LUANDA (Reuters) - Anti-corruption campaign group Global Witness has accused Angola of cronyism, saying the owners of a private firm that is bidding for oil concessions appeared to be top officials.
The accusations could embarrass Angola, keen to show its commitment to fight corruption and improve oil industry transparency as it tries to win help from the International Monetary Fund and Western donors.
Global Witness said shareholders in the privately owned Sociedade de Hidrocarbonetos de Angola (SHA) included top officials in the government and in state oil firm Sonangol, which regulates the sector and grants exploration licences.
SHA pre-qualified for a tender for oil licences in 2007. The tender was suspended then because of 2008 elections and is expected to take place next year. Sonangol did not say whether SHA would still be involved in the bidding.
“If these officials are in fact the same people as the shareholders of SHA, then the assumption has to be that Sonangol is abusing its regulatory power to help a private company whose owners include its own chairman,” said Diarmid O’Sullivan, a campaigner at Global Witness, in a report released late on Monday.
A record of SHA in Angola’s official gazette includes the name of one of its shareholders in August 2007, one month before the initial tender took place, as being Manuel Domingos Vicente, which is also the name of Sonangol’s chairman.
A Sonangol spokesman said neither the company nor its chairman could give any immediate comment.
Other listed shareholders had the same names as a former finance minister and a presidential advisor. None was available for comment.
SHA general manager Marques Carreira told Reuters by phone the firm would not comment on the Global Witness report.
The company also has an oil exploration block off Guinea-Bissau.
Lawyers in Luanda said Angolan law was unclear on whether officials would be barred from any business involving companies in which they had holdings. Sonangol’s chairman has said the oil licensing round met the highest international standards.
The Global Witness accusations come at a time when Angola’s government is holding long-delayed talks with the IMF over an aid package to the African nation which rivals Nigeria as Africa’s biggest oil producer.
Transparency and corruption have been a major stumbling block in talks between the IMF and Angola since the end of the country’s almost three-decade-long war in 2002.
Tired of being criticised by the IMF for lack of transparency and the way it managed its oil wealth, Angola broke off talks in 2007 when its economy was growing in double digits and turned to China for $5 billion in loans.
But Angola relies on oil for 90 percent of revenues and those tumbled along with global oil prices. Foreign exchange reserves fell 30 percent to $12 billion between January and May. Growth forecasts have been almost halved to around 6.2 percent.
A report by Human Rights Watch in 2004 said $4 billion in oil revenues vanished between 1997 and 2002, but the government has recently taken steps to increase transparency by making available information on the budget and oil revenues.
The Global Witness accusations could also be unwelcome ahead of a visit by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She arrives in Angola, one of the biggest suppliers of crude oil to the United States, on Sunday during an African tour.