Rights Group Urges Cameroon To Ensure Credible Inquiry on COVID-19 Funds

Cameroon Report – YAOUNDE

Cameroonian President Paul Biya’s recent directives to improve oversight and investigate misappropriation of COVID-19 funding requires additional safeguards, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).

The rights group said on Friday that the call for greater oversight was apparently spurred by the government’s ongoing negotiations for a new multi-year loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

“The sudden desire to account for Covid-19 money is a positive sign that the IMF and Cameroonian government are paying greater attention to transparency and accountability as they negotiate a third loan since the start of the pandemic,”  Sarah Saadoun, senior business and human rights researcher at HRW.

“But unless the audits and investigations are independent and credible, the IMF risks falling for check-the-box exercises,” Saadoun added.

Between March 29 and April 8, 2021, the secretary-general of the presidency, Ferdinand Ngoh Ngoh, writing on behalf of President Biya, sent a series of letters with directives related to COVID-19 funding.

A March 29 letter instructed the state auditing agency, Contrôle supérieur de l’État du Cameroun (CONSUPE), to expedite its audit of COVID-19 spending, which would “facilitate concluding a new economic and financial program with the IMF.”

“At the same time the government is rushing to satisfy the IMF’s anti-corruption requirements, it has been suspended by EITI for a lack of transparency,” Saadoun said.

“The IMF should take seriously the opportunity a new multiyear loan program presents to press for deep-seated governance reforms that will improve Cameroon’s transparency and accountability during this pandemic and beyond,” she added.

The Cameroon government has not yet published any detailed information that would enable meaningful public oversight over its spending.

The authorities also remain silent regarding the government’s use of a Health Solidarity Fund into which all healthcare centers have paid 10 % of their revenues since 1993. The fund is meant to serve as a reserve for public health emergencies such as the COVID-19 pandemic, according to HRW.

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