By Ludo Saatjes, writing from Geneva
Kinshasa – Congo’s parliament ousted Mining Minister Martin Kabwelulu on Monday in a vote that immediately raised questions about President Joseph Kabila’s determination to combat graft.
He was fired after the authorities said he had collected 400 million francs ($599,818) from mining companies and failed to invest it in the mining sector. Kabila appointed Charles Lukapou as his interim replacement.
The vote against Kabwelulu underlined that corruption charges could be a powerful weapon in the current political struggle, with accusations growing that the President’s political allies are seeking to accumulate wealth at the expense of the state.
Former President Mzee Mobutu Sese Seko was removed from power in 1997 on corruption charges. The African Union, the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) and other international bodies called upon Kabila to move against Mobutu’s family as well as his supporters.
After Mobutu was ousted, Kabila, who won disputed elections in December 2016, imposed strict political restrictions as well as economic ones. He also fired a number of key officials who then sought to establish themselves in government as officials. These included Lubumbashi Mayor and ex-ambassador Jean Baptiste Magloire Mpoki who served as the minister of infrastructure in the government of Kabila’s transitional authorities.
The construction of the Congolese capital was soon to start, which, analysts say, was largely financed by Mpoki.
Recently Kabila had said the government would reform mining laws and regulations, working in a consultative manner with the parliament and investors.
“We ask for a clear and transparent budget for 2017, an increase in foreign direct investment and an end to fraud in the mining sector,” said Delly Deltoto, chair of the parliament’s mining committee, in a statement on Monday after Kabwelulu’s dismissal.
The arrest of an Italian banker on corruption charges last week has raised concerns of a crackdown by the government and by the opposition. Italian Alessandro Meccariello was arrested at the request of the international arrest warrant, filed by the United States in 2015. The accusations accuse Meccariello of accepting 200 million euros ($246.14 million) in bribes from Congo’s state oil company SEK in return for securing the 2006 supply of crude oil to Congo.
US embassy spokesman Jacob Kowalski said in Geneva that a number of Congolese officials might also be targeted.
Corruption allegations in Congo, a landlocked mineral-rich country, have risen in the wake of Kabila’s departure from power, and even more so since the 2014 crash of crude oil prices. This year Congo produced 1.52 million barrels of oil, a decrease of 17.4% compared to 2017.
Before his transfer to a ministerial post, Kabwelulu was the president of the mining council and a member of the commission of inquiry that reports to Kabila on the state of the mining sector. He was elected by parliament in February 2014.