Gabon shuffles cabinet amid corruption purge

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THE Gabonese cabinet has been reshuffled with allegations of corruption levelled at some of those now removed, including Noël Mboumba, who had held the position of Minister of Mines, Petroleum, Hydrocarbons and Gas.

The cabinet was reshuffled at the beginning of this week, with Vincent de Paul Massassa taking Mboumba’s spot. Pascal Houangni Ambourouet was appointed to the position of Minister of Energy and Hydraulic Resources, replacing Tony Ondo Mba. Massassa had previously been the director of regulator Direction Generale des Hydrocarbures (DGH).

A statement from the government on the changes to the cabinet said Gabonese President Ali Bongo Ondimba had taken the decision to move quickly and pave the way for more effective government action. This, the statement said, was in the face of the ‘impatience’ of the Gabonese people to see living conditions improve.

Gabonese Prime Minister Julien Nkoghe Bekale retains his position but Brice Laccruche Alihanga, who had served as chief of staff before becoming a minister in charge of human development, was dismissed from the cabinet and arrested. A number of Laccruche’s relatives have also been arrested in recent days and those affiliated with the AJEV group. Mba and Mboumba were close to Laccruche.

Laccruche rose to a position of power while Bongo was out of the country, recovering from a stroke. The president suffered a stroke in October 2018 and was hospitalised in Saudi Arabia and Morocco until March. During Bongo’s absence, in early January, a group of soldiers attempted to seize power but were unsuccessful.

Pressure has been mounting on Laccruche and his AJEV faction for some time. The official was removed from his position as chief of staff at the beginning of November and, last week, eight people were arrested on charges of corruption and money laundering, including the head of the Gabon Oil Co. (GOC), Patrichi Tanasa. Furthermore, Laccruche’s brother, Grégory, the mayor of Akanda, was also arrested, as was the president’s head of communications Ike Ngouoni.

Gabon’s L’Union newspaper has reported that CFA85bn ($143.6 million) had gone missing from GOC over the last two years.

Arrests have been carried out under Operation Scorpion, led by André Patrick Roponat. He was only recently appointed to the position of a prosecutor.

‘Justice must not tremble … Public officials must be exemplary,’ said Bongo on Twitter on November 22, in a statement retweeted by the then oil minister Mboumba.

Nkoghe Bekale, commenting on Twitter in mid-November, denied that the wave of arrests was a witch hunt. It was rather, he said, ‘in line with the government’s commitment to fighting against corruption and illicit enrichment.’

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