An unprecedented parliamentary inquiry commission in the history of Mauritania has brought to light a scenario of alleged widespread corruption in the Government of this country between 2009 and 2019, that is, during the 10-year term of former President Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz. Among the most striking cases is the alleged attempt by the head of state to give an island from the Banco de Arguin National Park to the then Emir of Qatar. The political earthquake caused by the commission's report has been of such depth that it has led to the resignation, last Thursday, of the prime minister and his entire government, many of whose members were part of the Administration in the previous regime.
The report of the Parliamentary Investigation Commission (CEP, according to its French acronym) consists of 900 pages and was delivered to the National Assembly on July 26. Prepared by eight deputies, it analyzes in great detail up to 12 cases of alleged corruption, ranging from irregular contracts with Chinese companies to the opaque sale of public land to the disastrous management of state companies. Over 150 sessions, three former prime ministers, 34 ministers, eight of them current, 18 directors of state-owned companies, and numerous senior government officials were questioned. Abdelaziz himself was summoned, but refused to intervene.
One of the dossiers that has raised the most dust is that of the alleged donation of the iconic island of Tidra to Qatar's exemir, Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani. The CEP has had access to a letter dated January 12, 2012 in which the then ambassador of the Arab country in Mauritania informed his Foreign Minister of the aforementioned gift from Ould Abdelaziz. There is also evidence that in those days the Qatari emir, who was visiting Mauritania, deposited 10 million dollars in the Treasury account without the Government being informed of the reason. The then director of the president's cabinet, Isselkou Ould Ahmed Izidbih, has just tendered his resignation as ambassador in Rome after his name appeared involved in this alleged illegal transfer of part of the national territory.
Another issue that has generated the most outrage is the appearance of irregularities in the concession to the company Arise Mauritania for the construction and management of the container terminal at the port of Nouakchott, the capital of Mauritania. According to the report, an inter-ministerial government commission granted tax and rate advantages to this company that were detrimental to the interests of the country, all without the National Commission for the Control of Public Contracts raising a single objection. In fact, the law establishes that this body must give its approval before the contract is signed and in this case it was consulted a posteriori , "which would have been enough to issue a negative opinion," the CEP report states.
Likewise, the agreement signed in 2010 with the Chinese company Poly-Hondong, by which it was allowed to fish in Mauritanian waters for 25 years in exchange for the construction of a processing plant, a fishmeal factory and a repair pier of artisanal boats as well as the creation of 2,500 jobs, has not been respected by the company, says the report. In addition, the text indicates that the Government has not reacted to the fact that the Asian company had fished more than allowed and in prohibited areas.
Dimension of damages
Among the cases: the purchase and hoarding of flour by the National Industrial and Mining Society of Mauritania, the irregular sale and at a surprisingly low price of a mine to a Canadian company, the contract for the construction of the Nouakchott airport outside of full control, the sale of 50,000 square meters of public land in an opaque way without even knowing who the buyers were or the concession to the Chinese company Joysolar of the contract for the installation of solar street lights in Nouakchott, when the winner of the contest had been a Spanish company. All of them are also detailed in the CEP report, which reveals that of the 109 public contracts investigated for an amount of 968 million euros, no less than nine out of 10 were awarded through direct procedures that circumvented the control and transparency mechanisms required by law.
"The dimension of the damage caused is enormous, both for the State and for society," said Souvi Ould Cheïbany, a deputy and member of the investigation commission in an interview with the Al Akhbar newspaper . "And that we have only examined the award of contracts and not the quality of the projects carried out," he adds. The CEP was approved by the Mauritanian Parliament on January 30 at the request of the country's president himself, Mohamed Ould Ghazouani, who took over from Abdelaziz after the elections held in 2019.
Despite having been his Defense Minister and Chief of Staff, from the outset, retired General Ghazouani has wanted to distance himself from his predecessor and former comrade in arms. The report is already in the hands of the Prosecutor's Office, which has begun interrogations to purge possible criminal responsibilities. Meanwhile, the former president, who feels betrayed by his former dolphin, continues to be confined to his private residence. And not only because of the covid-19.