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Congo Brazzaville

Volume 455: debated on Wednesday 24 January 2007

To ask the Secretary of State for International Development (1) what recent discussions he has had with the Government of Congo Brazzaville on (a) good governance and (b) corruption; (116416)

(2) what discussions he has had with the Government of Congo Brazzaville on (a) oil exploration, (b) environmental protection, (c) oil sector management and (d) the use of oil revenues to fund development;

(3) what recent assessment he has made of the level of corruption in Congo Brazzaville.

Corruption remains a serious problem in the Republic of Congo. Transparency International’s survey last year rated the country 142 of 163 states. A particular area of concern, despite the Congo-Brazzaville Government having made a statement of support for the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), is the management of natural resource revenues, which lacks transparency and attracts widespread NGO criticism. Campaigners against corruption in the country have faced harassment from state officials. The British embassy has raised concerns on several occasions with the Congo-Brazzaville Government, and requested more information about the brief detention last year of two members of the Publish What You Pay Coalition who have been effective advocates of EITI locally.

The UK also discusses governance issues with the Congolese Government on a regular basis in conjunction with European partners and through the World Bank and IMF. The UK has made clear that the windfall received in increased oil revenues should be spent on poverty reduction. Economic issues and social development form part of the European Union’s regular article 8 dialogue. EU missions frequently raise the need for increased transparency in the oil sector, particularly in the management of revenues.

When the country qualified for assistance under the heavily indebted poor country (HIPC) initiative in February 2006, the UK, with the international community, insisted that interim debt relief be accompanied by—and conditional upon—a strict programme of governance reform. Congo’s debt relief savings are maintained in a special account. Expenditures from this account are limited to agreed poverty-reducing categories and monitored by a committee comprising representatives in observer status from international donors and Congolese civil society. Under the HIPC agreement, interim debt relief could be withdrawn if Congo fails to maintain satisfactory performance.

Furthermore, Congo agreed to implement a number of tough governance and anti-corruption reforms before it receives irrevocable debt stock cancellation under HIPC. These include the establishment of a national anti-corruption committee; the completion of a corruption diagnostic study by international experts; sustained, satisfactory performance under World Bank and IMF supervised programs; and successive annual audit opinions to confirm that the state oil company’s accounts are in line with international best practice. There will be an annual review of progress, the first due to begin later this year, by the World Bank’s Executive Board. Delivered in the right way, we hope that debt relief will help Republic of Congo, one of the world’s most indebted and poorest countries, spend more on health, education and infrastructure.