May 24, 2011

VII. Impunity for Economic Crimes

Every contact we have with the state involves the illicit transfer of money. From the moment I step out of my house until the time I return I pay bribes. When I drop off my children at [the State] school the teacher says, “Don’t forget a nice little present or they may not get good marks.” To get into a meeting with an official, I have to pay the clerk. To get the paper I came to get, I have to pay the secretary. When I move from office to office, I get stopped and have to pay the police. When my cousin died, we had to pay the morgue attendant to take his body. In order for my wife to get a job at the ministry I had to pay 3 million [Guinean francs, or US$454], no receipt. It’s relentless. If you’re an honest, moral man, you can’t survive in this system. It’s only God looking out for us. Guinean businessman[165]

For decades Guineans’ access to basic health care, education, and other economic rights has been impeded by endemic corruption and the gross mismanagement of revenue from Guinea’s vast natural resources. From the petty corruption and bribe-solicitation perpetrated by frontline civil servants to the extortion, embezzlement, and illicit contract negations that take place in the shadows, the perpetrators of economic crimes are rarely investigated, much less held accountable.

Guinea’s new leaders and international partners must ensure that efforts to address impunity extend as well to the perpetrators of economic crimes. To do this, the new president must establish, adequately fund, and empower a credible and independent anti-corruption commission. He must also take preventative measures by demanding complete transparency in the negotiation of contracts between the Guinean government and foreign and Guinean mining companies; setting up effective revenue accounting mechanisms; and signing on to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), a voluntary international effort to promote reporting of company payments and government profits from oil, gas, and mining resources through a coalition of governments, private companies, civil society groups, investors and international organizations.[166] The new government must also ensure information on government revenues and expenditures are made easily accessible and presented in a form that can be understood by the public.

Guinea hosts one of the world’s largest reserves of bauxite, the raw material used to make aluminum, and billions of dollars worth of iron ore, diamonds, and gold.[167] In September 2010 an oil exploration company suggested that its Guinea concession might hold some 2.3 billion barrels of prospective oil resources.[168] Despite these resource riches and its relatively small population, Guinea is one of the world’s poorest countries, ranked 156th out of 169 countries on the United Nations Human Development Index[169] Guineans also suffer some of the world’s worst quality-of-life indicators: adult literacy is only 29.5 percent,[170] while nearly one in 10 infants dies in its first year.[171]

These striking levels of poverty and Guinea’s dismal infrastructure, in a state of near total collapse, suggest that the wealth derived from Guinea’s resources has largely been squandered by a corrupt political elite. Guinea is one of the world’s most corrupt countries and the seventh most corrupt country in sub-Saharan Africa, according to Transparency International.[172]

Ministry of Finance officials, foreign diplomats, businesspeople, and ordinary Guineans interviewed by Human Rights Watch described exceedingly high levels of corruption within both the public and private sectors. Guinean men and women described having to bribe civil servants in order to obtain birth certificates, land titles, driving licenses, and building permits. They also pay to secure entrance for children into public school, receive treatment in a public clinic, secure employment or file a police report.

Pigs look for food in a garbage dump behind an abattoir. Despite abundant natural resources, Guinea ranks among the world’s poorest countries on the United Nations Human Development Index. © 2010 Dirk-Jan Visser/Redux Pictures

Ministry of Finance personnel and high-level government officials described how senior government civil servants, including ministers, embezzled huge sums of money, sometimes instructing payers to make deposits directly into their personal bank accounts.[173] They cited incidents that they alleged demonstrated falsification of receipts, ghost workers on the public payroll, and widespread failure by ministry officials to comply with procurement regulations. Officials from the finance and audit ministries complained that many contracts are decided without study or approval by the director of public procurement but rather, are “dished out in flagrant violation of the codes and on the basis of friendship, ethnicity, and political expediency.”[174]

They noted how the military budget in particular has for many years suffered from a complete lack of transparency: there have been no audits or record-keeping and there is no oversight of military spending from the Ministry of Finance and Parliament.[175] Contracts to purchase military equipment and uniforms and to improve infrastructure are rewarded without adherence to legal procurement procedures.[176] Ministry of Finance officials told Human Rights Watch that on several occasions military officers, serving under the regimes of both President Conté and Dadis Camara, withdrew money directly from the Central Bank, completely devoid of procedure.[177]

Meanwhile negotiations for huge natural resource contracts are often negotiated and signed without due adherence to the established procedure, which includes oversight by the Ministry of Finance and ratification by the National Assembly.[178] For their part, businesspeople said officials at all levels often demand bribes.[179] A foreign diplomat described yet another manifestation of corruption—the lack of control over public property:

When Conté died, many of his former ministers and their employees simply stole all the cars, computers, and office equipment they’d been using. When the CNDD came in, they had nothing. Then when the CNDD left, many of its people did the same. There is no control. We are loath to support the government’s demands for more aid when we see former ministers from consecutive regimes running around in the state vehicles we donated the last time![180]

