One of the beauties of democracy is that it is difficult to control from the center. Institutions such as provincial assemblies and the national parliament become difficult and costly to control or buy-off. One sometimes wonders, however, whether in places like the Congo these institutions are fighting for the people who elected them or for a piece of the pie.
Two example of this made headlines this week in North and South Kivu. In Goma, a group on 19 provincial MPs tabled a motion to impeach the Governor Julien Paluku for have embezzled government funds. They were on solid ground: a few weeks earlier, a parliamentary audit concluded that the provincial government had embezzled hundreds of thousands of dollars. Pole Institute summarized the main findings here, which include:
- the disappearance of $136,00 from the budget of the 2009 agricultural fair
- the use of fake stamps and seals to justify budgetary expenses – for example, one receipt with a fake stamp claimed several hundred dollars worth of flowers were bought by the province for the burial of a priest and a bishop. In fact, the flowers were never bought.
- the existence of a parallel book-keeping and financial management by the governor’s trusted financial advisor, the mephistophelean Francois Murairi. Between January 2008 and July 2009, he spent over 5,4 billion Congolese francs (around US$8 million, if I’m not mistaken).
This is not the first time the legislators have tried to impeach Paluku for financial crookery. In 2007, they accused him of stealing around $372,000 in road taxes. They failed to impeach him, by 15 to 27.
One of the reasons for their failure to impeach him (despite bountiful evidence) is that, as everything, these attempts are perceived as political machinations by other parties. Paluku’s party and some of the his Nande brethren say that the former (Hutu) Governor Eugene Serufuli is behind this and that even Kabila might want to kick out Paluku to give the job to a Hutu or Tutsi in order to reinforce the peace deal. The Hutu and Tutsi political elite have strong connections with local militia; the Nande much less so.
But it doesn’t look like the MPs will be successful. On Friday, the motion was dismissed as the provincial assembly did not reach a quorum – only the 19 sponsors of the motion showed up, far short of a 2/3 roll call.
The various parliaments in the Congo (national & provincial) have often been lauded as important checks and balances to the corrupt and abusive executives. There have been many great initiatives: the Lutundula Commission to review contracts signed during the 2 wars, the Bakendeja Commission to audit state-run companies, the recent senate commission to review mining contracts, etc. However, I am not aware that any of these commissions has had much impact in holding officials accountable. Some administrators are fired (but never put on trial), others, no doubt better-connected, stay on despite the revelations. The most classic such example was when the national assembly tried to oust Nkulu Mitumba, Minister for the Presidency, for having overridden a decree grounding all Antonov aircrafts. As a consequence, one of the aircrafts crashed in Kinshasa in October 2007, killing 49 people. Despite ample evidence, the national assembly failed to impeach him. (“Des enveloppes ont circules,” an MP told me at the time – envelopes went around, cash inside.)