Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Anti-Corruption, Anti-Poverty & Environmental NGO Ban Lifted by Gabon Government – NGOs Accused of Interfering in the Country’s Politics

LIBREVILLE, Jan 16 (Reuters) - Gabon has lifted a ban on 22 non-government organisations a week after it suspended them for criticising the way in which state resources were being spent in the oil-producing central African country.

Publish What You Pay (PWYP), a global campaigner for transparent use of petroleum and mining revenues, said the government ended the suspension late on Tuesday, which had affected the members of its coalition in Gabon and other groups.

"This is a major victory for civil society in Gabon and affirms our ability to operate freely and speak out on public interest issues," said Marc Ona, president of Brainforest, one of the suspended NGOs, and coordinator of PWYP Gabon.

Gabonese Interior Minister Andre Mba Obame said on Jan. 9 that four coalitions made up of anti-corruption, anti-poverty and environmental campaign groups had been temporarily banned for interfering in the country's politics.

The coalitions had issued a lengthy statement criticising the government on a wide range of issues from oil spending to unemployment.

The communique said Gabon had an excessive number of ministers, had funded election campaigns with huge sums of public money at the expense of roads, hospitals and schools, and that mining deals were awarded with no regard for the environment or local people.

PWYP said the suspension contravened Gabon's membership of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, a global scheme to eliminate corruption in the minerals sector which envisages the active participation of civil society groups.

The discovery of oil in the 1960s made Gabon one of Africa's first oil exporters and, on paper, gave its small population of around 1.5 million one of the highest incomes per head on the world's poorest continent.

But despite outward signs of prosperity along the slick oceanfront of the capital Libreville, a third of the population live below the poverty line, according to the United Nations.

Here is the full article.