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Gabon's Government Threatens Arrests Over Money Collected for Work Not Performed

Gabon's military-appointed Prime Minister Raymond Ndong Sima, pictured here in Libreville on Sept. 7, 2023, announced on Oct. 17 that the government will arrest the heads of businesses who have received money for work not performed.
Gabon's military-appointed Prime Minister Raymond Ndong Sima, pictured here in Libreville on Sept. 7, 2023, announced on Oct. 17 that the government will arrest the heads of businesses who have received money for work not performed.

Military rulers in Gabon on Tuesday threatened to arrest the heads of businesses who have collected money for work that was not performed.

While ordering the resumption of work at utility and construction sites after years of abandonment, Gabon's military-appointed prime minister, Raymond Ndong Sima, told state TV that the junta-led government will ask contractors who abandoned work after collecting money to resume their projects or face arrest.

The announcement was part of a promised crackdown on corruption.

Sima said that scores of companies have resumed work after the central African state’s coup leader, Gen. Brice Oligui Neguema, visited several abandoned road, water and electricity projects in the capital, Libreville, on Saturday.

On Monday, Gabon's state TV showed images of people celebrating as Nguema visited the sites in several poor suburbs. Women and children embraced and shook hands with Nguema, with some shedding tears. They said it was the first time a Gabonese leader had visited poor suburban neighborhoods, a claim VOA could not independently verify.

Civilians told Nguema that each time elections approached, ousted President Ali Bongo Ondimba would promise drinkable water, electricity and good roads and dispatch equipment to start construction. But after the elections, construction work would be abandoned, and the equipment removed.

Nguema said on TV that an anti-corruption task force created by the military junta has a list of companies that received money from the former regime but never executed projects.

Civilians said several companies resumed work as soon as Nguema left.

Barber Jacques Abossolo, who lives in Bizango-Bibere, said on state TV that some of the projects there had been abandoned for 10 years.

Joseph Dotse, a road construction engineer in Libreville, said Nguema asked his company to resume work it temporarily suspended due to heavy rains. He predicted that in 10 days, his company, Gabon Construction, would complete work on a 6-kilometer stretch of road Nguema visited.

Dotse said that Bongo paid half of the money for the road work and that he expects the military junta to settle the remaining bill.

He said Bongo, his family and friends own companies that never executed projects after receiving money. Bongo’s lawyers deny the accusations.

Gabon's military-appointed government said that Nguema will visit other towns and villages in the days ahead to make sure work on abandoned sites is relaunched and that contractors who swindled state funds will be arrested if they do not refund the money.

Guy Roger Makongo, a political science lecturer at Omar Bongo University in Libreville, said on a messaging app that Nguema has been respecting the roadmap he set up to restore democratic rule following the August 30 bloodless coup.

Makongo said besides fighting corruption and carrying out consultations to organize a national dialogue by the end of this year, Nguema has set up a constitutional council and appointed a government and members of the senate and national assembly from the opposition, civil society and the army.

Many people, however, are skeptical that Nguema will hand power to civilian rule soon because he has not given a possible date for a return to constitutional order, Makongo said.

Last week, Gabon's military junta promised to invest more than $10 million of what it called recovered ill-gotten wealth on water, electricity, roads and school infrastructure to improve living conditions, especially in the hinterlands.

The military junta said it also recovered more than 300 luxury vehicles. Both vehicles and money, the junta said, were taken from Bongo family and friends.

The military-appointed government said Sylvia Bongo Ondimba Valentin, the Franco-Gabonese wife of Gabon's ousted president; Bongo’s son, Noureddin Bongo Valentin; and eight of the deposed leader’s aides and members of his Cabinet have been arrested in an anti-corruption drive launched by the military junta.

They were charged with various crimes that include treason, corruption, embezzlement, money laundering, forgery and abuse of state institutions.