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Energy Row in Senegal Threatens Anti-Corruption Progress

Senegal’s Ministry of Justice has launched an inquiry into how the country’s energy contracts were allocated after the BBC published an investigation alleging that the president’s brother was implicated in a suspicious energy deal linked to gas fields off the country’s west coast. President Macky Sall has said that he’s keen for the truth to be ‘re-established’ and has suggested that the reports are an attempt to ‘destabilise’ the country and oust the incumbent government.

The allegations have energized Sall’s administration, especially as the president originally came to power vowing to root out corruption. With the scandal landing so close to home, it will be a watershed moment for the Senegalese government’s efforts to boost the powers of the judiciary.

Who’s cashing in on Senegal’s natural resources?

The prospect of tapping into a stream of income from vast underground energy reserves represents the promise of lasting prosperity to the citizens of an impoverished nation like Senegal. Once harnessed, the offshore oil and gas fields are expected to deliver up to 50 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of gas – as much as some of the largest comparable gas developments in past years in Australia and Egypt.

Which is why the allocation of contracts became such a political hot potato. The origins of the current accusations of corruption date back to the early 2010s, when a company with no track record in the industry was awarded a licence to explore two blocks by then-president Abdoulaye Wade. The decision sparked protests, prompting newly elected president Macky Sall to approve an urgent investigation. However, cancelling the contract would have been illegal and could have seen Senegal dragged before international tribunals. As a result, the contract was subsequently ratified, and the exploration rights passed to the Timis Corporation. BBC Panorama and Africa Eyeclaim to have evidence that shows the president’s brother, Aliou Sall, was employed by the Timis Corporation from 2012 and that he received a ‘secret bonus’ of £250,000 via his company, Agritrans, in 2014. Aliou Sall has denied receiving any such payment and has labelled the BBC’s report ‘totally false’.

Perhaps more worryingly, documents obtained during the BBC investigation show that a schedule of ‘royalty payments’ worth between $9bn and $12bn is due to be funnelled to the Timis Corporation over the next 40 years under the terms of BP’s 2016 acquisition of the block. Geraud Moussarie, head of BP in Senegal, has downplayed the reported royalty figure as ‘so fake and exaggerated that it is complete fantasy’ and has dismissed the suggestion that Senegal is being cheated out of its revenues. Experts have also agreed with this statement, arguing that it’s unlikely for oil companies to pay royalties to other companies.

Senegal’s government is fighting to eradicate corruption

While there is no evidence that any politicians currently in office are implicated in wrongdoing, the allegations nevertheless represent a major stumbling block for a government that was elected on an anti-corruption ticket – particularly as the opposition turns up the heat. This, in spite of the fact that this was a contract that the previous government attributed, before the arrival of Sall to power.

The opposition’s temporary amnesia is particularly detrimental, as President Sall’s anti-corruption record so far has been promising. Substantial progress has been made in the years since his appointment, as can be witnessed by the establishment of an independent body – National Anti-Corruption and Fraud Office (OFNAC) – to make it easier for whistle-blowers to expose malpractice. With the support of the World Bank, the Senegalese government has created a programme designed to squeeze corruption out of the country’s civil service and to promote greater transparency across government agencies. Senegal has also significantly improved its transparency scores since Sall came into office, having been featured this year by Transparency International as among the top improvers. Overall, the country has jumped 27 slots in the global ranking, to 67th in 2018 from 94th in 2012, the year Sall was elected.

The scandal threatens to undermine progress

Unfortunately for the people of Senegal, their government – one of the few among the African nations that has been making progress on anti-corruption issues – is now caught in the crossfire involving the practices of international oil companies.

Though far from perfect, Macky Sall is still regarded as one of the most trusted among the current crop of African leaders: his ambitious Plan for Emerging Senegal (PES), which targeted long-term improvements across key sectors, was a highlight of his first year in office. The plan sets ambitious targets for the structural transformation of the Senegalese economy over two decades with flagship projects in the agriculture, energy and infrastructure sectors. According to the African Development Bank, it’s estimated that the PES has driven an annual economic growth rate higher than 6.9 percent for the three years to 2018, although growth is restricted by the availability of inward investment on the one hand and rapid population expansion on the other.

Having won a second term in February this year, Sall will now be expected to deliver on his promises. It would be a shame to see the country’s stability begin to unravel over the opposition’s recent efforts to highjack the BBC’s reports to its own advantage.

This article does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors or management of EconoTimes.

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