Two-Time Transparency International’s World Champion in Corruption Gobble Covid-19 Funds, Biya Orders Investigations

Cameroon’s President, Paul Biya has ordered a judicial investigation into the use of Covid-19 funds. A letter signed by the Secretary-General of the Presidency, Ferdinand Ngoh Ngoh orders the country’s Justice Minister to investigate the management of funds allocated to the fight against a pandemic that has so far killed over 850 Cameroonians with over 57,000 others infected.

“I have the honour to pass on the high instructions of the Head of State prescribing the opening of a judicial investigation against authors, co-authors and accomplices of cases of the financial embezzlement of the said funds,” the letter states.

The measures come in the wake of a report by Human Rights Watch that accused Cameroon of opacity in the management of Covid-19 Funds, although transparency has been a pre-condition for getting loans from the International Monetary Fund.

In April 2020, the Health Minister announced a 58 billion XAF (US$105 million) response plan, and on May 4, the IMF approved a $256 million emergency loan to help finance it.

In October, the IMF approved a second $156 million loan to finance a more robust $825 million three-year package to support the country’s health system and help businesses and households affected by the pandemic.

Alim Hayatou, the deceased Secretary of State at the Ministry of Public Health has his name mentioned profusely in talks about the misuse of Covid-19 response funds, though an official funeral was decreed in his honour by President Paul Biya

The Bretton Woods Institution now wants accountability for the use of these funds.

According to Human Rights Watch, the Cameroon government pledged to use the funds transparently and committed “to issuing semiannual reports on Covid-19 spending; commission an independent audit, and publish “documents related to results of public procurement and [beneficial ownership information] of companies awarded contracts.”

“From the beginning, virtually no public information was provided regarding the government’s Covid-19 spending. Healthcare centres made urgent appeals for support from an emergency health fund into which they have been paying 10 per cent of their revenues since 1993, according to medical staff whom Human Rights Watch interviewed from various regions in April and May, but they said they had received no support. The government does not publish any information about the fund and did not respond to a Human Rights Watch letter regarding it. The President established a second solidarity fund and appealed to private companies and citizens to contribute, but that fund was also not transparent,” said the rights organization in a statement.

The Covid-19 response in Cameroon has mainly been rudimentary, leaving so much to chance and now with the emergence of new variants the dynamics have changed leading to more deaths (C) CDC

And while there is so much opacity in the management of the funds, hospitals are running dry of basic equipment such as thermometers, disinfectants, and medicines, as well as ventilators and oxygen, and protective gear for doctors and nurses, such as masks, gloves, and glasses.

And in consequence, Cameroonians are dying. Nearly a thousand people have died from the virus and over 57,000 have been infected.

President Paul Biya who has been absent from the scene only wakes up from slumber (C) Voice of America

On July 29, the Health Ministry, citing the “urgency of transparency,” published a two-page statement on how it spent about CFA F 22 billion ($40 million), which it said was its total expenditure to respond to Covid-19 in the preceding five months. It included only vague categories that provide no real possibility for the public to verify. In its letter, the IMF said that the Ministry of Finance was preparing a report on its Covid-19 spending, which it expects the government will share “in the near term.”