African business, politics and lifestyle
A question of scale
For days now Britons have been regaled with newspaper stories detailing the dubious expense claims of their Members of Parliament.
The Honourable Members, it seems, have been charging for everything from a few thousand pounds for clearing a moat to a few pence for a new bath plug. An outraged nation has risen almost as one to denounce its greedy lawmakers.
But while the various schemes devised by the members of the Mother of Parliaments are ingenious in the way they exploit the generous rules laid down by the “Fees Office” of the House of Commons, they do lack a certain scale.
When it comes to separating the state from its money, politicians in Africa, for example, show none of the inhibitions of their British colleagues.
In Nigeria this month two senior lawmakers investigating corruption in the power sector were detained in connection with a scam involving electricity contracts. How much money involved? $41 million.
In March, Nigerian police arrested a former state governor who is under investigation for misappropriation of funds totalling $170 million.
Enormous sums of money compared with the thousands of pounds involved in Britain, but still small change compared to the billions stolen by Zaire’s Mobutu Sese Seko and Nigeria’s Sani Abacha.
It’s still not clear what the consequences of the British case will be.
But perhaps there are signs that African politicians cannot always rely on a blind eye being turned on their financial affairs.
The prosecutor’s office in Paris is trying to block an investigation into corruption allegations against three African presidents who have amassed luxury homes and fleets of cars in France.
Omar Bongo of Gabon, Denis Sassou-Nguesso of Congo and Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea (who all deny wrongdoing) may never appear in a French court.
But anti-graft campaigners argue that the case does at least mean that the leaders’ usually secret financial affairs are now being discussed in public.