February 6, 2003

Reconstruction already started, donors conference ahead

The United Nations and the Angolan government are to organise a conference in Brussels, perhaps as early as March, at which international donors will be asked to contribute to a multi-million dollar reconstruction plan. The plan is to be drawn up by the Angolan government with the assistance of the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the World Bank. The United Nations formally backed the conference on 30 January when the UN Secretary General‘s special envoy, Professor Ibrahim Gambari met with President dos Santos in Luanda.

The conference will be similar to the one held in Brussels in September 1995 under the auspices of the UNDP. Nearly eight years later the destruction has grown and the needs have increased. However, during the intervening years there has been a growing feeling in the international community that the Angolan government has squandered its oil-based resources, and that high-level corruption is responsible for much of the country‘s poverty. Government revenues from the oil sector have been the focus of serious allegations by organisations such as Global Witness, who claim that at least a billion dollars a year go missing from state revenues, and are stolen by individuals associated with the ruling elite in Angola. In this climate it may be hard to raise funds desperately needed to rebuild the country.

The government reshuffle late last year was intended, in part, to improve the standing of the government in international circles. In his address during the swearing in of the new Prime Minister, Fernando da Piedade Dias dos Santos "Nando", President dos Santos was critical of some of the previous government‘s activities.

Despite its enormous natural resources however, Angola is a very poor country with a devastated economy. Recent statistics published by the National Institute of Statistics (INE) show that one in four children die before they reach the age of five. The high death rate for children is a result of poverty, malnutrition, poor health facilities and a lack of sanitation. In a survey, the Institute found that 45 percent of children under five suffer from chronic malnutrition, and that 38 percent of people do not use properly treated water. In a separate survey, INE found that 69 percent of people in Luanda were living in poverty.

One of the urgent tasks is to rehabilitate the infrastructure of the country, to allow for the free movement of people and goods. Without this rehabilitation the country will remain crippled. On 29 January Minister of Public Works, Higino Carneiro, stated that the cost of repairing roads and bridges is at least $300 million. According to the government, so far $80 million has been spent on rehabilitating roads, bridges and airport runways. The state of the runways in many of the provincial capitals is so poor that there are severe limits on the number and size of aircraft that can operate out of the airports. This is a limitation to the delivery of aid in several cases. Recently there was a commission of enquiry into the state of the runway at Kuito where repairs had been clearly ineffective, leading to its closure in the last quarter of 2002. According to the Angolan News Agency, ANGOP, the commission found that the former Minister of Public Works, Antonio Henriques da Silva, was to blame for the technical errors behind the collapse. The report of the commission was handed to the government on 10 January.

The railway network in Angola is largely in a state of disuse, and the government estimates that it will cost $4 billion to repair part of it and to rebuild the rest. According to a Ministry of Transport study it will take eleven years to get the network fully running. The first phase will cost an estimated $300 million. Many of the country‘s bridges have been either destroyed by war or have degenerated with age. However, the government has already begun work on several vital bridges. On 24 January President dos Santos officially reopened the bridge over the Kwanza river which had been closed for almost the past two years. The bridge, south of Luanda, is the main link with the south and centre of the country, and repairs cost $8 million. The bridge over the Cavaco river has been repaired to reopen the route between Lobito and Benguela. In Kwanza Norte province, the bridge over the Zenza river that links Ngonguembo Municipality with the provincial capital Ndalatando has also been repaired. Work is still being carried out on the bridge over the Lui river which links Malange to Luena.

Work is continuing on Angola‘s main capital project, the Capanda dam in Malange province, which will be a major provider of electricity for the country from December next year. When completed the dam will produce 520 megawatts of energy from its hydroelectric turbines. So far the project has cost $1.9 billion, and it is estimated that the total cost will reach $2.95 billion. Restoring equipment destroyed during the war has cost $400 million.

Another major area requiring reconstruction is housing. In Luanda much of the housing is sub-standard. However, some improvements are planned. On 24 January President dos Santos inaugurated a new residential complex of a thousand houses at Panguila, Cacuaco district. The housing will be for families moved from areas needed for drainage. The cost of the housing is put at $7 million, and the houses will have clean water supplied. Luanda‘s desperate sanitation problems are also being addressed in a project costed at $26 million. It is hoped to complete the work by 2004. To encourage private capital‘s role in reconstruction the Angolan government has announced tax reductions on imports of capital goods needed for reconstruction and the rehabilitation of the economy. Under the scheme, new trucks and buses will be exempt from import duties. There are also going to be tax breaks for medium sized investments, and the process for approving private investment is to be speeded up. (ACTSA)

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