A United Nations human rights expert urged authorities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to undertake an audit of the country’s debt as part of a broader effort to improve transparency and accountability in the impoverished nation’s public sector.
Cephas Lumina, the UN Independent Expert on foreign debt and human rights, wrapped up a 10-day fact-finding visit to the DRC in which he assessed the Congolese Government’s capacity to boost economic development and uphold human rights standards despite the country’s external debts.
“The Government needs a clear picture of the country’s debt burden to lay the foundation for a transparent and effective public debt management system and avoid a renewed build-up of unsustainable debt in the future,” he said in a statement issued in Kinshasa, the capital, UN News Service.
Last year the DRC qualified for debt relief after meeting criteria under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries’ (HIPC) initiative, which was launched by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank in the mid-1990s with the aim of ensuring no country faces a debt burden that it cannot manage.
The DRC is now expected to have up to 80 per cent of its external debt of US$13 billion cancelled.
“I commend the Government for implementing policies that have led to a budget surplus this year and for attaining the completion point under the HIPC initiative,” said Lumina. “These achievements will enable the authorities to improve the delivery of human rights-related basic social services, such as water, sanitation, education, health and housing.”
But he stressed that sustainable development will not be possible in the DRC unless three key challenges are resolved: widespread corruption, a narrow base of public revenue, and the fragile security situation in many areas, particularly the east.
Lumina also voiced concern about the claims of so-called vulture funds, which exploit poor countries by acquiring defaulted sovereign debt at deeply discounted prices and then seeking repayment of the full debt through either litigation, the seizure of assets or political pressure.
The current value of vulture fund claims in the DRC has been estimated at $400 million.
In his statement the Independent Expert, who has been in the post since 2008, urged the Government to ensure that the rewards from any economic progress, including from the expected debt relief, are shared equitably. Lumina serves in an independent and unpaid capacity and reports to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.