption

Corruption is not so much an affliction of the Congolese system as it is the system itself, deeply rooted in the history of the state. The idea that public offices can be legitimately used for the enrichment of oneself and one’s family and friends is deeply engrained in the DRC’s political culture and its social and economic systems, making reform very difficult to achieve. The political system in the DRC only serves the interests of the wealthy. Political power in the Congo can give access to substantial resources.

The state structures that facilitate corruption date back to the colonial era, when the Congolese state was designed to extract resources from the land and people—not for the good of Congolese society but to serve limited means (for both individuals and the Belgian state).

The practice of using the state for private purposes became only more deeply entrenched during the long Mobutu era. Mobutu's efforts to centralize state power in his hands in order to penetrate all aspects of society met with catastrophic results in the economic realm. Government administration developed weak, inefficient, and infamously corrupt financial structures; the revenue collection system, in particular, was little more than an open invitation for personal enrichment by favored administrators. Mobutu, as the patron of patrons, demonstrated a voracious desire for more revenue to spend as he saw fit. Much of this spending was untraceable.

Access to high office was the only hope of the Zairian elite or would-be-elite to attain, or maintain, a decent standard of living. Because no one could be sure of remaining in office for very long, the incentive was to profit as quickly and as much as possible.

A rich vocabulary for bribes is one index of its ubiquity. Anthropologist Janet MacGaffey has cited as examples in Lingala, madesuya bana (beans for the children) and tia ngai mbeli (stab me); in Swahili, kuposa koo (refresh the throat) and kulowanish a ndebu (moisten the beard); and in French, comprendre, s'arranger, and cooperer (to understand, to come to terms, and to cooperate), which may be used by a speaker to indicate that a bribe is appropriate. Sometimes a gesture may be used, such as stroking under the chin, to signal that a bribe is expected. Although analysts debate whether the term bribery is an appropriate characterization of these exchanges, the scale of the phenomenon and the bottom-to-top direction of the flow of resources has not been contested.

Aware of the lucrative possibilities of public office, many wealthy and powerful individuals took advantage of the new electoral system inaugurated in 2006 to gain access to political positions. Some wealthy individuals used their resources to create parties and media outlets to try to get themselves elected, and in both the 2006 and 2011 parliamentary elections, numerous candidates sought to buy votes with bribes of money, food, and other goods.

Nevertheless, with input from many Congolese actors and extensive intervention by the international community, the 2003-2006 transition developed a framework that had the potential to address corruption and other core political issues.

The institutional reforms specified in the Constitution, if they were fully realized, would provide strong checks and balances, improving transparency and fighting the impunity that facilitates the privatization of public goods. In the first years after the 2006 transition, these checks and balances began to work. However, since about 2008, there has been a troubling circumvention of the constitutional principles of balanced power and a concentration of power in the hands of the executive branch.

Corruption, including bribery, raises the costs and risks of doing business. According to a report published in 2012, corruption adds approximately 30-40 % to the cost of transactions in the DRC, compared approximately 10-30% in neighboring countries.

US and domestic businesses routinely cite corruption as a principal constraint to doing business in the DRC. In principle, there are laws that punish corruption, for both offering and accepting bribes. The GDRC has recently made some progress on corruption; however bribery is still routine in public and private business transactions, especially in the areas of government procurement, dispute settlement, and taxation. The DRC was ranked 154 out of 177 nations on Transparency International’s 2013 Corruption Perception Index.

Weak financial controls and a poorly functioning judicial system encouraged officials to engage in corruption with impunity. In an effort to combat corruption, the government sometimes suspended officials for the misuse of funds, including donor funds for the national immunization program. The government also initiated a program to pay many civil servants and security forces in major cities by direct deposit, eliminating an important means of graft. Previously the government utilized a cascading cash payment system in which salaries were disbursed to senior officials for payment to subordinate officials who in turn paid their staffs.

Corruption remained endemic throughout the government and the state security force (SSF). Bribery was routine in public and private business transactions, especially in the areas of government procurement, dispute settlement, administration of justice, mining, land ownership, and taxation.

The government has a watchdog agency for the enforcement of the code of professional ethics for civil servants. The Court of Accounts and the NGO Congolese Anti-Corruption League worked closely on corruption matters. The Ministry of Justice and Human Rights has an internal anticorruption team. According to a high-level internal source, this structure lacked independence and, therefore, the power to fight corruption.

The law criminalizes money laundering and terrorist financing. Limited resources and a weak judicial system hampered the ability of the Financial Intelligence Unit to enforce anti-money-laundering regulations. Furthermore, local institutions and personnel lacked the training and capacity to enforce the law and its attendant regulations fully.

Government authorities and wealthy individuals at times used antidefamation laws that carry criminal punishments, as well as other means of intimidation, to discourage media investigation of government corruption.

On 25 October 2013, the National Intelligence Agency (ANR) arrested Ludjwera Birindwa, chief executive officer of the state-owned petroleum company Cohydro, on charges of embezzlement. Birindwa allegedly embezzled $10 million allocated to pay for a shipment of oil from a South African company, Labolhano Trading Investment.

The value of illegal natural resources exploitation in eastern DRC is about $1 billion per year. Up to 98 percent of the net profits from illegal natural resources exploitation – mainly gold, charcoal and timber – go to transnational organized criminal networks.

There appears to be a large diversion of the tax and royalty payments effected by mining companies on a regular basis. The mineral asset sales represent an annual loss of $1.4 billion. The missing payments from mining companies to state collecting agencies amount to about $200 million a year. As for the diversion of tax and royalty payments, their 2010 shortfall was $129 million. The annual loss to the budget from these practices to be about $1.73 billion. This is significantly more than budgeted frais de fonctionnement and almost as much as the effectively disbursed annual wage bill for the public sector. Thus, the financial shortfall which asphyxiates the administration of the country can be directly related to the financial wrongdoings of those with legal and contracting authority over the state’s natural resources.

The absence of genuine rule of law manifests itself first and foremost by the continuation of the system of widespread corruption that has characterized Congo since even before the Mobutu regime. The numerous legislative and reform efforts in the last decade have failed to significantly remedy this deep-seated condition of Congolese politics. Patrimonialism, or the blurring of the line between public and private purse and action, and the redistribution of state resources for private accumulation and political gain underpin much of how rules are enforced and the Congolese political system is run. Corruption is deeply antithetical to rule of law, and it appears that corruption is not so much an affliction of the Congolese system as it is the system itself, deeply rooted in the history of the Congolese state.

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Page last modified: 24-06-2015 20:03:06 ZULU