(Photo: REUTERS / Lucas Jackson)
Equatorial Guinea's President, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, addresses the 64th United Nations General Assembly at the U.N. headquarters in New York, September 23, 2009.
The President of Equatorial Guinea said on Monday he would introduce reforms in one of Africa's most corrupt and repressive nations to attract declining investment in the West African oil producer.
President Teodoro Obiang Nguema told the Fortune Global Forum in Cape Town, his five-point reform programme would be a "turning the page" in the history of his country, where oil reserves accounting for most of the country's revenues are in decline and pressure is mounting for reforms.
Obiang said he would introduce transparency and accountability in the oil industry in a country placed 12th from bottom in a list of 180 countries ranked on efforts to stamp out graft by Berlin-based Transparency International in 2009.
He pledged to also improve human rights, expand press freedoms, ensure judicial credibility, protect the environment and fight poverty and create jobs using oil revenues on his nation's impoverished population.
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Obiang stated he was aware of "criticisms of my government and even of my family," many of which he believed to be untrue.
"We have a long way to go to achieve this ambitious program of reform and transparency," he said.
"In many ways we have to fundamentally change the course of our history and parts of our culture. It will not be easy. We ask for your patience, especially that of the community of NGOs from around the world," Obiang said.
Equatorial Guinea's oil production has leapt from virtually nothing to around 380,000 barrels per day during the last decade alone. Most of the companies that have invested in the Gulf of Guinea state are from the United States.
Obiang said a key plank of the reforms would be to introduce transparency and accountability in a bid to re-join the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI).
Equatorial Guinea was suspended from EITI in April, piling pressure to claims by rights groups that his government enriches itself with petrodollars while neglecting its citizens.
EITI is an international programme aimed at improving transparency in the use of resource revenues, and exclusion from the group could hurt investment in the country due to the reputational risk involved.
Equatorial Guinea is one of the smallest nations in Africa, where the oil wealth is concentrated in government and elite hands, with around 70 percent of the more than one million population living in grinding poverty.
The country discovered big offshore oil reserves in the 1990s and drew a rapid influx of investment from mostly U.S. energy firms such as Exxon Mobil, Marathon Oil and Hess that turned it into a big oil supplier.
But production started to decline earlier this decade, and the pace of investment has fallen by about 30 percent between 2005 and 2008 to $1.3 billion, according to the latest United Nations statistics.
Obiang, who has ruled the tiny former Spanish colony for over 30 years, said it would not be easy to implement the reforms in his country, which gained independence 42 years ago.
"We will not ask the global advocacy groups that have criticised us to look the other way and stop their criticisms, but we ask the international community to help us to help ourselves and help us implement this reform program so that we become partners with the world's democracies," he said.
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