ACCRA - Most Africans believe their politicians can commit crimes such as stealing and mismanagement with impunity, according to a survey released on Wednesday of 22 of the continent's natural resource-producing countries.
Despite attempts to improve governance and transparency in the natural resources sector, a majority said it was difficult to find out how their government was using money from sectors such as mining and oil production.
Yet people in the same countries overwhelmingly said they could speak and vote freely and relied on the local media to hold power to account.
"The two streams of perception create interesting challenges for governments trying to negotiate with foreign companies for the best mineral and petroleum extraction deals while maintaining transparency and accountability," the survey, by Afrobarometer, said.
The poll was conducted in a range of countries, including Nigeria, Africa's largest oil-producer that has been wracked by corruption and mismanagement.
Nearly two-thirds (62 percent) overall said it was "fairly or very difficult" to find information about what the government does with money from its mines and oil wells.
In addition, more than half (54 percent) said officials who commit crimes "often or always" got away with it.
The perception was highest in Morocco, where 79 per cent of people said impunity was the norm.
In Nigeria, where official corruption scandals are commonplace but rarely result in imprisonment, just over two-thirds (67 percent) said impunity was common.
The toll was lowest in Botswana, which is often lauded for its success in governing its diamond wealth.
Just over one in four (28 percent) there said politicians could get away with crimes.
Many people polled saw the media as effectively carrying out a watchdog role in society, the survey suggested.
A majority (84 percent) of Tanzanians, for example, said journalists were "somewhat or very effective" in holding power to account.
That compared with only 38 per cent of Zimbabweans and 43 per cent of Sudanese.
Citizens of countries that produced extractives overwhelmingly said they were free, with 77 per cent saying they could speak their mind and 89 per cent saying they could chose who to vote for.
The survey covered Niger, Mozambique and Liberia, among the world's poorest countries.
The Africa coordinator for Revenue Watch, Emmanuel Kuyole, said improved natural resource governance could lead those countries out of poverty.
"The oil, mining and gas revenues are perhaps one of the most important opportunities to finance development," he told a news conference in the Ghanaian capital, Accra, to announce the survey results.
"This is a very clear indication of how if the natural resource sector is well-managed these countries can do without going around begging."