The complete lack of financial control that is seen in Guinea today has been decades in the making. As noted by a senior civil servant who has worked within the Ministry of State Control, “During the latter years of Conté’s time, corruption set in to such a degree—it was like the state was rotting from the inside out. Everyone was involved—members of government, the first family, the military. It was too much; there was nothing we could do to stop it.”[181]

Pigs look for food in a garbage dump behind an abattoir while men wash themselves in the sea. Guinea ranked 156th out of 169 countries on the United Nations Human Development Index in 2010. Conakry, Guinea. © 2010 Dirk-Jan Visser /Redux

In large part as a result of pressure applied by the diplomatic community and international financial institutions, by 2009 Guinea had established many protocols, procedures, and laws to improve its economic governance. In terms of international protocols, Guinea has signed but not ratified the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption and the United Nations Convention against Corruption.

Many of the reforms were put in place with a view toward relieving its international debt under the Heavily Indebted Poor Counties Initiative (HIPC). These reforms included codes to govern public expenditures, public procurement, and negotiation of mining contracts. However, ministry personnel often circumvented and disrespected the protocols. As noted by a Ministry of Finance official:

We have a mining code, a code which governs procurement, an inspector general of finance, a ministry in charge of state expenditures, Court of Audit (Chambre des comptes) and a Good Governance Commission—all of the institutions a Francophone system usually has to ensure good economic governance. But they are ignored. No, it is the political will to abide by them faithfully, and most importantly enforce them, which we lack.[182]

By late 2008 the International Monetary Fund acknowledged some progress on strengthening economic governance, including the publication of the audited accounts of the central bank, but remained concerned about the procedures involved in large procurement contracts.[183] Efforts to revise the “deeply flawed” public procurement code eventually fell flat.[184] In 2005 the government established a Steering Committee for the EITI, but again, insufficient progress has been made toward becoming a compliant country.[185]

While the CNDD vowed to address corruption, the party ironically went on an extra-budgetary spending spree that by and large benefitted the military and included the construction of barracks, vehicle purchases, across-the-board promotions for all soldiers, and travel for coup members. According to one international economic expert on Guinea, the CNDD “oversaw a veritable collapse of fiscal control.”[186] “When the transitional government took over in early 2010, the national debt had more than doubled.”[187]

Guinea’s 2010 constitution included several encouraging articles, which, if implemented, could improve governance and transparency. Article 36 requires public asset declarations by both the president, within 48 hours of taking his oath, and his ministers upon taking office and at the end of service. It also provides for a Court of Audit (Cour des comptes), a quasi-judicial body mandated to conduct yearly financial audits of public institutions, which reports to the parliament any irregularities in the handling of public money, and is vested with authority to exercise judicial power to prosecute those involved in financial crimes. At the time of this writing, the new President and a number of his ministers had declared their assets before the Supreme Court, which heard the declarations in the absence of a fully constituted constitutional court mandated by the new constitution to hear such declarations in the future. The Court of Audit has also been established but is not yet functional, with interim members pending Supreme Court’s approval.[188]

These measures and bodies, once fully established, can be complemented by the establishment of a truly independent anti-corruption commission. Guinea’s current anti-corruption body—the National Agency for the Promotion of Good Governance and the Fight Against Corruption (l’Agence nationale de promotion de la bonne gouvernance et de lutte contre la corruption)—lacks the necessary independence, powers, and funding to effectively deter economic crimes. The commission, formed by decree by late President Conté at the behest of Guinea’s donors, has been restricted by executive control and largely relegated to the uncontroversial role of public education. It was attached to the office of the president until 2004, and at present functions under the Ministry of Audits and State Control (Ministère de contr ô l e de l’État ). Since its formation, only six cases of large-scale corruption investigated by the commission were sent to the judiciary. Of these six, only one was adjudicated.

According to the anti-corruption commission’s executive director, Mohamed François Falcone, the commission is severely hampered by the lack of independent powers to subpoena witnesses and relevant evidence and prosecute matters on its own, rather than through the Office of the Procureur Géneral (Attorney General equivalent).[189] It is also limited by a restricted budget, currently 450,000,000 GF [US $68,130] per year. Falcone has sought to address these deficiencies in a draft law that proposes the creation of an entirely independent commission. The draft law also expands the definition of corruption-related offenses, extends the mandate to cover the conduct of political parties and elections, and provides for a review by the proposed commission of all natural resource contracts.[190]

Human Rights Watch urges the new government and Guinea’s international partners to take every opportunity to underscore both privately and publicly the importance of an effective anti-corruption commission and to address the continuing problem of corruption within the Guinean government. Guinea’s vast natural resources must not continue to be plundered, but instead be used to address the very pressing economic needs of Guinea’s population. As noted by a taxi driver, whose younger brother was killed during the 2007 demonstrations in Conakry, June 2010:

For 52 long years, the people of Guinea have really suffered from the effects of impunity and corruption. We have lived in darkness—no electricity, no water, no opportunities for our children. Those in power have ruined the lives of generation after generation. The families who lost their sons and daughters during the Sékou Touré time, then in 2007, and again in 2009, have yet to finish crying. Those who have done this to us, to our country must know that they can’t continue on as before.

