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Algerians outraged over latest corruption accusations against state oil and gas behemoth


Fox News

March 3, 2013 / Associated Press

ALGIERS, Algeria –  Corrupt and gorging itself at the trough of Algeria’s vast oil wealth — that’s how most Algerians privately view the elites running the country. Yet few have been willing to say so publicly, until now.

New corruption scandals are shining a new spotlight on state oil company Sonatrach, which jointly with BP and Norway’s Statoil runs the desert gas plant that was the scene of a bloody hostage standoff in January.

A recent anguished public plea by a former Sonatrach official shocked Algerians and raised hopes that the leadership will try to clean up the oil and gas sector in Africa’s largest country.

There’s plenty at stake: Algeria is also one of the continent’s richest countries, as the No. 3 supplier of natural gas to Europe, with $190 billion in reserves, up $8 billion in the last year alone.

The Feb. 18 letter by former Sonatrach vice president Hocine Malti in the French-language Algerian daily El Watan broke the silence around the company. Addressing the shadowy leader of Algeria’s intelligence service, it asks if he is really serious about investigating new bribery scandals involving Sonatrach and Italian and Canadian companies.

When Italian prosecutors in January announced an investigation into oil company ENI and subsidiary SAIPEM for allegedly paying €197 million ($256.1 million) in bribes to secure an €11 billion contract with Sonatrach, it provoked a firestorm in the Algerian media, until the North African country’s justice system finally announced its own inquiry Feb. 10.

Malti, author of the “Secret History of Algerian Oil,” scoffed that Algerian authorities were only following the lead of international investigators and wondered if Mohammed “Tewfik” Mediene, the feared head of the Department of Research and Security, would allow the real sources of corruption to be tried in court.

“Is it too much to dream that some of your fellow generals, certain ministers or corrupt businessmen — members of the pyramid that you are on top of — members of this fraternity, might also end up in front of justice?” he asked in the letter. “Or will it be like always, just the small fry are targeted by this new investigation?”

“Will we have to continue to listen for news from the Milan prosecutor to know the sad reality of our country, to discover how certain people, whom you know quite well, people you have come across in your long professional career, have gorged themselves on millions of dollars and euros of the country’s oil revenues?” he added.

The response to the letter was swift. Energy Minister Youcef Yousfi promised that once an investigation was complete “we will take all necessary measures” against those harming the interests of the nation.

President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who rarely appears in public, said in a written statement, “these revelations provoke our disgust and condemnation, but I trust the justice system of our country to bring clarity to the web of accusations and discover who is responsible.”

Malti told The Associated Press by telephone from his home in France that he wrote the letter partly out of anger that Algeria had to rely on foreign prosecutors to reveal the extent of its own corruption and addressed it to the head of intelligence to shock people.

“It made a lot of noise because with this letter, I broke a taboo,” he said. “The head of the DRS is an unapproachable figure in Algeria, at times we can’t even pronounce (say) his name.”

It is not the first time the state-owned hydrocarbon company, which provides Algeria with 97 percent of its hard currency earnings, has been enmeshed in scandal.

In 2010, its head, three of its vice presidents and the minister of energy were all fired in a corruption investigation run by Mediene’s intelligence agency.

However, rather than restore faith in the country’s corruption-fighting mechanism, the 2010 purge was widely seen as a chance to settle scores between the DRS and Bouteflika, since most of those fired were his close associates.

Algeria ranks 105 out of 176 in Transparency International‘s 2012 corruption index, and the occasional corruption investigation often just seems to be how the elites settle their scores, such as a string of revelations about prominent politicians in November, which observers said were linked to next year’s presidential elections.

“I realize that people might be shocked by what is happening at Sonatrach — these scandals are terrible and we condemn them as individual acts,” Sonatrach head Abdelhamid Zerguine said on the radio Sunday, the anniversary of Algeria’s 1971 nationalization of its oil industry from the French. He promised to fight further corruption “with utmost vigor,” even while denying it was systemic.

The scale of the scandals is staggering. Nearly €200 million ($260 million) was paid out by the Italians, according to the Milan prosecutor. ENI has pledged full cooperation with prosecutors in their investigations.

Meanwhile, according to a joint investigation by Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper and an Italian business paper published Feb. 22, Canadian company SNC-Lavalin paid a series of bribes of its own to secure a $1 billion engineering contract. Company spokeswoman Lilly Nguyen responded to queries about the case saying “to the best of our knowledge, SNC-Lavalin is not specifically under investigation in the Sonatrach matter.”

With commissions on deals like this going to the highest levels of power, the Algerian press rarely reports about it — until the subject is broached by the foreign media.

Malti, who was there at the founding of Sonatrach in 1963, estimated that the country was losing between $3 and 6 billion annually to corruption in the oil sector alone.

