The secrets of the Congolese elite's wealth uncovered
By Eric Mwamba “My official salary is less than 750 euros. And yet I can make up to 225,000 euros per month,” says Jean-Pierre Mushizi (40), a respected member of the political elite in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo. Mushizi, who wears a diamond watch and glasses of pure gold, was a counsellor at the Ministry of Economics between 2006 and 2011. The job set him up for life. He doesn’t mind talking, anonymously – Mushizi, like many names in this story, is a pseudonym – about the several ways one can get massively rich in the DRC. The only requirement, it seems, is a high-level job in the government. Once that is in place, all else follows. As long as you don’t fall out with your benefactors, or the President, that is.
Chéri Chérin, La femme double nos joies et triple nos dépenses, ("The woman doubles our joys, and triple our spending")
‘Jean-Pierre Mushizi’, who has worked with three consecutive Ministers of Economy, owns a marble, three-storied villa in Mont-Fleury, one of Kinshasa’s better neighbourhoods, with a car park area full of supercars in front of his house. But he isn‘t actually here that often: a month later we meet him in Sandton, an uptown area in Johannesburg, South Africa, where his family has been living for five years. Again: a marvellous villa, bathing in a sea of green. His three children, who go to an expensive American school, are lounging at the pool.
The Mushizi family is but one of hundreds of families of Congolese elite dollar millionaires, who are not bothered by the lack of functioning schools, hospitals, roads and services like electricity in the country they govern. They simply live elsewhere, most of the time: somewhere where there are international schools for the kids, vast shopping centres, and proper public services. That way, you can occasionally suffer, without giving it too much thought, the pot-holed roads of Kinshasa. Or the DRC’s average per capita income of 150 euros per year (among the lowest in the world) or the fact that you (well, no, not you, everybody else) have to pay cash for every measly public service you get, be it at the post office, the police station, the primary school or the ministries. The civil servants in the lower regions, after all (and again, unlike you) often don’t even get their formal salaries.
Stopping good governance at all costs
‘Mushizi’ candidly explains how he and his fellow elite members get richer and richer all the time. It all starts with your high-level government job, he says. The rest mainly consists of blocking any efforts to improve governance. If accounts and transactions would be checked, and if the checking would lead to measures to stop improper enrichment, and if these measures would be implemented, a lot of people would lose their villas in Mont Fleury and abroad. “Most ministers and directors of state companies are against good governance reforms. Sometimes the council of ministers, under pressure from Western partners, embarks on programmes to improve governance. But once that happens, bribes are quickly dished out to thwart those plans,” he says.
As an example, he cites a case where an assistant of another minister offered him 110,000 euros to stop a good governance monitoring project. “I had it raised to 520,000,” he says. A Congolese official of the World Bank confirms that that is what happens. “We had started a computerisation project of public expenses in order to reduce corruption. But the project could not be executed, because the people who were capitalising on the existing system didn’t want it to.” Suddenly, nobody was implementing the project. Our official knows what happened: they were bribed.
For this very reason, it is practically impossible even to find out how many people work for the different ministries in the DR Congo. Multiple attempts to do so, often financed by other countries, have come to nought. There will always be someone who manages to thwart a waterproof count in order to capitalise on the confusion by keeping part of the paid out salaries for himself.
Never got that money
Another strategy is to undersell and collect under the table. The money that the governmental elite pockets comes from all kinds of development aid, the jumble of formal and informal taxes, lots of government services charges and the money flows that the natural resources – which Congo has in abundance – generate. The way to pocket that money is simple: one simply declares a received amount much lower than what was actually received. For example, reports by the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (EITI), which lists the amounts of taxes paid by extractive companies, show that both in 2008 and in 2009 the companies stated having paid a much higher amount in taxes than what the different government services claimed to have received.