YAOUNDE, Cameroon (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Efforts by Cameroon’s government and international donor institutions to fight climate change by investing in infrastructure and improving public awareness of the dangers of extreme weather are being hampered by poor governance and corruption, the government has acknowledged.
Patrick Akwa, secretary-general of the Ministry of Environment, Nature Protection and Sustainable Development, told ministry staff that many Cameroonians continue to pay a heavy price for extreme weather, despite the government’s efforts to prevent or mitigate natural disasters.
“One of the big challenges our ministry is facing now is the fight against climate change. Unfortunately many investment projects of our ministry towards this direction are frustrated by corrupt practices that have become pervasive in the country,” Akwa said at the annual meeting of central and decentralized units of the ministry in January in Yaounde.
Cameroon’s President Paul Biya, in his end-of-year message to the nation last December, criticised what he called a rapid decline in moral behaviour that has seriously affected the implementation of investment projects in many ministries, including the environment ministry.
“The effects of corruption towards nation building can only be nefarious as they neglect the very aspiration of Cameroon becoming an emerging economy by 2035. We can only realise our development dreams when we focus on serving national rather than personal interest,” Biya said.
FLOOD DEFENCES UNREPAIRED
Some climate change mitigation projects have either failed to take off or have been poorly or only partially implemented due to corruption and administrative bottlenecks, according to the government. These include the construction of a canal to prevent floods in the vulnerable city of Douala in the Littoral region, the renovation of dilapidated equipment in meteorological centres to enable proper weather monitoring, and especially the completion of construction work to reinforce dykes around Lake Maga in Cameroon’s North region.
Following 2012 floods that claimed more than 300 lives, swept through farms and killed livestock, the government announced its intention to rebuild the destroyed Maga dyke and another 70-kilometer (44-mile) one at Logone, as well as draw up a plan for running hydraulic and retaining structures in times of floods and train officials to use, manage and maintain dams and dykes.
The World Bank granted a loan of 54 billion francs CFA ($113 million) in 2013 for emergency works against flash floods in the Far North Region.
“We are surprised that construction works to repair the dyke system in the north of Cameroon against persistent annual floods since 2012 is still to complete, despite billions of francs CFA allocated by the government and donor institutions in 2012 and 2013. This is (a) clear indication that funds allocated for these projects are being misdirected to private pockets, or other uses that have no bearing with the targeted project,” Akwa said.
JAIL SENTENCE FOR MINISTER
After the 2012 floods, President Biya created a 20 billion francs CFA ($42 million) fund to fight natural disasters, to be managed by the Ministry of the Interior.
However, according to a 2012 report by the National Anti-Corruption Commission (CONAC), the funds were grossly mismanaged by the ministry. The then minister in charge, Marafa Hamidou Yaya, began a jail sentence later the same year following his conviction on corruption charges.
The CONAC report also said that a National Observatory for Climate Change, a monitoring organisation whose creation was announced by the president in 2011, had also failed to develop because initial funding had been mismanaged.
Speaking at the same meeting as Akwa last month, Hele Pierre, Minister of the Environment, Nature Protection and Sustainable Development, revealed that only 48 percent of the ministry’s investment budget was executed in 2013. More than half of that sum was spent on training seminars and other similar programmes, a situation that Hele said did not favour efforts in the fight against climate change and for environmental protection.
Environment and development experts point out that the quality of governance has a direct influence on any development effort.
“Climate money will inherit many of the risks inherent in poor public financing arrangements. In Cameroon corruption is so embedded that public servants no longer know the difference between public and private funds, (which is the) reason why many investment projects to fight climate change in the country are either failing or poorly realized,” Samuel Nguiffo of the Centre for Environment and Development, said in an interview in Yaounde.
He added that the situation is further compounded by the complex and fragmentary funding landscape that complicates efforts to track financial flows and to ascertain who should be held accountable for what decisions and results.
Speaking at the sixth African conference on sexual health and rights earlier in February in Yaounde, UN assistant secretary-general Kate Gilmore emphasised the need for governments in Africa to build and foster governance as a long-term process in the fight against poverty.
“African governments need to fight against corrupt practices that impede development efforts and the fight against poverty. Corruption could render development financing a poisoned chalice. If money intended for emergency response against extreme weather that has triggered serious health problems and endangered lives of children and women were to end up in offshore private bank accounts, then this will be a big deterrent to donor organisations,” Gilmore said.
Elias Ntungwe Ngalame is an environmental writer with Cameroon's Eden Group of newspapers.