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DRC: Former PM Ponyo implicated in the Bukanga Lonzo scandal

By Jeune Afrique
Posted on Friday, 14 May 2021 17:05

Augustin Matata Ponyo, April 2015 in Kinshasa © FEDERICO SCOPPA/AFP

The DRC’s 'inspection générale des finances' (IGF) has identified several key figures – including Joseph Kabila's former prime minister Augustin Matata Ponyo – involved in the disappearance of more than $205m for the Bukanga Lonzo agroindustrial park project.

After the scandals surrounding the ‘100-Days Programme’, will the Bukanga Lonzo agroindustrial park case go to trial?

Augustin Matata Ponyo, who was the DRC’s prime minister at the time of this project, returned to Kinshasa on the afternoon of 9 May. By doing so, he cut short his stay in Guinea where his consultancy firm, Congo Challenge, has a contract with the presidency.

$205m disappeared

Ponyo, who left Joseph Kabila’s Parti du Peuple pour la Reconstruction et la Démocratie at the beginning of the year, has returned to the DRC. The DRC’s Court of Cassation’s prosecutor has requested that his immunity be lifted so that he can give testimony about how the funds that were allocated to this project, which has fuelled controversy for several years, were used.

The issue came to the fore again after a report by the DRC’s IGF was published on 18 November 2020. According to Jules Alingete Key, the head of this agency attached to the presidency, the state treasury allocated $285m to the Bukanga Lonzo park.

However, according to the IGF’s investigation, only $80m was actually used for the project, including $40m for an electricity station alone. Therefore, according to the IGF, nearly $205m was misappropriated.

Private contracting

This report, which we were able to consult, and the results of this audit lay the blame with several key figures.

The first of these is senator Ponyo, who the IGF described as the “mastermind of this debacle”. In particular, it blames him for having chosen Africom Commodities to implement, develop and manage this project. This was not seen as a wise decision due to the fact that, according to the report, this company had “only been in existence for three years prior to the signing of this management contract”.

The IGF said that the company should not have been picked, as it had “insufficient experience”. It also points out that the procedure for awarding the contract, which was ad hoc, was not authorised by the DRC’s direction générale du contrôle des marchés publics.

It also accused Ponyo of having paid Desticlox, which the IGF says is a front company for Africom, $510,883 in management fees, even though the project was entrusted to Africom.

The IGF points out in its report that $7.9m was spent on the Ultimate Building Machine. This construction equipment was sold by MIC Industries, which Africom had not listed as one of its suppliers.

The IGF also accuses Ponyo of “culpable negligence”, as he did not “ensure [the existence] of regulatory mechanisms and see to it that the partner [Africom] would manage them well”. According to the IGF, this led to “opaque project management’ and “over-invoicing for goods and services.” In fact, Africom was the only one who determined the investment needs, placed orders and set prices.

Finally, the results of the audit point to a “culpable failure to put in place mechanisms [designed] to ensure oversight in how funds disbursed by the treasury are used”.

Several members of parliament and a senator

In his response to the IGF, Ponyo said that neither he, nor his office, had been involved in the management of the project’s funds. He also stated that only Africom had been responsible for the project’s technical and financial execution, on the basis of the contract that it had signed with the ministries of agriculture, parastatals, industry and finance.

However, the IGF states that Ponyo was involved throughout the project and that his office was “the centre of commitment for all expenditures”. The former prime minister says that the finance ministry managed the funds.

The IGF’s report also names Ida Kamonji Naserwa, who was Ponyo’s adviser at the time and director-general of Parcagri, the park development and management company created as part of the project.

The parliamentarian, who may also have her immunity lifted, assured the IGF that as an adviser to the prime minister, “she had no power to influence decisions relating to the project.” Naserwa also stated that Ponyo had threatened to fire her when she told him that she was finding it difficult to manage the park.

“Guilty abstention”

However, the report reproaches her for “culpable abstention and for not either formally denouncing the project’s chaotic management or resigning from her position as Parcagri’s director”.

Other people that the report mentions include Louise Munga Mesozi, the honorary parastatals minister, Matondo Mbungu, director-general of the coordination office in charge of electrifying the park, the AEE Power company and Patrice Kitebi, a former finance minister. According to the IGF, more than $40m were disbursed to AEE Power, even though the contract amount was $37m.

Africom, and by extension its director Christo Grobler, is therefore accused of over-invoicing and breach of trust for not having put in place services to ensure the proper management of funds. For its part, Desticlox is suspected of acting as a front company for Africom.

Finally, two accountants are also mentioned in the report. These are Mbienga Kayengi and Lumbu Kiala, who is currently a member of parliament.

Police investigation

Towards the end of its report, the IGF states that several pieces of equipment were looted from the site, including more than 30 tractors, several generators and more than 10 jeeps. The report said that these looted goods are being stored at Vital Kamerhe’s farm and Kitebi’s neighbouring farm. Kamerhe is in jail after a court found him guilty in a case from the 100-Days Programme.

Back in Kinshasa, Ponyo criticised this report, saying that it is “full of lies” and that it has no legal basis. According to a police investigation, the conclusions of this report, which we were able to examine, were handed over to the court of cassation’s public prosecutor’s office on 25 February.

They state that “no payment for the park’s activities went through the prime minister’s office, everything was sent directly to Africom, either through the front company or by bank transfer”.

The police report also says it found “no evidence of any retrocession of payment from Africom to the prime minister’s office.”

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