$1bn 'missing' from Angola's coffers

Angola’s finance minister denied a humanitarian group’s charges that $1-billion had gone missing from the African nation’s budget last year, on Wednesday.

Finance Minister Julio Bessa said the “hole” in the 2001 budget was caused by accounting problems to be expected in a poor country emerging from a long civil war.

He added that charges about large-scale financial mismanagement were being used maliciously against the oil-producing nation and its leaders.

“They are accounting holes and not holes from lack of money,” he told reporters after meeting Portuguese business leaders.

“No one in this world could embezzle a billion dollars without being noticed, let’s say, by international financial institutions.”

London-based Global Witness, an international humanitarian pressure group, has estimated more than $1-billion—or between a third and a half of all state income—was unaccounted for in last year’s budget.

Bessa said the International Monetary Fund was helping square Angola’s books.

“We are carrying out a matching of accounts with IMF technicians over this,” he said. “Because this is a question that was raised and we have to review the numbers.”

Bessa was in Lisbon at the start of talks to renegotiate Angola’s $1,9-billion debt with Portugal.

The issue is a sticking point in relations between Portugal and Angola, a Portuguese colony for almost five centuries until independence in 1975.

Angola had been paying off the debt by supplying 20 000 barrels of oil a day to Portugal, but suspended the agreement in 1998.
Angola is sub-Saharan Africa’s second-biggest oil producer after Nigeria.

Clearing up the debt issue was crucial to attracting investment from Portugal and other countries following the signing of a ceasefire with Unita rebels in April.

The deal has raised hopes of an end to a war that claimed an estimated million lives since it started in 1975.

Bessa said Angola would also discuss renegotiating its $800-million debt with Spain. Angola’s total foreign debt is about $8-billion.

Economic growth this year should easily top the government’s forecast of growth, which was about 3% to 4%, Bessa said.

Inflation was at about 95% in the year ended in May and the government’s goal was to get it down to between 50% and 70% this year, the minister said.

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