Sizing up the Congolese legislative apparatus

There has been a lot of noise in Katanga over the past few weeks, as members of the provincial assembly have asked for the resignation of several members of the provincial assembly, leading to acrimonious debate and an attack by a band of youths against one of the members of the assembly. At the same time, members of the provincial assembly in North Kivu have also continued to push for the resignation of Governor Julien Paluku, who has continued to hang on by the hair of his chinny chin.

Which prompts me to ask: how successful have these assemblies been in holding the provincial leaders accountable?

It’s a mixed bag. You often hear political analysts saying that the provincial institutions contain probably the most pro-active and scrupulous bunch of politicians in the country, possible because they are so close to their voters. Perhaps. But it was also these jokers who allowed themselves to be bribed to the gills to elect senators and governors and senators in 2007 (those elections are indirect by the provincial assemblies) who had little popularity in the province – thus the MLC, which had majorities in 2/3 provinces was only able to elect one governor, and South Kivu elected two RCD senators (well, one RCD plus the daughter of the RCD’s main arms dealer).

Anyway, here’s a brief summary of the tug-o-war in the various provincial assemblies. I think it says more about the lack of stability and discipline within the various political parties than necessarily the efficiency of the checks and balances:

  • South Kivu: Governor Chibalonza was impeached in 2008, then put back in by the Supreme Court, then removed by his PPRD party (Kabila’s main party). Since then, Leonce Mudherwa has been the head of the province, but now some MPs are asking for him to resign due to mismanagement. Also, Chibalonza and several of his ministers were accused of stealing $441,000 in “severance pay” when they were impeached. Some of them admitted, claiming they didn’t know they couldn’t get severance pay, and paid it back.
  • North Kivu: Provincial MPs have tried to impeach Governor Julien Paluku three times, the first time in 2007 for embezzling $372,000 in road taxes, the second time for alleged embezzlement/misallocation of over $8 million of the provincial budget (that was based on an audit they had conducted). Sound arguments, but Paluku has held on.
  • Maniema: In October 2009, provincial MP impeached the vice-governor Pierre Masudi for financial mismanagement and violation of parliamentary rules.
  • Province Orientale: In October 2009, the provincial assembly accused vice-governor Joseph Bangakya of embezzling funds through fraudulent procurement of road building machines. He resigned several days later.
  • Kasai-Oriental: The provincial assembly accused its leadership (three members of the PA’s office) of embezzling around $300,000. The president of the PA Francois Kabala resigned but has never been tried in a court of law.
  • Kasai-Occidental: The provincial assembly impeached Governor Tresor Kapuku in July 2007, but he was soon reinstated by the Supreme Court (which is seen by many to utterly lack independence).
  • Equateur: The provincial assembly impeached Governor Jose Makila for financial mismanagement in January 2009 (they later found that he wasn’t guilty after all); the current governor Jean-Claude Baende has faced serious allegations of embezzlement, as well.
  • Kinshasa: The Governor Andre Kimbuta was accused by several witnesses of ordering the assassination of a provincial MP from the opposition, but the witnesses later retracted their statements (some allege under duress). Kimbuta was also accused by members of his own government to have been involved in the embezzlement of $15 million for road repairs.
  • Katanga: While Governor Moise Katumbi has a firm grip on the province, his provincial assembly has recently been the scene of various conflagrations (see recent blog posting), with MPs accusing firebrand PA president Kyungu wa Kumwanza of disrespect of parliamentary procedures and several members of his office of embezzlement.

In sum: the resignation or impeachment of three governors (one came back), two vice-governors, one PA president, and several provincial ministers. And all of this in just three years. Bandundu appears to be the only province to have avoided these problems.

All of this is definitely a sign that MPs will rabble-rouse when possible. I would refrain, however, from saying this is sign of democratic checks and balances at work – it is, but we have also seen many cases where cases have been brought and then MPs have been bought off – in fact, such accusations are often used as “fond de commerce,” bargaining chips in order to get a piece of the pie. Also, to my knowledge none of the officials who have been impeached have been prosecuted or sentenced for their abuses.