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13 Nov 2005

John Reed, Financial Times

Oil-rich Angola seeks fruits of peace [full article is subscription only]

In several years of talks, Angola has failed to secure an agreement with the International Monetary Fund, normally the first step for a developing country seeking international financial respectability. The body’s misgivings about the country’s management of and accounting for its resource wealth remain a big obstacle. In July, after its latest talks with the Angolan government, the IMF praised “important improvements” made over the last two years in Angola’s fiscal accounts and the transparency of oil transactions. However, the fund criticised “continuing conflicts of interest” at Sonangol and Endiama, the state diamond company, which act as both regulators and participants in their respective sectors. Sonangol, which some analysts describe as a parallel government, does not publish its accounts. Nor does the government produce accounts to justify its own expenditure, Global Witness points out. Similar accusations are made about Endiama...Last month Sonangol raised a syndicated $2bn loan led by France’s Calyon [part of Crédit Agricole] and collateralised by a long-term agreement to supply oil to the trading arm of China’s Sinopec. Because of the limitations of traditional IMF and World Bank conditionality in Angola, anti-corruption campaigners have trained much of their attention on the oil companies...Global Witness has been a leading supporter of a campaign aimed at prodding oil companies and governments to divulge the massive “signing bonuses” paid when deals are concluded. The effort bore some fruit last year when Chevron extended its concession on Cabinda’s Block Zero by 30 years at a Washington ceremony attended by Mr dos Santos. His government made public a $280m signing bonus, which included a $80m “social bonus” spent on development programmes in Cabinda and elsewhere. Global Witness remains unimpressed: “It’s good that Chevron published their bonus last year, but there is no consistent practice by oil companies in doing that,” says Ms Wykes. Others criticise the companies for being too timid in their community involvement for fear of antagonising Angola’s leaders. “The government has played a very tough game with the oil companies,” says Care’s Mr Bulten. “They have them in their pocket.”...However, Angola’s government does appear to be sensitive to growing criticism on governance issues. In an interview with the Financial Times last month, José Pedro de Morais, finance minister, said that he hoped to secure an IMF agreement by early next year...The minister added that Angola was “doing a lot of things on the transparency side, and has set some priorities.” Once the country had an IMF agreement, it would be willing to sign on to the UK’s Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. Angola is currently the only country to claim “observer status” in the initiative...