Commentary, 9/10, 2002

Published Dec 11, 2003
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What You Know
Norway has been an oil producing country for 30 years. The Norwegian state and the Norwegian people have gained considerably from the developments that have taken place offshore on the Norwegian Continental Shelf. The reason for the general increase in people’s welfare is that we live in one of the best functioning democracies in the world. Our standards are set in a small country where business and political practices are relatively transparent. Far from perfect, but on a different level entirely from what we see in many other oil countries.

That is one reason why it is difficult for us to understand the reality of doing business and developing an industry in a country like Angola. We know corruption is a problem in many places. But the situation in Angola has aptly been described as ‘beyond corruption’.

Still, the management of some Norwegian companies which has been present there for some years maintain that they practice a ‘zero-tolerance’ attitude towards corruption in Angola. Get real!

I was a scout when growing up. Once, at a huge and warm summer camp I remember asking my leader for permission to go bathing in a nearby river, although the organizers of the camp had already made it perfectly clear it was prohibited. ‘I did not hear that question, and I don’t know where you are for the next hour,’ was his answer.

I thought it was a wonderful way of granting me permission without actually saying it. Looking back I know he also took on a huge responsibility in case I was to have an accident.

What you officially know, and what you really know is not always the same thing. But if the situation gets serious, you have to be honest. The situation in Angola is extremely serious.

Foreign companies are afraid of annoying the authorities in Angola. But by being there, and developing the country’s natural resources, they have a huge responsibility when the inhabitants are dying of hunger. Many companies have booked items in their accounts as various kinds of aid and social responsibility expenses, while they have no track of where the money have gone.

When Global Witness implies that international oil companies are complicit in economic abuses in Angola, oil companies naturally get defensive. But the best defence is attack, and in this situation attacking hunger is the best strategy, both for Angolans and for the oil companies’ PR departments.

Funding aid organizations is an effective way of actually helping people, as well of course, as drilling for water in some villages. This is now happening, as some companies are starting to take action. When it comes to Norwegian oil companies they are also training Angolans, both in Angola and in Norway, so that in the long run the country might be able to develop an industry of their own.

Technip-Coflexip is planning to open a factory in Angola, creating workplaces and enabling inhabitants to take care of themselves and their families. This is a small step in the right direction towards creating a society that might lead some of the oil revenues back to the people, just as in Norway. Unfortunately there are many examples of oil countries, which have not managed that transition very well. Struggling to put decades of civil war behind them, Angola has the worst possible starting point.

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