As world famous players from football clubs across Europe gather to take part in the Africa Cup of Nations, Europe's leaders have been urged to take swift action to help combat the rampant corruption and misuse of funds seen in host nation Equatorial Guinea. Campaign groups EG Justice and ONE have joined forces to call on the European Union to quickly adopt robust new rules that would force many of the multinational companies operating in Equatorial Guinea to publish the payments they make to the government for the right to extract oil.
Despite having the highest per-capita income in Africa thanks to its vast reserves of oil, extreme inequality blights Equatorial Guinea. Billions of pounds have been spent on construction projects aimed at impressing foreign visitors and entertaining a small class of local elites, while most of the population live without access to basic services like safe drinking water, quality education or affordable healthcare. Nearly one out of every eight children dies before reaching their fifth birthday.
Tutu Alicante, executive director of EG Justice, a non-governmental organisation focused on improving transparency and good governance in his native Equatorial Guinea, said:
"The government of Equatorial Guinea hopes that the recently completed luxury hotels, golf resorts, and shiny monuments will disguise the grinding poverty that dominates the lives of most people in the oil-rich nation. They must not be allowed to get away with this deception.
"Government secrecy allows officials in Equatorial Guinea to spend money according to their whims. The government spent 580 million Euros on Sipopo, a luxury resort with a private golf course. At least 13 presidential palaces have been or are being constructed in ten cities across the country, a rate of one palace for every 54,000 people in this country. This shows a shocking disregard for the needs of the people in Equatorial Guinea."
The European Union has proposed legislation requiring oil, gas, mining and forestry companies to publish all the payments they make to governments like that of Equatorial Guinea. The UK has supported the European law so far, but it needs to play a vocal role in Brussels to counteract fierce lobbying from oil companies determined to maintain the secrecy status quo.
Adrian Lovett, Europe Director for ONE, the campaign group set up by long-time activist and U2 frontman Bono to help fight poverty in Africa, said:
"Fans from across Africa and around the world are looking forward to the showcase of African talent on display in the coming weeks. But football is not just about winning. It's about playing by the rules. Equatorial Guinea shows why we need mandatory disclosure laws in Europe that will make public the amount of money a government receives from the sale of its natural resources. Such laws will shine a light on the secrecy that facilitates government corruption and the mismanagement of funds that should be spent to reduce poverty and improve the lives of ordinary people."
Tutu Alicante added:
"Flagrant corruption and government secrecy are robbing the people of Equatorial Guinea of a better future. The European Union should take immediate action and pass transparency laws that will put power back into the hands of ordinary people, where it belongs."
Notes to editors:
1. EG Justice is the leading international non-governmental organization solely dedicated to promoting human rights, the rule of law, transparency, and civic participation in Equatorial Guinea.
2. ONE is a global advocacy and campaigning organisation backed by more than 2.5 million people from around the world dedicated to fighting extreme poverty and preventable disease, particularly in Africa. For more information please visit www.ONE.org.
3. EG Justice and ONE are members of Publish What You Pay, a global coalition of more than 600 civil society organizations in 60 countries that campaigns for transparency in the payment, receipt and management of revenues from the oil, gas and mining industries.
4. Government secrecy enables government officials to embezzle state funds for personal use. In September 2011, French authorities seized 11 "supercars" from an Obiang family residence in a chic neighborhood in Paris as part of an ongoing investigation into corruption by President Obiang's eldest son and potential political heir, Teodoro Nguema, who serves as the country's Minister of Agriculture and Forestry. The U.S. government has filed two forfeiture complaints against Teodoro Nguema, seeking to seize more than $70 million of assets, including a seaside mansion, private jet, and more than $3 million of Michael Jackson memorabilia, including his "Bad Tour" glove.