YAOUNDE (TrustLaw) – Most resource-rich African nations are trying to rein in corruption and mismanagement by making public their revenue from oil, gas and mining companies, but much remains to be done, an official from a corruption watchdog told a recent Francophone African workshop.
The meeting in the Cameroon capital, Yaounde, brought together officials from governments that have signed up to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), founded by British Prime Minister Tony Blair in 2005 as a way of encouraging countries to tackle widespread corruption by being more open about the sources and uses of state revenues.
“There are increasing indications that most African governments have understood that the way forward to economic growth and the fight against poverty in the continent is good governance and transparency in the management of proceeds from extractive industries,” the African Deputy Regional Coordinator of Revenue Watch Institute, Evelyne Tsague, said in a paper presented at the workshop in July.
“Revenue from oil, gas and mining constitute an important source of income for most governments in the continent,” she said. “But much is still to be done. If citizens know how much their governments get paid for the extraction of their natural resources, it becomes easier to monitor how the revenue is spent. These proceeds can be used for poverty reduction, economic growth and development,” she added.
Cameroon and six other countries were given “close to conformity” (with EITI standards) status in 2010, and EITI awarded full conformity status to all except Cameroon at the group’s fifth world conference in Paris in March 2011.
In its report on the conference, the EITI board urged the government of Cameroon to continue to build on its hard-won progress in reducing corruption and poverty.
Finance Minister Alamine Ousman Mey told parliament recently that Cameroon was trying to improve its management of revenue from the mining and oil/gas sector
“As requested by EITI we have made the contribution of oil revenue to the 2012 budget very clear and this stands at 557 billion CFA francs. This includes 447 billion CFA francs in royalties and 110 billion in company tax. Though Cameroon is still to be accorded full status as a “Country in Conformity” we are making enormous strides, like many other African countries, to conform,” he said.
The UN 2011development report, noting that about 40 percent of Cameroonians live on less than 450 CFA francs (one dollar) a day, said that clear and accurate accounting for the country’s oil revenues would contribute significantly to alleviating poverty. Oil revenue accounted for 24 percent of government fiscal revenue, 50 percent of export earnings and about 6 percent of GDP in 2009, it said.
Officials in Cameroon’s industry, mines and technological development ministry have said there are ambitious plans for the mining of cobalt, nickel, manganese, iron ore, rutile and diamonds in the coming years.
But EITI authorities have said they are waiting to see whether the revenue from such operations feeds through to develop the economy and help the rural poor.
Investigations carried out by the National Anti-Corruption body in Cameroon, CONAC, into public treasuries revealed the loss of about 180 billion CFA francs in state accountants’ offices in the Littoral, North West and Centre Regions in 2010, 8 billion CFA francs of registered deficits in public treasuries in Cameroon’s 10 regions, and deficits totalling nearly 6 billion CFA francs resulting from other unorthodox practices using public funds.
“These are records of embezzled funds in public treasuries for the 2010 fiscal year alone,” CONAC said in its report, published in September 2011.
The CONAC report led to the arrest of several government officials, who are now awaiting trial, while police are searching for others, including former public works minister Ambassa Zang.
Despite mineral and oil wealth and an economy expected to grow more than five percent in 2012, Cameroon still suffers from unemployment of around 40 percent and poor infrastructure such as roads from farms to markets. Many communities, especially in rural areas, lack basic amenities like drinking water, electricity, roads, hospitals and schools, the investigation report said.
In another anti-corruption case, the high court in Yaounde last month sentenced former presidency secretary-general Marafa Hamidou Yaya and Yves Michel Fotso, former director of defunct state air transport company CAMAIR, to 25-year jail terms for embezzlement related to the botched purchase of a presidential plane in 2004.
Fotso, director general of the CBC bank at the time, diverted the 24 billion CFA francs ($47.5 million) intended for the purchase of the aircraft “for personal interests," the presiding judge said. Hamidou Marafa Yaya knew this, but failed to use his position as a senior administrative officer to prevent the diversion of the money, the judge said. Four other CBC bankers received jail terms of 10 to 25 years.
Hamidou Yaha, minister of territorial administration until he was sacked by President Paul Biya in December in a cabinet reshuffle, told reporters he would appeal.
Biya, who has been in power since 1982, launched "Operation Sparrow Hawk" in 2006 to combat corruption in the central African nation. Several of his former aides have been brought to court but critics say the anti-corruption campaign has been used to target opponents.