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Democratic Republic of CONGO - INTERVIEW 
Interview with H.E. André-Philippe FUTA TSHITUMBU
Minister of Finance of the DRC

Summit Communications: Mr Minister, you have a very impressive Curriculum: you completed a PhD in economics in the United States, you worked for The African Development Bank and then, you were called by President Joseph Kabila to take many responsibilities in different ministries here in the DR Congo. Could you tell us what have been the highlights of your career and your different responsibilities within the Government?

H.E. André-Philippe FUTA, Minister of Finance: Thank you, It is true I had studied in the United States and obtained a PhD in economic reform programs. I was teaching when I was called back to Africa, at the African Development Bank, where I started my professional career as a development banker. From there I managed to climb all the hierarchy ladders from a simple expert to a director level. When President J. Kabila called me and appointed me as Minister in his first cabinet, I was indeed anxious and frightened by the challenge. The overall picture was not so clear and it looked like I was taking risks to come to a country where the president was assassinated and the political system itself was not known. But I came and took the challenge, certainly moved by the desire to bring my knowledge and experience back to my country because I had been away for a long time. When I arrived, the country itself was in a big confusion in terms of democracy, economic management and economic development. So the most important thing which came to me and my colleagues, as the first challenge, was to convince everyone to undertake drastic reforms and establish a market-oriented economy. It was far from easy to convince everyone but we had a group of 6 ministers and we did our best to persuade the government to undertake reforms. Among other options we adopted to have a floating exchange rate system. This also meant to rely on the private sector and smoothly minimize the role of the government in the production circuit. Meanwhile, we had decisions to take and modalities to follow; we tried to constantly apply a more practical management. And finally the first program put in place went so well that the IMF and the World Bank decided to assist us. Together, Matungulu Mbuyamu, the then minister for finance, General Kalume Numbi, the then minister for planning, Jean-Claude Masangu, the governor of the Central Bank and myself were given the opportunity to play a great role concerning these reforms. We can claim to have been the fathers of the new economic programs that we are putting in place now. And we did so well that we managed to stabilize the macro-economic framework, especially the inflation fell from 500% to 100% and the exchange rate was stabilized for a long time around 240 Congolese Frank for a dollar. The IMF then accepted to assist the government in reforming its economical programs. At that time I was in charge of the ministry of economy and my colleagues of finance and planning were forced to resign. So the President gave me the responsibility to manage the program. That was the period between November 2002 and June 2003. I was the minister for economy, in charge of overlooking the finance, and at the same time I was also the minister for planning. So you can imagine how determinant my role was in the area of the economic management. Plus the fact that I was the one negotiating with the IMF and the World Bank. This was the moment of my life when I have been the most busy. Fortunately, during that time things went so well that finally, we have been admitted by the IMF in the contest of Heavily Indebted Poor Countries, The HIPICs programs.

Summit Communications: Coming back on Congo's economy, you said earlier that there were numerous sets of reforms in 2001. Can you explain the strategy adopted by the Congolese Government to comply with the requirements of these international institutions such as the IMF and The World Bank?

H.E. André-Philippe FUTA, Minister of Finance: Of course, we underwent a number of reforms from 2001. As a government, we had to show to the world that we were determined to undertake reforms. The first signal came by putting in place home-made reforms programs. We had already indicated to our partners that we wanted to make changes and we had to do so. We also used some kind of political deals to show openness to other political forces to integrate those outside the system. By doing so, we indicated to the world that the then government (the former government of J. Kabila before the peace deal was signed in 2002) was determined to bring changes in the political order and as well as in the economic front. All these were part of our strategy. Finally, we knew that among our external partners, the most important were the IMF and the World Bank, so we concentrated on those. Because we knew that when succeeding with them, they would be able to convince others. We thought that our multilateral partners could easily convince the bilateral partners to join us and that was what happened. As an example, the Paris Club, a group of French businessmen, allowed us to have some kind of debts rescheduling.

Summit Communications: Everyone we have interviewed agrees on one thing, that you managed to make of Congo a "platform of growth". What were be the main achievements that the government of transition has done so far?

