DRCongo graft ruling does not convince all

Vital Kamerhe 61, has been in custody since April 8.
Vital Kamerhe 61, has been in custody since April 8.
Image: REUTERS/ BAZ RATNER

The conviction of a top presidential aide in the DR Congo has many observers wondering if this represents a new chapter in the country's politics or just a political score being settled.

Vital Kamerhe, who served as the president's chief of staff, was sentenced by a Kinshasa court on Saturday to 20 years hard labour for diverting more than $50 million of public funds.

It was the first time someone considered untouchable in Congolese political life was tried and convicted for corruption.

Kamerhe, 61, was also an ally of former president Joseph Kabila, and appears to be a test case following DR Congo President Felix Tshisekedi's pledge to clean up a system considered as lucrative as a career in industry or finance.

Kamerhe's conviction on charges that he skimmed off money earmarked for building 1,500 social housing units nonetheless failed to convince everybody familiar with the system.

“It is too soon to say if this is serious or not,” the National Episcopal Conference of the Congo said Sunday.

Donation Nshole, spokesman for the influential religious body, said only time would tell if the trial was aimed at “resolving a political issue or if it is really a new dynamic.”

Kamerhe insists he has been the victim of a “political trial” that could prevent him from running for president in 2023.

His defence team condemned the sentence, denouncing a “show trial” and what they consider the unseemly speed of the proceedings against him.

The trial took place from May 11 to June 20, just a month after he was taken into custody on April 8.

While anti-corruption group Unis welcomed Saturday's ruling as “a jolt for the rule of law”, it said other key players including a bank had not been brought to justice.

Floribert Anzulini of the citizens' movement Filimbi, also pointed the finger at a bank at the heart of the case, arguing: “Some key players in the mechanisms for misappropriation appear to have been spared.”

Unis noted that similar trials were taking place at the moment, with a ruling in one due on Tuesday that could see two defendants face up to 15 years in prison.

DRC president Felix Tshisekedi, left, successor to former DRC president Joseph Kabila, right, has pledged to give an effective and determined fight against corruption.
DRC president Felix Tshisekedi, left, successor to former DRC president Joseph Kabila, right, has pledged to give an effective and determined fight against corruption.
Image: Reuters TV via REUTERS

Systemic corruption

This year, the Democratic Republic of Congo placed 168 out of 180 countries on Transparency International's transparency perception index.

Politics is “a business sector for getting rich”, said Congolese economy professor Justin Kankwenda Mbaya.

“Politics is seen and considered by Congolese politicians the same as investing or doing business,” he added.

But Tshisekedi pledged in his inaugural speech in January 2019 that he would lead “an effective and determined fight against corruption”.

Many partners, including the United States, have supported that effort.

The country of 80 million sits on enormous natural resources but most of the population lives in miserable conditions.

Magistrates say they are ready to get to work, but an investigation into suspected embezzlement of $15 million was presented to the prosecutors office last September without result.

Head of the magistrates' trade union Edmond Isofa insists that now, “all state services are cooperating with judicial authorities.”

But whistleblower Jean-Jacques Lumumba is not convinced.

“You can't say we are fighting corruption and still see millions sloshing around in cash, it's like preaching in the desert.

“We have seen this even within the presidency,” he alleged. — AFP



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