Decentralisation Process: Government Evaluates Path Covered, Presents Prospects

Hereunder is the introductory statement of Communication Minister, Issa Tchiroma Bakary in a press conference in Yaounde yesterday April 11, 2017.

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“Distinguished Journalists,

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I have invited you to today’s press conference for us to discuss on the decentralization process in our country, particularly since its constitutionalisation on 18 January 1996. I would therefore like to extend a warm welcome to you all.

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Please allow me to start with the background of the concept of decentralization to be sure that we are all at the same level of understanding and appreciation of the information I am about to share with you.

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As a matter of fact, with regard to decentralization, it is agreed that it is a way to organize and manage public affairs, whereby the State transfers special powers and allocates appropriate means to Regional and Local Authorities. It is worth adding that this decentralization can be done at the territorial or purely economic level.

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Let me briefly recall that this mode of organization and administration of the State originates from the deep history of Cameroon, notably in the years following the end of the First World War with the institution of the mandate system under the auspices of the League of Nations, and then the Trusteeship with the advent of the United Nations.

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This period was marked by the gradual municipalization of the Cameroonian territory governed by the “Indirect Rule” principle in the western part of the country hitherto administered by Great Britain and attached to Nigeria while the eastern part administered by France which was more focused on the integration of local populations into the French administration.

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The post-independence period was in fact characterized by a slight slackening of this trend, especially in the former East Cameroon.

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In fact, the federal period from 1961 to 1972 witnessed the establishment of two systems of management of local affairs with more autonomy in the federated State of Western Cameroon than in that of Eastern Cameroon.

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The Constitution of 2nd June 1972 actually offered only limited prospects for the strengthening of decentralization.

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The Constitution of 18th January 1996 came in to give a new impetus and a more ambitious content to decentralization. This fundamental change therefore paved the way for a genuine strengthening of the decentralization process.

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In fact, Section 1 of the Constitution of 1996 stipulates that Cameroon is a unitary and decentralized State. Meanwhile, beyond this statement of principle, there is a triple evolution that is clearly emerging. It concerns both the institutional improvement of the representativeness of Regional and Local Authorities with the creation of the Senate, the advent of Regions and the consecration of the decentralization guidelines which are the administrative and financial autonomy of Regional and Local Authorities, the supervision of the State on these authorities, the transfer of certain powers from the State to Regional and Local Authorities.

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Then came the turn for the adoption of important laws and the signing of numerous regulatory texts aimed at ensuring the legal framework of the decentralization process.

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At the same time, the main bodies in charge to monitor this process have been set up and are operational, such as the National Decentralization Council, the Inter-ministerial Committee on Local Services, the National Finance Committee and the Inter-ministerial Commission for Decentralized Cooperation.

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It is against this backdrop that the first transfer of powers and the start of the allocation of resources in favour of Regional and Local Authorities took place in the year 2010.

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In addition to the legal and institutional foundations set up to promote the process of decentralization and whose outlines I have just highlighted, the record to date of the evolution of this process reveals significant operational facts concerning mainly the transfer of powers and resources, as well as issues specific to taxation.

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With regard to the transfer of competences and resources, it should be asserted in this area that the results are generally satisfactory given that the 2015 deadline set by the National Decentralization Council for the full transfer of competences listed in the Law to lay down the Rules Applicable to municipalities was honored at nearly 97%. Some of these results are as follows:

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- As of December 31, 2015, 60 of the 63 competences devolved to 20 ministerial departments were effectively transferred by the State to local and city councils. The transfer of the remaining three powers was made effective by the decrees signed by the Prime Minister, Head of Government on 16th December 2016.

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- With regard to the financial resources legally allocated to the Regional and Local Authorities by the transfer of taxation, by allocation or by both, the amount allocated for the period 2010-2015 amounts to some 251 billion CFA francs.

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- With regard to taxation, the State has already transferred the commonly called “windscreen license” royalties to Regional and Local Authorities , the local development tax, a proportionate share of the supplementary municipal tax, as well as a proportionate share of the annual forestry royalty. The proceeds of all these taxes collected by the Public Treasury and donated to the municipalities by the FEICOM amount to approximately 337 billion CFA francs.

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In total, in five years, the State has repaid nearly CFAF 600 billion to Regional and Local Authorities within the framework of transfer of powers.

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With regard to the human resources allocated to the functioning of the Regional and Local Authorities, adequate capacity-building is periodically carried out through state support for seminars and workshops, as well as training programmes provided by the Local Government Training Centre (CEFAM), and National Vocational Training Center for New Trades and Occupations.

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With regard to the compensation of the staff of Regional and Local Authorities, the Head of State has given full effect to the provisions of the decree granting statutory compensation as well as certain advantages and allowances to members of the municipal executive.

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In the same vein, the indemnities of municipal councilors have been increased.

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That is a broad picture of the decentralization process as it currently unfolds in our country.

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Meanwhile, we would not be complete in the presentation of this table, if we failed to mention that, although it is substantially striking in terms of progress towards the projected optimum, the decentralization process still contains certain areas of dissatisfaction, which fall in two categories: funding issues and problems related to the management of transferred skills.

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Shortcomings related to funding include:

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Some discrepancies between the nature and scope of the tasks devolved to Regional and Local Authorities, the exercise of the powers transferred to them and the volume of resources allocated and made available;

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The inadequacy of procedures for delegating appropriations with the requirements of flexibility and operationality of the projects to be carried out;

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The poor capacity of regional and local authorities to take advantage of their empowerment and harness local potentials to generate endogenous resources.

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With regard to the management of transferred competences, the main difficulties are the following:

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- the lack of collaboration between the Regional and Local Authorities and the devolved services of the State;

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- the complexity of certain powers and the procedures required for their exercise, in relation to the low level of expertise of the human resources available for the running of Regional and Local Authorities.

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In order to complete this process of decentralization, specific actions must naturally be envisaged and implemented by the Government, at the legal, institutional and operational levels.

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At the legal and institutional levels, the aim is to finalize regulatory texts, most of which have already reached the final stage of their preparation.

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These texts mainly concern the statutes of local staff and elected officials and the functioning of the Regions.

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Moreover, certain legislative provisions will have to complement those already existing for the management of areas not yet regulated or which are insufficiently regulated.

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The effective putting in place of Regions requires a precise demarcation between the areas of competence of the said Regions and those of the central State, including its devolved bodies.

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This imperative requires a revision of the organic text of the Ministry of Territorial Administration and Decentralization, in order to adapt it to the current context, that is to say one which takes into account the territorial jurisdictions of the decentralized bodies.

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At the operational level, it is necessary to foster the administrative and financial autonomy of Regional and Local Authorities, to substantially increase the overall allocation of decentralization in its investment component, particularly as regards priority areas for local development, in terms of education, health, water, rural electrification, sanitation, etc.

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Distinguished Journalists,

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As you can see, the process of decentralization has not been static over the last twenty years.

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Much effort has been made so far - I would even say that most of the path has already been covered. And this process will continue and will be accelerated.

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It is not only a constitutional prescription but also a permanent and irreversible willingness of the President of the Republic, His Excellency Paul BIYA. It is an essential component of his political project for the people of Cameroon, of which it embodies sovereignty.

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For the Head of State, therefore, the success of the decentralization process is not an option but a freely chosen imperative to bring about the emergence of the entire nation.

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In this regard, I would like to remind you, without being exhaustive, of what the President of the Republic said about decentralization in his traditional message to the nation on December 31, 2009: and I quote “Failure is not an option, as this means nothing short of giving Cameroonians at the local level the possibility of participating in the management of their own affairs”, end of quote.

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