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Posted on Monday, 30 September 2013 17:29

Democratic Republic of Congo: Elections are a luxury item - Prime Minister

By Gregory Mthembu-Salter in Kinshasa

Prime minister since May 2012, Matata Ponyo sees himself as a reformer: will his pragmatism pay off? Photo©AFPPrime Minister Augustin Matata Ponyo Mapon talks candidly to The Africa Report about democracy, the country's recent economic performance and negotiations with the M23 rebels.

The Africa Report: President Joseph Kabila has promised political consultations, but the opposition say that the process is already blocked.

Augustin Matata Ponyo Mapon: The political consultations were initiated by the president, but he has asked the President of the National Assembly, Aubin Minaku, to make pre-consultations with the political forces. A report has been sent to the president, and we anticipate that consultations will get going next month, I think.

"We have only had a few years of the democratic process. You cannot expect perfection"

Could things go as in 1991, when the participants declared the national political consultations sovereign?

No. Back then, there was not a credible constitution, but today we have one approved by referendum. Then, deputies to the National Assembly were not elected. Today, they are. There was not an elected president. Today, there is. So Congolese institutions today rest upon a democratic base. There are inadequacies in the electoral process, but in general we can say that Congolese institutions are getting on.

Even though the results of those elections are contested?

They are contested by only one party. And results are contested everywhere, even in France, in the United States.

We are all waiting for the long-delayed provincial and local elections.

Elections are very expensive. The presidential and parliamentary elections of 2011 cost the public treasury $400m. With $400m, how many schools can we build? How many roads can we build?

Are elections too expensive for the Democratic Republic of Congo?

Yes. Elections are a luxury item. For democracy, yes, they are indispensable. But in terms of cost, they are a luxury.

Since democracy is so well grounded, can you give us the assurance that in 2016, constitutional term limits will be respected?

President Kabila is a democrat. We have to recognise that. This is a country where you can turn on the TV and see people mocking the president or me as prime minister. People can attack me in the National Assembly. Compared to most of the sub-region, it's like night and day. People forget that. We have had only a few years of the democratic process. You cannot expect perfection.

You were the subject of a motion of censure by the parliament in April. I hear that their real grievance was that you refused to grant them a salary increase from $8,000 to $13,000 per month.

When you have the majority of civil servants and soldiers getting $80-85 per month, how can you easily give $13,000 to someone else? They are demanding results from me. Build schools! Build roads! Build hospitals! Fund agriculture! Agriculture is vital: 70% of Congolese live from the sector. How can I do this if I have to spend all my budget on salaries? No. I have had to resist. And I have received the support of the head of state. He has really showed his good faith in supporting good governance, reforms, the struggle against corruption [...].The president is supporting me in my reform drive.

If there is an anti-corruption drive, where are the arrests? Where are the cases before the courts?

In Europe or America, can the prime minister interfere in the ju- dicial process? No, and I cannot either. I cannot arrest anyone.

Are you satisfied with the pace of reforms or have you encountered obstacles that you had not anticipated?

You have seen how the River Congo flows. When you launch reforms, it is as if you are in a canoe paddling against its current. If you stop paddling, you will reverse direction immediately. There is a great deal of resistance. We have a political system where people collect rents [...]. When you turn off the tap, all those rent collectors are unhappy. Another issue is that at certain points you encounter rapids. Events can carry you off. Navigation becomes very dangerous. Reforms eat up the reformers.

Can you be eaten? Are we in rapids?

No, but at any moment we could be.

Last year you clashed with Gécamines chairman Albert Yuma over Gécamines' failure to publish a controversial mining contract. It led to the suspension of the International Monetary Fund's (IMF) funding to the DRC in December 2012. Would you say you were in rapids then?

[Laughs] The water was flowing at high pressure but we didn't end up in the rapids, again because of the support of the head of state. And now the problem has been resolved, totally. So now we are waiting for the IMF. They have told us that they are ready to start a new programme. We are looking at when to invite the fund for preliminary discussions.

Our economic performance, despite the lack of a fund programme, is the strongest since the 1960s. We have an inflation rate from January to the present of just 0.3%. We will register 8.3% real GDP [gross domestic product] growth this year. That makes us number five on the continent. This country is on the move. This has happened not because of an IMF programme but because of our political will. We have made enormous progress in stabilising the macroeconomy, public finances and financing education, health and agriculture.

In the east, there are the Kampala talks between the M23 rebels and the government, the United Nations (UN) intervention force and [UN special envoy] Mary Robinson. Are we talking, are we fighting or are we waiting for Robinson?

All these approaches must run together. But the intervention brigade is there to impose peace, including against M23. MONUSCO [Mission de l'Organisation des Nations Unies pour la Stabilisation en République Démocratique du Congo] is already there to maintain the peace. This is an intervention force.

Has Rwanda stopped supporting M23?

No.

Are there Rwandan soldiers in the DRC?

Sometimes. The UN Group of Experts is working on this. I am sure their report will be clear on the matter. The DRC is not giving arms to M23. So who is?

I have often heard your government denouncing Rwanda, but I have never heard it denounce Uganda. There you are, in Kampala.

Uganda's support is marginal, but Rwanda's support is the most important. After Goma fell, MONUSCO produced a report with satellite images that showed how the Rwandan troops attacked. It was not M23. It was the Rwandans who took Goma.●



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