Development and economic growth often emanates from sound economic, political as well as social policies which are efficiently drawn. Not only is general economic growth dependent on these important policies, but specific trends such as investments are enabled through proper economic and developmental guidelines. For some African countries these important economic basis have always been something close to a mirage. Our focus is on Central African States for which important economic and developmental yardsticks such as equitable distributions of natural resources, capital accumulation, a suitable taxation system and division of labor means anything than other than the reality. Countless number of budget proposals, have fallen short of these crucial foundations to economic growth. One of such year-on culprits is the Republic of Cameroon.
Cameroon’s current budget of 2011 only varies a little from its 2010 budget programme, just about 1 billion. For 2011 the country proposed a draft budget of FCFA 2, 571 billion compared to FCFA 2,570 billion for the year 2010. The equivalent U.S dollar value is about 5.1 billion. As usual the percentage allocated for the most important factors of economic growth is minimal- a chronic fondness for going down the wrong way in relation to economic growth. The exact allocation percentages; 59.12% for operating expenses, 26.46% for investment expenditure and 14.42% toward debt settlement.
The financial year is halfway gone and it is imperative to reminisce over the sources of the budget of 2011. It is equally important to monitor and evaluate the infrastructural promises especially in the areas of health services, schools, rural electrification and public water utilities.
The sources of the 2011 budget are expected to be taxes, which will contribute about 4.2 billion, and loans as well as grants contributing 914 million dollars. All of these sources have been criticized as not being prudent. Critics believe the amounts are too huge to be coming from those sources alone instead of rather coming from commerce and exports including oil and timber exploitation.
You would think that 26.46% of allocation for investment would be effectively used for such a course. The trend in Cameroon has always been that promises of dealing with the infrastructural problems facing the country, especially in the areas of health services, schools, rural electrification and public water utilities have often not been fulfilled. So although a greater chunk of the 2011 budget will be committed to the infrastructural investment it is difficult to believe how truly the government is committed to this end bearing in mind that budget proposals in this direction have always been repeated yearly in budget readings.
It is troubling to believe that the government honestly portrays its believes in such investments when the reality is different. Areas such as the unfriendly taxation atmosphere have been remained such neglected areas where lip-service have often been paid by the country’s finance ministry. Any attempt at re-energizing this all important sector which has in past been a reason for the enormous lose in domestic and foreign investment, has failed.
The dilemma facing the people of Cameroon currently is that expected oil-related inflows have proven insufficient in alleviating the poverty in the country. By extension, the oil revenue policy has failed in similar regard. And as a result the country is lagging in its Millennium Development Goals. Illiteracy levels still remain high, people still live in abject poverty, youths remain grossly unemployed and the country remains poorly industrialised.
Most worrying is the impact that the dilapidated state of Cameroonian roads is having on the people. What often is the case is that the public works sector charged with the maintenance of roads under utilises road maintenance funds and returns monies allocated for such projects to the government while no work is carried out and the roads continue to be in a bad state.
Cameroon requires a rethink on how government expenditure is carried out. The country needs to pump more money into productive sectors of the economy which will produce tangible results for the people in terms of improving their welfare and enhancing opportunities for wealth-creation. Only collecting taxes has not proven to work. More innovative ideas are needed. Exploring better ways of trading internationally can be an advantage. The continent of Africa and the Central African sub region are rich in international trade potentials. There is need for Africans to take advantage of these international trade opportunities rather than relying greatly on taxes as a source for raising revenue for infrastructural development.
Also there is the need for Governments in Central Africa and Cameroon in particular to outsource sectors such as energy, tourism, education, commerce and health which demand more monies to run or operate. Private partnerships are needed to efficiently run these areas and serve as proof that the government is serious about the whole concept of decentralisation in general and privatisation in particular.
The challenge now is for the country to insist on different ways of doing things. Sources of funding for budgetary allocations should not be over-reliant on taxes alone. Innovative avenues such as trade should be explored to create an opportunity for economic growth. While the financial year draws to an end, it is hoped that proposals outlined above would be considered in preparing the 2012 budget as well as subsequent budgets.
Chofor Che is an associate of AfricanLiberty.org and a Cameroonian Academic