H.E. André-Philippe FUTA, Minister of Finance: The transition government has laid down the foundation for growth. We have given to the country a new code on forestry, a new investment code, as well as a new mining code which will provide incentives and opportunities for any investor to come. And in the area of fiscal policies, we have reorganized all our fiscal system, including the customs and the administration. In general, we have prepared the ground for economic investors and private sectors to work. We are in a process of facilitating investment by the private sectors. If we bring peace, elections and new political order -which means if today we get a new constitution and if tomorrow a new electoral law and after tomorrow elections are being held- it will be a big achievement for this government, in addition to what we have achieved on the economic front.

Summit Communications: How do you see foreign investments in the development of the DRC ?

H.E. André-Philippe FUTA, Minister of Finance: We have just to create the appropriate environment and foreign investments will be attracted. But there is no automatic response because even though we have done good things in having new investment code and done big efforts trying to review our judicial and our legal framework, people are still looking at where we are heading to. Politically, we have not organized the elections and we are lacking a new system. So any investor is still observing. The foreign investment is not a factor which responds immediately; it depends on many factors such as the social, psychological and political elements of the country.

Summit Communications: What are the needs of the DRC in terms of foreign investments?

H.E. André-Philippe FUTA, Minister of Finance: Everything is found in our economic policy statement. In short, we think that Congo is a big country and one of our constant issues is the infrastructure. We need good roads, railways, ports and good telecommunication systems. So, the infrastructure remains our most important priority. We think that once we provide good infrastracture, we will also create a good environment for the investors to come. That is why the World Bank granted us $450 million, among which 60% of that will be allocated to infrastructure.

Summit Communications: You have managed to stabilize the economy and restore the fundamentals, and yet there is a pressure on the inflation. How do you hope to break the vicious circle of the inflation and maintain a stable rate?

H.E. André-Philippe FUTA, Minister of Finance: Of course, we managed to stabilize the inflation up to December 2004, but now in the last three months, we have been going through some turbulences with high rate of inflation as well as some kind of instable foreign exchange market. That is because we had some problems in the East and the government was not expecting problems of security in that area. So, we had to make some military expenditures which were not foreseable and that contributed a lot to the disturbances that we have been experiencing. Also, in different institutions people have not stopped travelling inside or outside the country. As a result we had to make more expenditures. All these facts derailed us on our path to stabilization. But we are doing exactly what needs to be done. The first measure we took was a budgetary restriction policy to deal with this problem, and now we are just spending what we have. We are also working with the Central Bank to try to drain back most of those liquidities which are in the market. So, the Central Bank is doing its work and we are doing ours; and I guess that things now are stabilizing because we came from 525 down to 514 Congolese Francs to a Dollar, and I think we are going to stabilize at 500 FC. We have to apply a very big service discipline to the way we are managing the public finance. In addition, if our own domestic private sector can trust the system, this will help. If they can take the right initiative into the right direction, then economically I think we can manage the opportunity for growth.

Summit Communications: You have the Central Bank in one side and you still have a lot of needs in the private banking. What is the space for those private banks and how do you see the private banking taking off from here?

H.E. André-Philippe FUTA, Minister of Finance: We encourage the idea of getting our own banking sector, once rehabilitated or renovated. We have experienced a period during which there wasn't any bank functioning, so we decided to liquidate 3 of them. But we wish to get some other banks coming. The problem is that for them to come, we have to create a macro-economic framework which also gives confidence to those who are coming. This means a stable Congolese currency, so that one can build a bank on it. I think that is the first condition, as no-one will set up a bank on an instable currency. It is important for us to manage to stabilize the micro-economic environment first, which will provide support, and then finance the private sector.

Summit Communications: As a final question, where do you see the DR Congo in the next five years?

H.E. André-Philippe FUTA, Minister of Finance: I am very optimistic about the country and I think that it will be very powerful once we get the political question solved. I don't see any problem with the Congolese economy five years from now. In fact, I think that we will have a very good profile in terms of economic growth and market: we will become a very good destination for most of businesses in Africa or worldwide; mainly because we have human resources, the manpower and markets for mineral resources or natural resources. Five years from now this will become a big market and a big economy in the Center of Africa. That is what I foresee.