Zaire's virtually bankrupt government yesterday offered to accept broad foreign control of its economy in an effort to solve crippling financial problems aggravated by the invasion of Shaba Province.
Under the African nation's proposals, according to conference participants, an official from the International Monetary Fund would take a key role in managing Zaire's central bank and another foreign official would supervise all outlays by the Finance Ministry.
The plan was presented at the start of a two-day meeting between Zairian officals and representatives of 10 creditor nations and three international bodies. Together, they exercise a crucial influence on the survival of President Mobutu Sese Seko's government.
While the meeting was scheduled before the invasion by Katangan rebels a month ago, the overriding issue was whether Mobutu's government, and Western investments in the huge country, can be protected time and again from determined attackers - who President Carter has maintained are Cuban-trained.
The creditor nations show little sympathy for Mobutu yet seem to be forced to save him to keep Zaire in the Western camp and capable of paying its debts.
This mood of political frustration lends an air of unreality to the meeting, which is supposed to concentrate solely is financial issues affecting the potentially rich mineral-exporting nation.
Lack of discipline in Zaire's central bank and inefficiency and corruption within the government have been major factors for the past few years in Western reluctance to extend still more credit and aid to a country whose debt is already said to total about $2.5 billion.
The so-called "Mobutu plan," and Zaire's economic woes, both go back some two years and are due in part to the sharp decline in world copper prices. Copper provides about 70 percent of Zaire's export revenues, with cobalt the second major mineral export.
The situation neared the brink of economic catastrophe following the invasion of mineral-rich Shaba province the secessionist rebels based in Angola. The attack, although eventually driven off by French paratroopers, has shut down the mines for at least six months and driven away or left dead many of the Europeans who operate the mines .
The meeting here is not designed to make decision on what to do about the economic plight but rather to hear the revised Zaire plan and achieve some sort of consensus about what can be recommended to the governments of the United States, Britian Belgium, France, West Germany, the Netherlands, Italy. Japan, Canada and Iran, as well as IMF, World Bank, and the executive committee of the European Common Market.
The officials meeting here are trying to agree on recommendations for an initial $100 million to $120 million emergency aid program of food, medicine and humanitarian supplies over the next three months that was agreed in principle at a five-power meeting in Paris earlier this month.
The Mobutu plan, however, could eventually cost a few billion dollars.
Although the plan was not made public, Belgian officials said their fomer colony indicated its long-term investment needs through 1980 amount to about $1 billion. Whether this would come from governmental or private sectors is now being discussed.
Zaire, according to Belgian officials, already has unmet debt repayments projected at 2.2 billion between 1977 and 1980. Some 40 percent of this is owned to private creditors.
In addition to the investment program additional aid would be needed from international organizations.
The key factor in whether the plan gains widespread supporty, however, is said to hinge upon the IMF granting new credits to Zaire. In 1976-77 the IMF granted special standby credits totaling some $273 million.
The Mobutu plan is said to propose major efforts to get the shattered mining industry back into production, attract foreign investors, revamp the public service, improve customs and import licensing services and democratize the country.
Zaire has always had many Europeans in key advisory posts - especially Belgians, who have some $6 billion in vested there. But the new plan envisions bringing in many others.
The arrival of these foreign experts, Zairian delegate Bokana W'Ondangela said, "doesn't mean we are coming back to colonialism - but simply into international cooperation. We are turning to our friends and to international organizations for assistantce."