Thursday, June 23, 2016

The following is a recent interview with Prime Minister Augustin Matata Ponyo Mapon of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He served as Minister of Finance from February 2010 to April 18, 2012, when he was appointed Prime Minister by Congolese President Joseph Kabila. Prime Minister Matata Ponyo Mapon has degrees in economics from the Universities of Lubumbashi and Kinshasa, and specializations in international economics and monetary issues. During his tenure as Minister of Finance and Prime Minister, the economy of the DRC has recorded impressive growth and Prime Minister Matata Ponyo Mapon is known as rigorous, disciplined and hardworking with a focus on good governance. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Victor Olembo: Gross domestic product in the DRC has grown at an average rate of more than 7 percent over the last several years. What has been the impact of this growth on quality of life?

Prime Minister Matata Ponyo: Our country started growing again in 2002. It now has been 14 years since growth has been maintained and confirmed at an average rate of 6.5 percent. Since 2010, the pace of growth averaged 8.03 percent, and for three years (2012-2014), growth was higher than 8.4 percent.

In 2014, with a GDP growth rate of 9.5 percent, the DRC took third place on the list of the most dynamic countries in the world according to the IMF (International Monetary Fund). This growth is not only macroeconomic; it affects the social side in many ways.

Since 2001, the purchasing power of the Congolese people has increased and international statistics prove it. First of all, the 2014 national report on human development indicated that the national poverty threshold fell from 71 percent of the population in 2007 to 63 percent in 2012. This falling trend continues. We are waiting for the 2015 QUIBB Survey to confirm that the situation has improved and that the DRC poverty threshold fell below 60 percent in 2015.

In addition, net per capita GDP has increased since the start of the decade and all the structural reforms in progress have had a positive impact on the daily life of the population, especially on the low-income group. Our macroeconomic performance over the last few years has made it possible to finance priority expenditures whose effects are currently tangible. And, following the instructions of Joseph Kabila Kabange, President of the Republic, the social part was at the center of the government’s concerns.

In this respect, the government launched several projects aimed at improving the lives and social conditions of the population. These activities are reinforced each year and new activities are added. Several sectors are targeted.

In education, more than 700 schools have been rebuilt or rehabilitated, and more than 2 million school age children reenrolled thanks to anti-poverty policies, such as free primary education.

In the health sector, more than 1,000 health centers and 166 referral hospitals are being built or are under rehabilitation, along with supplying essential medicines to the health system.

In transportation, we have relaunched railway activities and rehabilitated SNCC and SCTP (formerly Onatra), along with creating vital public transportation companies TRANSCO and Congo Airways, and reopening the Kokolo boat, which has 422-passenger capacity and 1,500 tons of cargo capacity.

In agriculture, work has started on the agro-industrial park of Bukanga Lonzo. All these activities have resulted in the creation of thousands of permanent jobs.

Olembo: What are the elements necessary to permanently maintain this growth?

Prime Minister Matata Ponyo: Faced with the ongoing risk of a slowing global economy, and despite the drop in prices of mining products and oil, consolidating the stability of the macroeconomic framework must continue through ambitious, but prudent, public policy.

We must also prioritize reforms, especially improving the performance of public enterprises so that they contribute considerably to the country’s growth. The government has also been involved in diversifying the national economy in order to diminish shocks from a dominant mining sector and to reinforce its resilience.

All this is not possible if national security is not guaranteed. This is the reason why we reinforce security in the country by putting a final end to the wars which frequently destabilize the institutions of the Republic and delay the country’s development efforts.

Olembo: the African diaspora is increasingly growing in the West. What mechanisms are being considered by the Government to establish a dialogue?

Prime Minister Matata Ponyo: The Head of State, President Joseph Kabila is willing to involve all the daughters and sons of the Congolese nation in the development of the country. The government organized a Government-Diaspora Round Table, October 23-24, 2013, in Brussels. It gathered more than 200 delegates from 27 countries spread over five continents.

The objective was to implement an optimal strategy to involve our compatriots living abroad — regardless of ideological trends — in the DRC development process. This meeting opened the beginning of a fruitful and honest cooperation on some common resolutions.

The resolutions resulted in the implementation of a three-party follow-up committee, Government-Diaspora-Partners, a structure which allows a dialogue between us. In addition, another structure for the diaspora was created to reinforce contacts with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. A second round table is planned to take place in Kinshasa.

Olembo: Can the DRC rely as well on its migrants?

Prime Minister Matata Ponyo: Of course! Many emerging countries draw energy in human capital from their diaspora, which helps boost development. The DRC counts on this as well.

Since the 1990s, the DRC has benefited considerably from the material and financial assistance of the diaspora.

The government, in cooperation with the World Bank, invites Congolese from abroad to participate in common activities, to share in the investment risks and to create wealth, especially, by subscribing to the “Global Knowledge Partnership on Migration and Development.”

• Victor Olembo is managing editor of Onesha Afrika magazine.

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