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Governance and accountability: The private and public sector, Punishing embezzlers and thieves in Cameroon

March 11, 2010

Governance and accountability: The private and public sector, Punishing embezzlers and thieves in Cameroon

Many Cameroonians and bloggers have been pondering on what measures can really be put in place to reduce the alarming rate of bribery, corruption, impunity and inertia that characterises the public and private sector in Cameroon.

In Cameroon, virtually all services in the public sector are paid for, whereas it is clearly stated that the public service is free of charge. When we talk of payment, we mean additional sums of money on top the original amount paid to government employees ranging from the forces of law and order, customs, tax collectors, teachers, administrators etc.

The private sector is not different because Cameroon seems to be the only country where investors treat employees and consumers with all impunity inasmuch as they are in accordance with the ruling status quo or pay allegiance openly or behind close doors to some of the aristocrats ruling the country. Service delivery to them is not a priority. What is more important is extorting Cameroonians.

From energy producing companies, to communication, oil exploration, civil engineering, security companies, etc there is virtually no exception. All these difficulties and hurdles have aggravated poverty that has again, been compounded by laziness and the lack of creative thinking by a greater part of the population consumed by beer.

The result is that many Cameroonians then want to buy their way, thus the payment of bribes. One of the things, which have promoted this, is the alarming rate of corruption and embezzlement of state funds which has made it virtually impossible for national resources and state wealth be used to develop the country for the benefit of all. The wealth is stolen on daily basis by civil servants who strangely are among the richest Cameroonians judging from the ownership of automobiles and real estates, some of whom have open banks etc. Some of them include custom officers, tax collectors, administrative staff (ministers, governors, Sectary Generals, Inspector General, Delegates, General Managers etc) and administrative assistants.

 An average Cameroonians has never owned FCFA 100,000 about US$150 at a blow. Nevertheless, in the same country you read several founded and unfounded press stories of civil servants who have embezzled billions or several millions of dollars on a daily basis. What is disturbing is these stories are hardly ever basis to investigate the allegations; instead, journalists are sanctioned or just ignored. Some of the stories may not be very true, but most have elements of truth.

The private sector is no exception as stories of private sector companies who have pocketed billions for no job done or for conniving with government officials to do bad jobs abound. Allegations of companies paying bride to government officials to block the arrival of potential competitors are also there.

It is a paradox that a Cameroonian who has never owned CFA25000francs (USD50) would laugh and tell you that the hundreds of millions embezzled by state functionaries is nothing. This is because he has been so acquainted to hearing and witnessing cases in which civil servants and those Para-public enterprises have embezzled over billions with all impunity.

What can be done?

If the Cameroon government could successfully in the next 10 to 20 years and further, make sure that all those who enter public service do so on merit, this will imply that in the near future, there would have kind of cleaned the public service.

In that case, the number of those who bought their places would be reduced and certainly, the number of those who want to extort money from citizens will certainly be reduced to the lowest level coupled with the implementation of the following sanctions concerning stealing, embezzlement and bribery and corruption.

 

1) Since average Cameroonians have hardly ever owned Fcfa 100,000 of his/her own at the blow, I suggest that punishment for theft and embezzlement be broken down as such

Between one day and six months and repayment of the amount of money stolen including other charges for those who steal or embezzle between 5 francs and 13000.

One year imprisonment and a repayment of equivalent amount of money embezzled/stolen and other charges for those who steal between 14000 francs and 25 000.

 

Two years imprisonment and payment of the sum stolen with interest and other charges for those who steal between 25 and 50 thousands.

 Three years imprisonment and repayment of the stolen sum including interest and other charges for those who steal between 50 and 100 thousand.

5 years imprisonment for those who steal between 100 thousands and 500,000 including repayment of money stolen and other charges.

 10 years imprisonment and the repayment of money stolen, interest and other charges for those who steal between 500 thousand and 1 million.

 10 years for every one million stolen and repayment of money stolen, interest and other charges for those who steal any amount more than a million francs.

 Even death people who have served in government office should be investigated because wealth belonging to a deceased whose next of kin or descendants can’t justify the source of the wealth should be seized. This is because Cameroonian have continuously but helpless watched children of “celebrated embezzlers” who are now death, enjoy the stolen wealth.

 Companies who poorly execute contracts should be considered as thieves and embezzlers because, they pocket the rest of the money, which would have been used to adequately, execute such contracts

 All banking/financial sectors especially those that send money out of the country must be obliged with providing a monthly report of who sent what, when and how much, to which country, bank/person/financial institution(s) abroad. Meanwhile those at the airport and other boarders must be able to detect all cash carried by passengers who must be able to prove the sources of their money.

 If this is implemented effectively, then partial judges will no longer grant short jail terms for embezzlers to serve sentences and later be released to continue enjoying stolen wealth.

 Cameroon Safe haven for foreign investors

Despite the fact that it is heralded here and there that it may be unsafe to invest in Cameroon and it difficult to create a business, Cameroon is actually a safe haven for hundreds of western and some local investors who have made themselves part and parcel of the governance system in the country.

These investors made fabulous sums of benefit at the detriment of the state and Cameroonians and even to some extend their employees but are well protected by the ruling aristocratic class.

These companies range from security to civil engineering, oil exploration, communication, transportation, pharmaceutical, insurance, and finance among several companies etc.On the other hand, those who want to operate, as businesses should, are forced out.

 

Publishing of monthly results for private and public sector

Some compnaies may be doing this . But the Cameroon government should again oblige all companies, registered non governmental organisations and charities operating in the country to publish details of all their finances and operation on a monthly basis and document them on a yearly basis. These include number of workers, expenses on workers, social responsibilities, details of income and expenditure, other projects, profits etc.

Government ministries, councils and all government agencies should publish on a monthly basis details of all income and expenditure including mission allowances, salaries, and even the purchase of a mere pencil.

 Such publications should not only be left for a special committee to scrutinise, but members of the public should have access to such documents and be in a position to question any company/government agency and even drag them to court if he/she can prove that his/her actions are for the interest of Cameroonians. He should also be able to prove that there have been some shady deals in the accused transactions.

 Recovering of taxes among petty business traders should not only be meticulously carried but the proceeds and further expenditure clearly published for Cameroonians to see.

 Civil engineering companies, which terribly execute projects most of which get bad before their usual expiring date, must be held accountable

 Even projects said to been funded by donors but terribly executed by companies from donor countries leaving Cameroon with the debt to pay, must not be spared from such scrutiny. In fact, both in the private and pubic sector, there should be nothing done in the dark

The study of these suggestions, adopting, modifying, adding, and dropping others and above all, implementing them strictly will save Cameroon from collapse.

 

Privatisation

Inasmuch as it can be good, all privatisation deals should be revisited and those, which were not clearly and cleanly negotiated terminated/renegotiated and the previous negotiators, brought to book.

Government should make it impossible for government ministers, MPs, Mayors and other senior officials who own private companies to be awarded government contracts unless direct management of such companies is totally in the hands of an independent group.

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