“If a judge says that an inquiry has opened or even a minister promises to take measures against ‘people working against Algeria’s interests,’ I don’t believe them,” Mohammed Saidj, a professor of international relations at Algiers University, told the AP. “It’s just words to appease a public opinion shocked when it hears about the corruption and billions of dollars stolen by high-level political and military officials, including those close to the president.”

The chances of this situation changing are dim, considering how much the country relies on a single company.

In a chapter on Sonatrach in the 2012 book “Oil and Governance,” John Entelis, an Algeria expert at New York’s Fordham University, described the importance of a company established just a year after Algeria won its independence from France, and wrote, “Algeria’s governing elite rely upon Sonatrach for revenue from which they gain power, patronage, and privileges.”

Entelis told AP that the letter in El Watan shows that Algerians are increasingly able to complain about this system, even if that won’t necessarily change things.

“This is the heart of the Algerian political system — Sonatrach, the DRS, civil society in the form of … willingness to make these things public. Some say this is what enables it to maintain itself instead of collapse,” he said.

___

Paul Schemm reported from Rabat, Morocco. Associated Press writer Karim Kebir contributed to this report from Algiers, Algeria.

EU donors freeze aid to Uganda over corruption


Bloomberg News

KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — More Western donors are freezing aid to Uganda after a scam in which up to $13 million in donor money was embezzled in the office of Uganda’s prime minister. The aid freeze is the kind of action long demanded by transparency campaigners who charge that the money oils a corrupt system.

Uganda has a reputation as a corrupt country, but the latest scandal — brought to light by the country’s auditor general in October — is remarkable for its details: More than $220,000 was spent on gas in four days, millions of dollars were diverted to buy luxury vehicles for top officials, and millions were deposited into individuals’ private accounts.

Because the money was for the rehabilitation of parts of northern Uganda devastated by decades of warlord Joseph Kony‘s brutal insurgency, the scandal has provoked a lasting rage around the country and inspired aid cuts that foreign donors had been reluctant to inflict on this East African country.

Roberto Ridolfi, the head of the European Union delegation to Uganda, said in a statement late Tuesday that the scandal and those before it amounted to “a breach of trust” on the part of Ugandan authorities. Sweden, Germany, Ireland, Britain and Denmark have already cut or cancelled all aid to Uganda over the scam, saying they have lost faith in the government’s capacity to spend money responsibly.

Western donors fund up to 25 percent of Uganda’s budget.

Ridolfi said the EU and its development partners in Uganda “will withhold pending budget support disbursements and any further commitments for an initial period of up to (six) months.”

The donors are giving Uganda until April to pay back all the lost money, investigate the scandal, and take action against all the suspects. But investigations of this nature, when they happen, rarely produce the intended results in Uganda, where corruption charges are often politicized and then dismissed. This year three ministers with close ties to President Yoweri Museveni who faced corruption charges were set free by a judge who said they were scapegoats. The three politicians swiftly returned to their jobs […]

Some campaigners who had long urged donors to act tougher against official waste and graft say the audacity of the latest scandal vindicates their calls for the dismantling of an often-comfortable relationship between the state and its donors. They want foreign aid to be channeled through non-state actors engaged in service delivery and for donors to work directly with contractors in cases where the authorities cannot be trusted with cash.

“For the first time the donors are coming out and putting clear benchmarks and I think it’s a good move,” said Cissy Kagaba of the Anti-Corruption Coalition of Uganda, a watchdog group. “But there are other alternatives they can use to ensure that the money reaches the intended beneficiaries.” Read the full article here.

Kenya President vetoes huge bonuses for parliament


AP via Huffington Post

TOM ODULA

October 10th, 2012

NAIROBI, Kenya — Kenya’s president vetoed a move by the country’s parliament to award legislators bonuses of up to $110,000 at the end of their term next year.

The move is unconstitutional and untenable in the country’s prevailing economic circumstances, President Mwai Kibaki said late Tuesday.

Kibaki noted recent increases of salaries for teachers and doctors, and said Kenya requires massive resources to implement a new constitution and meet other competing demands in the economy.

The legislators last week quietly awarded themselves the bonuses, sparking public outrage.

On Tuesday, at least 100 people, including a popular Kenyan musician, protested outside parliament shouting “thieves” and urging the president not to approve the pay bill.

Kenya’s 222 legislators currently make about $120,000 a year each. The minimum wage in Nairobi, the capital, is about $1,500 a year.

Kenyan parliamentarians are fast earning a reputation for trying to give themselves expensive perks. Last year parliament attempted to raise their annual pay to $175,000 but the idea was met with such fierce public resistance that they shelved the plan. Earlier this year parliament inaugurated a new 350-seat chamber, where each of the seats cost about $3,000.

