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Rights Group Rebukes Angola for Alleged Missing Oil Revenues - 2004-01-13

A leading human-rights group says the Angolan government cannot account for more than $4 billion in missing oil revenue, nearly 10 percent of the country's gross domestic product.

New York-based Human Rights Watch released a report on Tuesday that says profits from the state-run oil company, Sonangol, suspiciously disappeared from government coffers between 1997 and 2002.

Angola is Africa's second largest oil exporter. Its $17.8 billion in oil revenue during that same period made up 85 percent of the government's total earnings.

Arvind Ganesan, director of the Human Rights Watch business program, says Angolan officials refused to give international aid auditors an accounting of the missing funds, at a time when millions of Angolans have no access to hospitals or schools.

"After they had looked at everything the government had spent its money on," he said, "it found that in total over six years about $4.2 billion had been spent, but for no definable purpose, and when they asked the government and the institutions within the government for explanations for how this money was spent, they were either not forthcoming or unwilling to provide that information."

Mr. Ganesan also says that even though a 27-year civil war between the government and the National Union for the Total Liberation of Angola ended two years ago, the absence of fighting has not led to any improvement in the lives of most Angolans. He says nearly one million Angolans are still homeless and 7.4 million children are malnourished.

"While the government is asking the international community for more money," said Mr. Ganesan, "they need to account for this money that disappeared since it's roughly equal to how much was spent on social programs and humanitarian aid. While we wouldn't say that the international community should cut off Angola, they should clearly require that the government account for its own revenues and expenditures and make it clear how it's spending its money."

The Associated Press quotes Angola's Finance Ministry spokesman Bastos de Almeida as saying currency fluctuations are to blame for the missing funds and that the government is preparing a full response to the Human Rights Watch report.

The International Monetary Fund has so far refused to enter into a formal aid program with Angola because of what it says is the lack of transparency of its accounting practices.

Some analysts say Angola is rapidly becoming a major oil-exporter, and will be able to produce as much oil as Kuwait by 2010.