Call for oil revenues to improve living standards in Congo

Congo, which is heavily dependent on revenue from the oil industry, has been declared as “conforming to” a global standard that aims to ensure transparency of payments for natural resources; NGOs hope the announcement will improve the lives of the poor.

More than half the country’s 3.6 million people live below the poverty line.

The Initiative for Transparency in the Extractive Industries (EITI), adopted by G8 countries in 2003, aims to improve the transparency of the management of mineral resources. It brings together, in a single structure, governments, oil companies, international financial institutions and NGOs.

"Being validated and found to comply with the EITI means Congo ticked 21 boxes, including membership of EITI, implying a commitment to publish all necessary information relating to the management of our industries, especially oil, our primary export resource," Florent Michel Okoko, coordinator of EITI in Congo, told IRIN.

Oil accounts for 80 to 90 percent of Congo’s exports and budget revenues.

EITI covers both solid and liquid mines. However "at this stage, we are focusing on the oil industry because, in terms of solid mines [iron ore mining in the southwest], we are still at the stage of prospecting. In the relatively near future, we will also integrate solid mines," said Okoko.

Congo’s achievement of compliance has not come overnight: The country became associated with EITI in 2004, but oil has remained a sticking point.

“However, since 2011 the government seems to have made an effort because from then on, there is an 80 to 90 percent overlap between revenues that were reported by oil companies and those said to have been seen by the Treasury,” Christian Mounzéo, of the Congolese organization Publish What You Pay (PWYP), told IRIN.

Much-needed revenues

Congolese civil society groups insist that such revenue should benefit the lives of all Congolese citizens.

"Being consistent with EITI is not an end in itself. Instead, the government should mandate the equitable distribution of [revenue from] petroleum, mining and gas products. The Congolese want to touch and taste the income of its oil daily,” Brice Mackosso, secretary-general of the Diocesan Commission for Justice and Peace (CJP), told IRIN.

Officially, annual income from oil exports is around US$6 billion.

"These oil revenues are currently very, very important, so it is time for the average Congolese to feel them in terms of better access to education, water, electricity and health," said Mackosso.

According to the most recent Demographic Health Survey (2007), 47 percent of the population had access to water in urban areas, and 11 percent in rural areas. The figures for electricity were 45 and 6 percent respectively.

Literacy rates, which used to be around 100 percent in the 1980s, dropped to 80 percent in 2010 due to the civil war, according to the UN Development Programme (UNDP). UNDP’s Human Development Index says life expectancy is 55.

Officially 24 to 30 percent of the population under 30 is unemployed, according to 2011 World Bank estimates.

Between February and April 2013, at least 9,500 state school teachers went on strike to demand a 60 percent pay increase. "Teachers have expressed aloud what all Congolese think to themselves. In any case the oil money is not kept in Congo, but in tax havens," Elo Dacy, a member of the opposition Patriotic Union for National Renewal (UPRN), told IRIN.