[165] Human Rights Watch interview with Guinean businessman, Conakry, June 4, 2010.

[166] See the webpage of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, http://eiti.org/eiti (accessed February 16, 2011).

[167]“FACTBOX-Guinea’s major mining operations,” Reuters, June 24, 2010, http://af.reuters.com/article/guineaNews/idAFLDE65M19Z20100624?sp=true (accessed September 21, 2010).

[168]“Hyperdynamics Says Guinea Concession May Hold 2.3 Billion Barrels of Oil,” Bloomberg, September 8, 2010, http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2010-09-08/hyperdynamics-says-guinea-concession-may-hold-2-3-billion-barrels-of-oil.html (accessed September 21, 2010).

[169] United Nations Development Programme, “Human Development Index (HDI) – 2010 rankings,” 2010, http://hdr.undp.org/en/statistics/ (accessed April 14, 2011); UNDP, “Guinea: Country profile of human development indicators,” http://hdrstats.undp.org/en/countries/profiles/GIN.html (accessed April 14, 2011).

[170]United Nations Development Programme, “Guinea: Country profile of human development indicators,” http://hdrstats.undp.org/en/countries/profiles/GIN.html (accessed April 14, 2011).

[171] Population Reference Bureau and United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), “Country Profiles for Population and Reproductive Health: Policy Developments and Indicators 2009/2010,” 2010, http://www.prb.org/pdf10/unfpacountryprofiles.pdf (accessed September 21, 2010), p. 56.

[172]In 2010, Transparency International ranked Guinea 164th out of 178 countries. Transparency International, “Corruption Perceptions Index 2010 Results,” http://transparency.org/policy_research/surveys_indices/cpi/2010/results (accessed April 25, 2011).

[173] Human Rights Watch interview with officials from the Ministry of Finance and Prime Minister’s office, Conakry, June 8-10, 2010.

[174] Human Rights Watch interview with Ministry of Finance official, Conakry, June 8, 2010.

[175] “Rapport d’évaluation du Secteur de Sécurité en Guinée: Avant-projet de rapport,” Joint Project of the ECOWAS, African Union, and United Nations, May 2010, author’s possession; and Human Rights Watch interviews with military analysts, Conakry, June 8, 2010, and with security sector analyst, Dakar, September 9, 2010.

[176] Human Rights Watch interview with Ministry of Finance official, Conakry, June 8, 2010.

[177] Human Rights Watch interview with Ministry of Finance official, Conakry, June 8, 2010.

[178] Human Rights Watch interviews with Ministry of Audits and State Control official and Ministry of Finance officials, Conakry, June 4 and 8, 2010.

[179] Human Rights Watch interviews with businessmen, Conakry, June 2009, June 2010, and in Dakar, October 2010.

[180]Human Rights Watch interview with diplomat, Conakry, June 7, 2010.

[181] Human Rights Watch interview with Ministry of Audits and State Control official, Conakry, June 4, 2010.

[182] Human Rights Watch interview with Ministry of Finance official, Conakry, June 8, 2010.

[183]Guinea was expected to reach the completion point under the HIPC initiative aimed at providing debt relief amounting to US$2.2 billion in mid-2009. However, this was delayed by the December 2009 coup that brought the CNDD to power. “Statement by an IMF Mission to the Republic of Guinea,” IMF press release, no. 08/232, October 2, 2008, (accessed September 21, 2010); and Human Rights Watch interview with Ministry of Finance official, Conakry, June 4, 2010.

[184] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with international financial advisor, Conakry, September 22, 2010.

[185] Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, “Candidate Country: Guinea,” http://eiti.org/Guinea (accessed September 13, 2010).

[186] Human Rights Watch interview with international financial institution expert, Washington DC, August 9, 2010.

[187] Human Rights Watch interview with Ministry of Finance official, Conakry, June 8, 2010.

[188]Human Rights Watch telephone interviews with Mohamed François Falcone, February 17 and 22, 2011. See also “Cour Suprême: Dépôt de déclaration de patrimoine du Ministre d’Etat aux Travaux Publics et aux Transports,” Aminata News, January 3, 2011, http://www.aminata.com/les-dernieres-24-heures/10691-cour-supreme-depot-de-declaration-de-patrimoine-du-ministre-detat-aux-travaux-publics-et-aux-transports (accessed February 22, 2011)

[189] Human Rights Watch interview with Mohamed François Falcone, Conakry, June 7, 2010.

[190] Draft anti-corruption law, reviewed by Human Rights Watch.