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Act now to ensure post-polls stability, ICG says

The International Crisis Group - ICG logo.
ICG

The international community and the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo must put in place measures to ensure stability after general elections scheduled for 30 July, an official of the International Crisis Group (ICG) said on Friday.

"The elections could destabilise the DRC unless both the government and the international community invest more in addressing issues such as corruption in the country's administration and putting in place an accountable political system," Jason Stearns, a senior ICG analyst, said at a news briefing in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.

Stearns's briefing came a day after the ICG released its latest report on the DRC, entitled "Escaping the Conflict Trap in the Congo". The report examines the country's economic, social and political situation in the run-up to the elections, the first multi-party polls since 1960.

"As long as principal access to resources is through public office, strong men will use any means necessary - including insurrection - to gain public office," Stearns said. "Given the weakness of state institutions, in particular the security forces, courts and parliament, those who lose the elections are likely to prompt another conflict in the next few years if action is not taken now."

He added: "The poll will create a significant class of disenfranchised politicians and former warlords tempted to take advantage of state weakness and launch new insurgencies."

The general elections are aimed at ending years of civil strife in the DRC, one of Africa's largest countries, which has experienced continued unrest in the east despite a peace agreement in 2002 that saw the establishment of an all-inclusive transitional government.

Stearns said corruption had led to huge revenue losses, which had contributed to the failure of state institutions. "Almost a quarter of Congo's budget, about [US $300 million] is not accounted for every year; there are no checks and balances to ensure the proper accounting for this amount in the country's budget," he said.

The large numbers of ghost soldiers and state employees exacerbated the revenue losses, Stearns said. He said the army had an estimated 360,000 soldiers, a third of whom were non-existent.

"How many ghost workers are there among the country's 600,000 state workers?" he said.

The ICG report makes several recommendations that should be implemented to avoid renewed conflict after the elections. It suggests donor support must focus on strengthening state institutions to promote accountability; adequate funding should be provided for parliament and the judiciary to be able to oversee the executive; and the legislature must set up a permanent committee to review mining contracts and deals found to be unfavourable altered or cancelled.

"The international community has spend over $400 million to help the Congolese elect a democratic parliament," Caty Clement, ICG's Central Africa project director, said in a statement issued to accompany the release of the report.

"Now it must ensure this institution and its various commissions are given the necessary tools and resources to effectively fulfil its oversight function," Clement said.

The ICG urged the incoming government to fund parliamentary commissions adequately; to strengthen the judiciary by supporting legislation to guarantee the independence of the courts; and to complete a census to get ghost officials off payrolls and to raise civil servants’ salaries.

The government must also create a national programme in support of good governance. The ICG said an anti-corruption tsar appointed by the president should head such a programme.

Donors should put together a five-year plan, based on the new government's anticipated Poverty Reduction Strategy Plan and the United Nations Development Programme's Congo Action Plan that makes a substantial funding increase conditional on greater accountability and reduced corruption.

According to the ICG, "A complete overhaul of the approach to good governance is needed after the elections, with much greater focus on strengthening institutions, especially parliament and courts."

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