In the Shadow of Transparency…
Cameroonian parliament officials met at the beginning of last month to discuss better ways of managing public contracts. This important meeting was one of the many activities that commemorated the tenth anniversary of the creation of Agence de Régulation des Marchés Publics, the public contract regulatory board. However, according to this article published in the official newspaper, corruption, not the aging regulatory board, seems to have ownership and control over the procurement processes in Cameroon.
Most analysts agree that high corruption is correlated with delayed development and economic inequality within countries. In 2010 the World Bank reported that “quiet corruption,” involving small amount of money and influence, also had a destructive effect on African development. This finding corroborated Transparency International/CRETES corruption survey conducted in 2007 which showed that respondents identified corruption in public contracts as the most widespread in Cameroon. A breakdown of corruption by industry type demonstrated that most bribes came from the construction and public works sectors (100%), health and social welfare sectors (50%), and they were all given to “facilitate administrative procedures” in Cameroon.
What is fascinating about this article is the paradoxical attitude of the international community and donors toward Cameroon. Instead of blame, the ‘formidable’ Cameroonian procurement system continues to receive praises from donors, the author writes.
If any, the praises of the ‘donors’ should be understood as devices that primarily seek to incentivize good governance and trade, not corruption. The WTO plurilateral agreement on government procurement (GPA) is the only legally binding agreement that promotes procurement reform and the fight against corruption. A country only needs to establish basic procurement transparency requirements domestically to become an observer to the GPA agreement. To date, however, no African country is party to the GPA agreement. Nevertheless, since 2001 Cameroon became and remains the first and lone African observer to the GPA agreement.
The ‘ambivalence’ of the international community toward Cameroon highlights strategic challenges that proponents of government procurement reform face in developing countries. That is, in attempting to promote a market-based approach to government contracting, international reform regimes are compelled to separate the essential from the nonessential. In the shadow of transparency where corruption already exists, where official signatures cannot be trusted, where the procuring administration cannot detect a priori falsified bidding documents, blame or praise alone is a limited solution. However, as the climate of government procurement continues to change toward reform, transparency and open competition worldwide, national systems that remain noncompetitive may continue to do so, but only at their political economic and institutional peril.
So far we know that corruption is rampant in the public sector in Cameroon. To fight corruption and get value for money spent, the government of Cameroon may benefit from research that determines which parts of its procurement architecture are more amendable to change in the short run and from adopting result-oriented policy models for long -term strategies. Additionally, a more proactive stand could take advantage of cutting-edge practices in technical reorganization of the public procurement chain, technological innovation in the public sector, and the participation of civil society in the negotiation process of public contracts. S.N. Nyeck
Cameroon Tribune February 27, 2011
The development of Cameroon largely depends on the effectiveness and efficiency of its public procurement and contract award procedures. The system involves several actors in the public and private sectors, controlled by the Public Contracts Regulatory Board, ARMP under the supervision of the Presidency of the Republic and the Prime Minister’s Office. The gap between amounts disbursed for development and the actual implementation of projects is widening due to widespread corruption that costs FCFA billions each year to the state.
Such was the context of the round table conference that closed the week-long celebrations marking ARMP’s tenth anniversary last Friday, February 25 in Yaounde under the theme “Together, let us fight corruption in public contracts“. Presenting the reports of the three workshops that earlier held on the 22, 23 and 24 of February involving more than 472 participants drawn from all levels of the public procurement system and split in three groups, Ondoa Atanga Roger, Inspector General at ARMP, disclosed the results of a study carried out by ARMP in 2006 on the phenomenon of corruption in public contracts in Cameroon.
“The study carried out by ARMP in 2006 identified 166 cases of malpractices in public contracts; most of which originate from corruption,” said Ondoa Atanga Roger. The study, he further said, revealed all actors such as project owners, contracting authorities, members of public contract award commissions, specialised services of the Ministry of Finance, banks, ARMP services, independent observers, bidding companies and contractors, among others were involved in promoting corruption at the levels of preparation, award, implementation, monitoring and hand-over of public contracts.
During the award phase, for example, project owners disrespect the set deadlines for awarding contracts and proceed often to emergency procedures such as mutually-agreed contracts after colluding with bidders to over-bill. These same project owners sometimes refuse to sanction bidders with falsified documents or erroneous information often issued by so-called credible banks or social security institutions. Furthermore, contracting companies from the private sector stop at nothing to corrupt officials involved in the public contracts system and even controlling experts and independent observers who append their signatures signifying the hand-over of fictitious or poorly implemented projects. In spite of a formidable public procurement system praised by donors, the study noted the poor application of rules resulted from factors such as ignorance of rules governing public contracts, the complexity of procedures, the incompetence of actors, absence of standardisation of documents, influence peddling, generalised impunity or high tolerance for corruption and the timid application of sanctions.
The workshops, Ondoa Atanga Roger concluded, provided opportunities for actors to contribute in a participatory manner in the elaboration of NACC’s national strategy for the fight against corruption in public contracts focused on prevention, education, improvement of working conditions, incentives to actors and sanctions on recalcitrant actors. While clamouring for the protection of whistleblowers and a halt to impunity, among other solutions, the participants resolved to form a coalition to eradicate corruption in the public contracts system.