February 4, 2010 / 6:40 AM / 9 years ago

Angolan president reshuffles govt after new charter

LUANDA (Reuters) - Angola’s president on Wednesday appointed the country’s first vice-president and new ministers for finance, mining and public works in a major cabinet reshuffle following the approval of a new constitution.

Angola's President Jose Eduardo dos Santos talks to journalists after a signature agreement ceremony held at Sao Bento Palace in Lisbon March 11, 2009. REUTERS/Hugo Correia

The charter, approved for a second time by parliament on Wednesday, replaces the prime minister with a vice-president and allows President Jose Eduardo dos Santos to extend his 30-year rule over one of Africa’s top oil producers without a direct ballot.

In the widely expected shake-up, dos Santos named Fernando Dias dos Santos, the head of the national assembly and a former prime minister, as vice-president, according to a statement on government-run news agency Angop.

The move is likely to raise speculation Dias dos Santos, also known as Nando, is being groomed for the presidency. However, although elections are expected in 2012 the ruling MPLA party has already named President dos Santos as its candidate.

“Nando has been the president’s right-hand man for decades but nobody knows if he will be the successor,” said Alcides Sakala, spokesman for the main opposition UNITA party.

“The truth is President dos Santos wants to remain in power. That’s why he changed the constitution in this way.”

Although Angola’s parliament backed the new constitution last month, the constitutional court asked it to review the document and make some changes. Parliament approved the changes on Wednesday.

One change is that the president and the vice president will need to be the first and second name on the winning party’s list in a parliamentary election, instead of being appointed by the party after the election.

In the reshuffle, presidential advisers Carlos Feijo and Manuel Helder Vieira Dias, also known as Kopelipa, became ministers of state while also continuing to serve as heads of the president’s civil and military staff respectively.

Some senior ministers have been reassigned, although public works minister Higinio Carneiro, a long-term dos Santos ally, lost his position.

Finance Minister Eduardo Severim de Morais, whose ministry is being investigated for the illegal transfer of millions of dollars abroad, also lost his job, to be replaced by former deputy planning minister Carlos Alberto Lopes.

Influential Economy Minister Manuel Nunes Junior, Oil Minister Jose Botelho de Vasconcelos and Foreign Minister Assuncao dos Anjos all kept their portfolios. Prime Minister Paulo Kassoma will become parliament’s new speaker.

Dos Santos has promised the new government will crack down on corruption and implement measures to improve the lives of ordinary Angolans, mostly through investment in agriculture, health and education.

The anti-corruption move should be welcomed by investors in a country where an estimated two-thirds of its 16.5 million people live on less than $2 a day despite Angola vying with Nigeria as Africa’s top oil producer.

Angola ranks as the world’s 18th most corrupt nation, according to watchdog Transparency International.

Angola is also a big diamond miner and was once a major food exporter but a 27-year civil war that took place after the nation’s 1975 independence from Portugal led to a mass exodus of farmers and it now imports almost all of its food.

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