Cameroon has been faced with a serious underutilisation of the Public Investment Budget (PIB) for several years now. Funds apportioned for public investment in Cameroon have been puzzlingly underutilised while the state struggles under the burden of serious developmental and infrastructural problems. In 2013, the rate of execution was lower due to the putting into place of the Budget Programme whose modus operandi has not been fully understood by many state agents. The Budget Programme warrants that the state programs and budgets investment projects for five years rather than for a financial year as previously. The underutilisation of the PIB is indeed an aberration for a state considered as poor and heavily indebted.
Is it that there is a problem with the development planners in the country? Do the Members of Parliament and Senators vote bills into law without reflecting on the outcome? Are the state agents called upon to execute the PIB inefficient or is it that the cumbersome government architecture slows down utilisation of the PIB?
In 2013, the Cameroonian Minister of Public Contracts, Abba Sadou, stated that 6,658 public contracts were signed in 2013, which represented 90% of planned procurement for that budgetary period. According to a 2013 report by the website of a group focusing on economic affairs in Cameroon called Business in Cameroon, Abba Sadou was interviewed over Cameroon Radio and Television (CRTV), with respect to the reason behind the limited use of the PIB for the previous year 2012, which stood below a 50 % execution rate. The Minister opined that the poor execution of the PIB fell on the shoulders of multiple state actors and not only on the shoulders of the Ministry of Public Contracts.
In 2014, 1,000 billion Fcfa was allotted for the PIB, in accordance with the 2014 Finance Act. Business in Cameroon reports in an op-ed dated the 28 of October 2014 that, according to a report from the Ministry of the Economy, the rate of execution for the year 2014 stands at 36 %. In the North regions of the country, the rate of execution stands at 50. 2 %. In the West region, the rate of execution is 62.2 %. In the Central region which houses the political capital Yaoundé, the rate of execution stands at about 19 %. With these poor executions of the PIB, the country cannot boast of a befitting transportation, educational and telecommunications network.
Many development experts home and abroad are indeed baffled. There is an argument especially among reporters of local papers that state agents are afraid to use these credits allocated to them for public investment because of the ongoing ‘operation sparrow hawk’, an operation put in place by the state to track down and arrests corrupt state agents.
In addition to the above reason, there is no gainsaying that the administrative bottlenecks in the execution of public contracts in Cameroon have become very cumbersome. Since the creation of the Ministry of Public Contracts, the execution of public contracts in the state has become a nightmare. According to a Douala based Barrister at Law, contractors have to go through cumbersome procedures including the payment of heavy bribes. By the time bribes have been paid to officials at the central and regional government levels, contractors are unable to execute the contracts because of lack of adequate funds. Such acts have led to the abandonment of various development projects all over the national territory.
It is thus no secret that the problem with the poor execution of the PIB in Cameroon is multifaceted. Despite the fact that some state agents are afraid of getting arrested for corruption, it is also clear that lack of professionalism remains a serious problem in executing the PIB. The State would have adequately schooled major budgetary operators with the newly introduced Budget Programme before making it operational. Members of the National Assembly need to reflect more on certain bills before voting them into law. In as much as state agents remain ignorant about this system, the PIB will remain underutilised.
A free society warrants that limited government should strive for prosperity and development. This also means that the size of government should be small and effective. What we observe in Africa today and Cameroon in particular is large government. Many have wondered why the Ministry of Public Contracts was created in the first place, especially as Cameroon still retains the Regulatory Agency for Public Contracts. If there is a reduction in the number of ministries including the dissolution of Ministry of Public Contracts, the state would have fewer administrative bottle necks and a faster rate of the execution of the PIB.
This article is originally published in French at LibreAfrique.org as ‘Cameroun : Remédier à la sous-utilisation du budget d’investissement public’
Chofor Che is an analyst at LibreAfrique.org, an associate with AfricanLiberty.org and an integral part of the Voice of Liberty initiative. He is also a Doctoral Law candidate at the University of the Western Cape and blogs at http://choforche.wordpress.com/