Corruption is Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi’s latest headache following his takeover from Joseph Kabila in January last year.
Last week, the President authorised the General Inspectorate of Finance to track down “mafia networks’ involved in the theft of public money.
The Democratic Republic of Congo has been fighting Ebola and Covid-19 crises and Mr Tshisekedi says he is now dealing with “disappearing public funds”.
Some economists have cited the Covid-19 pandemic in explaining the financial crisis but DR Congo has perennially been one of the most corrupt countries in Africa.
The 2019 Transparency Corruption Index, for example, puts the country at position 168 out of the 198 polled across the world.
President Tshisekedi recently told his Council of Ministers that a number of senior officials in his government have been targeting public coffers.
Last year, his national budget was $11 billion, more than double what his predecessor’s budget was in 2018 - $5.9 billion.
With a 63.2 per cent rise in budgetary allocations, the President’s idea has been to put more money into infrastructure that had stalled or never existed, but corruption targeted the very money.
Some of the money was to fund a project meant to improve certain amenities in the first 100 days.
But then Chief of Staff Vital Kamerhe was charged with theft of $50 million meant for the project. In June, Mr Kamerhe was jailed for 20 years, although his supporters protest to date.
Prosecutions and convictions are rare in the DRC yet corruption allegations predate the current administration
Prime Minister Sylvestre Ilunga said “the scarcity of public resources is the result, among other things, of the ineffectiveness of the system to fight fraud and corruption resulting from an obsolete and non-computerised system, as well as the lack of a tax culture”.
Officials reportedly collude to dodge taxes, overprice projects or simply work with private investors to take kickbacks.
Sometimes, senior government officials register companies but claim tax exemptions even when the services offered are not included in the exemptions.
They have even monetised their signatures, according to information from the General Inspectorate of Finance.
“More than 40 per cent of public revenue goes to tax exemptions and reductions,” the inspectorate said in a statement.
“This clearly means that most of the State's revenue is no longer collected because of the rights acquired by thousands of operators, who exclude entire operations from their contribution to the national effort.”
According to figures from the Ministry of the Budget, the number of exemptions granted is excessive and their rationalisation will be the first problem.
For example, the exempted value in the first quarter represents 45.75 per cent of the imported value. It was 43.14 per cent at the same period in 2019.
As for the compensations granted, the balance to be compensated in the first quarter amounted to 188 billion Congolese francs ($96 million).
Last week, President Tshisekedi ordered the inspectorate to carry out “a rigorous control of the exemptions granted and to examine conformity to the law.
It will also investigate the granting of procedures and the possible connection with “mafia networks of fraud by interposed administrations”.
Inspectorate head Jules Alingete says it will rapidly deploy its control network.