In an exclusive interview with Africanews, Congo’s communications minister Thierry Moungalla highlighted the government’s efforts to solve the country’s pressing issues including electricity shortages, negotiations with the IMF and corruption allegations against the First Family. He also reiterated the government’s commitment to championing media freedom and excellence in the country, including at Africanews.
Africanews: The President of the Republic of Congo has inaugurated a turbine of the Congo Power Plant here in Pointe Noire. In a country like yours, with a significant hydroelectric potential, how do you explain the deficit in electricity production and the recurrent load shedding in the cities of Pointe-Noire and Brazzaville?
Thierry Moungalla: As you know, this is a phenomenon that, unfortunately, is quite common in Africa. There are several factors that explain the deficit in electricity supply in our capitals, cities and urban areas. So, the overall explanation is that populations are growing faster than the infrastructure in the cities. A city like Pointe-Noire today has almost 1 million, 1.5 million inhabitants. The same applies to Brazzaville. These are cities that, a few decades ago, only had a few tens of thousands of people. This is the first phenomenon and the first explanation.
The second explanation is that, because of this increase in demand, there is a need to solve both the problem of electricity production and the problem of transmitting the generated electricity to homes for consumption. The public operators who are responsible for this service, unfortunately, are often faced with economic and financial difficulties which have historically prevented them from modernising the system. These challenges are the reason we are making slow progress in solving this challenge.
Africanews: In 2016, Mr. Minister, the President of the Republic pledged to complete the construction of the Sounda dam. What’s the status of this project?
Thierry Moungalla: There is always a time lag between political decision-making, technical studies and the actual implementation of the project. We are now at the technical phases which must be followed by financing phases so that we can move towards the implementation of the project.
Africanews: Congo-Brazzaville has recently made news headlines over its relations with the International Monetary Fund. According to press reports, the last visit of the Monetary Fund in connection with the release of the second phase of aid was not conclusive. What’s the government’s explanation?
Thierry Moungalla: Congo has normal relations with the IMF and all the donors and international partners who support its economic recovery program. Congo is not the not only country pursuing such programs, and the IMF, follows the same procedures, whether with Congo or other countries. It is going through a number of steps that are more or less in the right direction. While there are delays that may be linked to this or that event, this or that negotiation, there is nothing, from a Congolese point of view, that is significantly different from what has happened in other countries.
I will now share more specific technical updates. Basically, there are two types of issues that the government is pursuing with the IMF. The first is the implementation of governance reform that includes fighting corruption. The government through parliament has passed legislation, and is currently implementing the recruitment process for the High Authority for the Fight against Corruption. This is one of the pivotal and totally independent bodies that should enable the government, the State, the public authorities in general to improve governance, because ‘using the rod’ is often the surest way of dealing with misconduct.
Africanews: Sections of the media, particularly in France have claimed that there was a hidden debt that is the real reason for the delay in disbursement of the second installment of the IMF package. How true is this claim?
Thierry Moungalla: There are some media channels and NGOs that have engaged in a guerrilla warfare against Congo even before we went to the board of directors last June. They have tried to sabotage the process at every stage. Congo is on a programme and is trying to implement all the commitments it has made to the international financial community, particularly the IMF. The rest is noise that does not affect the implementation of the programme between the Congo and the International Monetary Fund.
Africanews: Mr. Minister of Communication, let us come to the issue of “ill-gotten wealth”. A few days ago, French newspapers reported on the indictment by the French National Financial Prosecutor’s Office of the son of the President of the Republic of Congo, Denis Christel Sassou N’Guesso. As Minister of Communication, what is your comment?
Thierry Moungalla: So Agence France Presse issued a press release a few days ago, which highlights an alarming lack of ethics. They said, “A few days ago, we broadcast the news that the son of the President of the Republic of Congo is under indictment. But it is because a lawyer told us so. The information turned out to be false, so we delete our tweet”. They offered no apologies, no explanations for this mishap. This is one of the cases that reinforces my belief that the media must review its methods.
I can tell you that, for years, we have been faced with this cabal, which is led by these NGOs whose aim is ultimately to humiliate the authorities in Congo, Gabon and Equatorial Guinea. We are also being confronted by certain French judges who, in an absolutely grotesque and illegal manner, extend their jurisdiction over cases that do not concern the French Republic. I do not believe there is any French taxpayer who is interested in these cases. The French State is not prejudiced. These NGOs have no justifiable interests in these cases and there is no universal jurisdiction to extend or claim for the judges who are now acting on these cases.
Africanews: A few weeks ago, you reassured the employees of Africanews, our channel, about their future amidst press reports announcing the closure of that channel. What is the latest update on this matter?
Thierry Moungalla: As you know, you are in Pointe-Noire, because about five years ago, an agreement was reached between the Euronews channel, which is your parent company, and the Congolese authorities. It is within this framework that this pan-African project that is close to our hearts has been executed and implemented since then. This project seeks to give an African perspective to news from the continent and across the globe.
Moreover, I am happy to find that the staff are essentially African. I also note, and you can testify to this, that your editorial line is totally independent of the Congolese authorities and of any other governments. I can say this without doubt because for example, after nearly five years of being the communications minister, this is the first time that you have done honored me with an interview on the channel. This for me proves that the Congolese government is allowing the channel to grow, develop and reach its audience.
We were informed a few months ago of the Euronews management’s desire to sell the media for reasons that I will not explain here. For reasons that I also can’t delve into here, they later abandoned the proposed sale. As we speak, there was a risk that the channel would be closed. I solemnly confirm to you that we, the Congolese government, the country in which the channel is hosted, do not want to see the channel closed.
Discussions have been initiated with your principal shareholder. We are optimistic that these discussions will guarantee the continuity of the channel under the same conditions, and perhaps even improve both the content and the even more ambitious objectives that were set at the outset.
I would like to add a point that I believe to be essential and which I am particularly keen on as the minister in charge of the media. I consider that your project, that of Africanews, is a pan-African project. This pan-African project is run by young professionals, you! Technicians, journalists, Congolese or from elsewhere, from all over Africa. You are professionals who believed in this project. You have made personal and professional sacrifices to come here. It would seem unfair to me that a lack of willingness on both sides to continue the project prejudices you, ends the project itself and in one way or the other traumatises the staff.
Well, that’s what we are working on with the principal shareholder. We think the project is worth continuing.
Africanews: In Pointe-Noire?
Thierry Moungalla: Listen, in Pointe-Noire, for now because you are in Pointe-Noire. But the ideal situation would be that at some point in time, you come to the political capital. It seems to me that a news channel should be in the political capital rather than the economic capital. But in Congo in any case.