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Public Contracts: Between Good Intentions and Corrupt Practices

The development of Cameroon largely depends on the effectiveness and efficiency of its public procurement and contract award procedures. The system involves several actors in the public and private sectors, controlled by the Public Contracts Regulatory Board, ARMP under the supervision of the Presidency of the Republic and the Prime Minister’s Office. The gap between amounts disbursed for development and the actual implementation of projects is widening due to widespread corruption that costs FCFA billions each year to the state.

Such was the context of the round table conference that closed the week-long celebrations marking ARMP’s tenth anniversary last Friday, February 25 in Yaounde under the theme “Together, let us fight corruption in public contracts”. Presenting the reports of the three workshops that earlier held on the 22, 23 and 24 of February involving more than 472 participants drawn from all levels of the public procurement system and split in three groups, Ondoa Atanga Roger, Inspector General at ARMP, disclosed the results of a study carried out by ARMP in 2006 on the phenomenon of corruption in public contracts in Cameroon.

“The study carried out by ARMP in 2006 identified 166 cases of malpractices in public contracts; most of which originate from corruption,” said Ondoa Atanga Roger. The study, he further said, revealed all actors such as project owners, contracting authorities, members of public contract award commissions, specialised services of the Ministry of Finance, banks, ARMP services, independent observers, bidding companies and contractors, among others were involved in promoting corruption at the levels of preparation, award, implementation, monitoring and hand-over of public contracts.

During the award phase, for example, project owners disrespect the set deadlines for awarding contracts and proceed often to emergency procedures such as mutually-agreed contracts after colluding with bidders to over-bill. These same project owners sometimes refuse to sanction bidders with falsified documents or erroneous information often issued by so-called credible banks or social security institutions. Furthermore, contracting companies from the private sector stop at nothing to corrupt officials involved in the public contracts system and even controlling experts and independent observers who append their signatures signifying the hand-over of fictitious or poorly implemented projects. In spite of a formidable public procurement system praised by donors, the study noted the poor application of rules resulted from factors such as ignorance of rules governing public contracts, the complexity of procedures, the incompetence of actors, absence of standardisation of documents, influence peddling, generalised impunity or high tolerance for corruption and the timid application of sanctions.

The workshops, Ondoa Atanga Roger concluded, provided opportunities for actors to contribute in a participatory manner in the elaboration of NACC’s national strategy for the fight against corruption in public contracts focused on prevention, education, improvement of working conditions, incentives to actors and sanctions on recalcitrant actors. While clamouring for the protection of whistleblowers and a halt to impunity, among other solutions, the participants resolved to form a coalition to eradicate corruption in the public contracts system.

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