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Cameroon - Corruption

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, but the government did not implement the law effectively or uniformly, and corruption was pervasive at all levels of government. Officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. The World Bank’s most recent Worldwide Governance Indicators reflected that corruption was a severe problem. Although there was some improvement in efforts to combat it, institutionalized, endemic, and publicly accepted corruption was a major challenge facing the government. In the context of the fight against Boko Haram, corruption-related inefficiencies and diversion of resources from their intended purposes represented a fundamental national security vulnerability.

The Special Council Support Fund (French acronym FEICOM) was created to finance municipal investment projects, but according to prosecutors, former Managing Director Emmanuel Gerard Ondo Ndong and a dozen former employees fleeced the agency of more than $102 million in illegal cash disbursements from 2001 to 2005. There is little reason to doubt the Presidency was at some level aware of FEICOM's evolution into an ATM for the politically connected, not least since the beneficiaries included Biya's hometown, political party and wife. Biya's personal complicity is difficult to gauge because his coterie insulates him from Cameroon's day-to-day realities.

One marvels at the various motivations and methods involved in looting FEICOM, illustrating that official corruption is a multifaceted phenomenon. Whether for extralegal bonuses or fictitious field trips, FEICOM officials dutifully completed paperwork, replete with official-sounding purposes, to ensure proper bookkeeping. Some of the purported line items are downright bizarre: $50,000 for Christmas tree ornaments; $12,000 towards the funeral for the wife of famed soccer player Roger Milla; $1,000 to produce a cassette of religious music. At times it was personal enrichment, as when Ondo Ndong forged documents to steal FEICOM vehicles. At other times, FEICOM's accounts were treated like a benevolent fund, disbursing $22,000 in extralegal payments for the medical evacuation of an employee, $2,000 for a food drive, or $20,000 to the American School in tuition for a FEICOM employee.

During the year 2015the government sanctioned government employees for corruption, embezzlement, and mismanagement. The Cameroon Tribune reported that as of June 12, 42 cases had been filed and 11 court decisions issued at the Special Criminal Court (in French, Tribunal Criminal Special, or TCS) since the beginning of the year. Operation Sparrow Hawk, which was launched in previous years to fight corruption, including embezzlement of public funds, continued.

On June 9, the Supreme Court delivered its verdict on the September 2014 ruling by the TCS to sentence Cameroon-born French lawyer Annette Lydienne Yen Eyoum and her coaccused to a 25-year prison term. Eyoum and Honore Ngwen, former heads of the legal affairs division at the Ministry of Finance, were further required jointly to pay CFA francs 1.153 billion ($2 million). Eyoum represented the government in litigation against Societe General des Banques au Cameroun (SGBC) in connection with the complicated 10-year liquidation of the government’s National Commodity Marketing Authority. In the process of the liquidation, she and her codefendants diverted CFA francs 1.153 billion ($2 million) into their private accounts. Eyoum claimed the money represented damages brought against SGBC (the defendant) by court decision, while the government considered it embezzlement. In a September 2014 ruling, TCS sentenced Eyoum to 25 years in prison. Her lawyers challenged the decision before the Supreme Court in October 2014, and a decision was pending.

On June 18, TCS delivered its verdict in the prosecution case against Dieudonne Telesphore Ambassa Zang and his coaccused. Ambassa Zang, former minister of public works, and Felix Debeauplan Mekongo Abega, a senior official at the same ministry, were given life sentences. They had been prosecuted since 2009 for embezzlement of public funds totaling more than CFA francs six billion ($10.4 million), following an inspection mission by the Supreme State Audit Office. Because they were absent from the court from the opening of the case, the court issued an arrest warrant against them as part of the verdict. Ambassa Zang was also required to pay the ministry damages, including CFA francs 5.126 billion ($8.9 million), and also CFA francs 694.465 million ($1.2 million) jointly with his coaccused.

Although police were reportedly sanctioned for corruption, some officers convicted of corruption were relieved of their duties but retained their jobs due to weak accountability and enforcement mechanisms for internal disciplining. Individuals reportedly paid bribes to police and the judiciary to secure their freedom. Police demanded bribes at checkpoints, and influential citizens reportedly paid police to make arrests or abuse individuals with whom they had personal disputes. There were reports that some police associated with the issuance of emigration and identification documents collected additional fees from applicants.

Judicial corruption was a problem. According to press reports, judicial authorities accepted illegal payments from detainees’ families in exchange for a reduced sentence or the outright release of their relatives. Judges were susceptible to executive influence and often delayed judicial proceedings in response to governmental pressure. Many powerful political or business interests had virtual immunity from prosecution, and politically sensitive cases occasionally were settled through bribery.

Corruption in the education sector was reported to be a major problem. Anecdotal reports suggested that in reviewing the files of applicants for most scholarships, including those offered by foreign partners, members of the relevant committees within government ministries rarely based their decisions on merit. They often selected their relatives or offered aid to some applicants in return for bribes. Officials of major national training schools providing direct access to the public service were also often cited for corruption. According to reports, some officials had established networks of intermediaries charged with seeking out prospects and collecting fees at the time of nationwide competitive examinations. Such networks reportedly were organized in a manner that had no direct contact between the school official and the candidate. The amounts collected reportedly ranged from CFA francs 500,000 ($867) to several million CFA francs, depending on the type of institution solicited.

The National Anti-Corruption Commission (CONAC) receives and investigates allegations of corruption, but it has no prosecutorial authority and must refer credible claims of corruption to the relevant ministry for administrative action or to the Ministry of Justice for judicial action. The vast majority of corruption allegations received and transmitted by CONAC resulted in administrative penalties including reprimand, suspension from 10 to 90 days, delays in promotions, removal from office, and outright dismissal. As of year’s end, CONAC had not released its 2014 annual report.

The National Financial Investigations Unit is a separate financial intelligence unit that tracks money laundering and terrorist finance. Like CONAC it can carry out its own investigations but has no prosecutorial authority. The Supreme State Audit Office audits public services, regional and local entities, public and semipublic enterprises and organizations, and associations that receive financial assistance from the state. The office also monitors the execution of the state budget and externally funded projects, and it contributes to sanctions against officers and managers of public funds in accordance with applicable laws and regulations. By direction of the president, the office may also perform audits on any companies or organizations deemed strategically important.

Corruption among prison personnel was reportedly widespread. Prisoners bribed wardens for special favors or treatment, including temporary freedom, beds, and transfer to less crowded areas of the prisons. Due to their inability to pay fines, some prisoners remained imprisoned after completing their sentences or receiving court orders of release.

In Cameroon, a book published 07 March 2016 by an imprisoned former government minister has sparked heated debate. The book's author, along with some fellow politicians and rights activists, say the government is using its crackdown on corruption as a pretext to target potential political rivals of longtime President Paul Biya. At least two dozen former government officials had been arrested in Cameroon in the past eight years, including several ex-ministers and heads of state-owned corporations.

Ex-Health Minister Urbain Olanguena Awono said in his book, titled Mensonges d’Etat (or Lies of the State), that he and other detainees are “prisoners of conscience.” Awono is serving a 20-year jail sentence. He was arrested and convicted of corruption and embezzlement in 2008, the same year Biya changed the constitution to allow him to run for two more terms in office. Local press had reported at the time that Awono and his senior staff were plotting to oust Biya. Other detainees had recently published letters in local media saying their arrests and long detentions were politically motivated. The roundup became known locally as “Operation Sparrowhawk,” referring to a predator that hunts and eats other smaller birds.

President Biya's odd insistence that corrupt officials should repent reflected his religious background (he started his career in the seminary) and his emphasis on personal loyalty.

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