Human rights and anti-corruption activists say the motion to increase the parliament’s bonus to $110,000 – a vote that passed Thursday night with only about 30 legislators present – violates the country’s 2010 constitution, which does not allow parliament to set its own pay.

Over 200,000 high school and primary school teachers held a strike last month over pay. The government bowed to the demands after three weeks of arguing there was no more money to raise the salaries.

Doctors called off their strike last week after walking out for 18 days to protest the poor state of public hospitals where some of the doctors have had to use their lights from their mobile phones in emergency situations to conduct procedures.

Huge gas discovery off Mozambique


 

News24.com

Johannesburg – Italian oil company Eni SpA has announced the discovery of more natural gas off the coast of Mozambique, expanding the yield of a major field off the southeast African nation.

Eni said on Wednesday that the field includes at least 10 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, increasing the total yield of the area to 70 trillion cubic feet.

The company said the drill site is 60km off the Capo Delgado coast. Eni has a 70% interest in the field, with Portuguese firm GalpEnergia, South Korea’s KOGAS and ENH each having a 10% stake.

Natural gas exploration has increased in recent years in Africa, long a source for crude oil. Recent discoveries in Mozambique have made it a major regional source of liquefied natural gas.

AP

 

Helicopter crash kills Kenyan security minister, 5 others in forest outside capital


Washington Post

By Associated Press, Published: June 10

NAIROBI, Kenya — Kenya’s internal security minister was killed with five other people when the police helicopter they were traveling in crashed in a forest near Kenya’s capital, officials said. An anti-corruption crusader said the incident calls into question the government’s procurement of airplanes and helicopters for its security forces.

Internal Security Minister George Saitoti and his deputy, Orwa Ojode, were among the six killed in the Sunday crash, Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka said. Two pilots and two bodyguards also died in the crash, officials said.

Anti-Corruption crusader Mwalimu Mati said the crash should make the country focus on the history of bogus government purchases for the Kenya Police Air wing. Mati runs the corruption watchdog Mars Group, which has done several reports on the government’s purchase of police helicopters and their maintenance. It has called the purchases questionable, and pointed out that they have cost the country millions of dollars since 1999.

“Corruption in public procurement can come back to bite you,” Mati said…Read More.

Canceling Out The ‘Background Noise’ On Egypt-Israel Relations


Minnesota Public Radio

by Dana Farrington, National Public Radio

April 29th, 2012

By ending a historic gas contract with Israel, is Egypt laying the groundwork for a fundamental shift in relations? Not quite, says Rob Malley of the International Crisis Group.

Malley, program director for the Middle East and North Africa, talks to NPR’s David Greene on Weekend Edition about last week’s announcement, which raised questions of political rifts. Malley says:

“What we’re seeing right now is a lot of noise, but no real change, partly because — if not essentially because — both the Israelis and the Egyptian security establishment believe that the relationship is critical for both of them.”

Israel and Egypt signed the historic Camp David peace treaty in 1979, and The Associated Press reports:

“While relations have never been particularly warm, the quiet border has been critical for the security of the two neighbors. Egyptian energy exports to Israel and other business ties have helped keep the peace.”

NPR’s Sheera Frenkel reports for Weekend Edition that the gas deal was signed in 2005 and intended to last for at least 15 years. Reuters calls it “the most significant economic agreement to follow” the 1979 treaty and Jordan’s treaty with Israel in 1994.

Israel has been getting about 40 percent of its gas from Egypt, according to the AP, yet Egypt said last Sunday that it was ending the gas contract. Government spokespersons in both Israel and Egypt are trying to downplay the issue as a dispute between two companies rather than a threat to the peace treaty, Frenkel reportsRead more.

Huge oil deposits discovered In Liberia


English.news.cn

February 22, 2012

MONROVIA, Feb. 21 (Xinhua) — The African Petroleum (AP), an oil and gas exploration and development company in West Africa, announced on Tuesday that a potentially large accumulation of oil deposits had been found off the coast of Liberia. The discovery was made at National Oil Company of Liberia (NACOL) Narina-1 exploratory well drilled in Block LB-09… According to McClain, the process necessitating the tests for the oil’s discovery would take a pretty extended time. He told reporters that the country’s oil evaluation would indicate as to whether the deposits are in sufficient quantity to be commercially viable for production. NACOL said a period of additional 5 to 7 years is expected for the project immediately after the appraisals.

The discovery by the AP is said to have taken place in Block LB- 09 off the coast of Liberia. This block is one of the blocks being operated by the company under a Production Sharing Agreement (PSA). The PSA was negotiated by the executive branch and then later ratified by the legislature in 2008. The exploratory well is among several that have been drilled during the periods 2011 and 2012Read more.

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