The British High Commissioner to Cameroon, H.E Joshi Bharat, says free and fair elections have a bearing on, and could be an important prerequisite to the on-going fight against corruption in Cameroon. He made the observation in an exclusive interview with The Post in Bafoussam recently while attending the opening ceremony of a workshop organised by the National Anti-corruption Commission, CONAC, to map out ways of reducing corruption in the media. According to him, the election process is important as a sign of increase to democratic space. “We expect that elections next year should be evidence that Cameroon has moved forward democratically,” says he. Excerpts:
The Post: Sir, as the British High Commissioner to Cameroon, we understand you are government‘s partner in the fight against corruption. What is your evaluation of the gravity of corruption in Cameroon?
Bharat: I think it’s absolutely well known, it is acknowledged by the government. It is evident in several reports including the Business Report issued by the World Bank and Transparency International figures that Cameroon in terms of corruption is at the wrong end of the scale and is very much in a group of countries where corruption is endemic.
Where were you when Cameroon was declared twice as the winner of the corruption trophy for the world?
At the time actually, I was in Bangladesh which was competing with Cameroon to be the western world that has similar problems of corruption. So, I have seen corruption first hand in a different context.
Some people think that since even the political authorities who are responsible for the mapping out of anti-corruption policies are corrupt, it is difficult for the cankerworm to be eradicated. What is your take on this?
I can understand their pessimism, but I am optimistic. I believe that we are put on this planet to do good things and to try making life better for people around us. I think that corruption can be tackled at all levels of the society. It is not just about government responses. It is much about people allowing corruption to happen.
I will just throw a link, it was only 20 years ago when AIDS came unto the scene and people tried to understand it and many people said there was nothing we can do about it, we cannot tackle it, this is going to destroy Africa, we are going to lose half of the youth, that Africans are going to die as a result of HIV and if you look at what is happening now, HIV and AIDS is a pandemic which has been handled successfully because governments came together, NGOs , civil society came together, people came together to fight it.
You have been in this country for quite sometime, have you personally witnessed some cases of corruption?
Because I am a High Commissioner, I think I don’t usually see so many cases. People tell me about cases they have been involved in. We are involved in the fight against corruption so of course we hear stories. People don’t ask me for money for example the way that they will ask others. So I haven’t seen corruption first hand but I have heard about lots of it.
Do you think the government of Cameroon has the political will to fight corruption in this country?
I think they are sincere as I have heard the President speak several times about corruption. I think of the key speeches the President has made. He talked about the fight against corruption. I think it’s a growing problem that will take time, it will take efforts. I think Epervier (anti-corruption fight) has had some successes but there is much more to be done. Every journey starts with one small step. Yes, I am satisfied from my conversation with government that there is the will to tackle corruption. It is something I discussed with the Prime Minister only two days ago and it is the conversation that we will continue to have.
You attended the opening ceremony of a workshop in which CONAC organised to elaborate the national strategy to fight corruption in the media. What are the effects in a situation where the media, which is considered the watchdog of the society, is corrupt?
I think the media in any country reflects the society as well as it tries to inform society. In a society where there is a lot of corruption, it is not a surprise that the media are corrupt. I have come across thousands who are trying to report on good stories, who are trying to make a difference, who are trying to write stories that reflect the country.
I think you need to be careful to assume that all of the media are corrupt. The media in Cameroon is variable. What I mean by that is that there are so many media organs in the country. We have the organisations which are at the very top end; they are delivering very good journalism. I avoid giving names. But there are also media organisations and institutions at the other end.
But what I will do is to encourage media organisations to sort out their own house, to try and make sure that they are tackling poor media, poor journalism within their own ranks. And you know I have seen so many good stories about anti-corruption in the press here and I want to see more of them and I think that the key path to this strategy is to bring in all levels of society.
You cannot underestimate how important the media are in the fight against corruption, not only in communicating the national strategy and communicating the impacts of corruption, but also stirring light on individual stories; whether they are about the damage that is being done by corruption and about corrupt individuals, whether they could be stories where people are tackling corruption.
Corruption especially in Cameroon is a hydra-headed thing and fighting it needs collective efforts as you said. What particularly has the British government done to reduce corruption in Cameroon?
We have done some work; we try to do a lot more. We have worked for the Cameroonian government, for example, to look at the repatriation of stolen funds; whether there are suspicions that there are such funds in the United Kingdom and there is a judicial process that has to be followed. We have worked with a number of NGOs and Civil Society Organisations on corruption projects which have been quite successful. We are looking at programs we can support and we are looking at more we can do to support the National Anti-Corruption, CONAC. I think the answer is that we have done some work we are trying to do much more.
There is evidently no separation of powers between the judiciary, the legislature and the executive here in Cameroon. The executive seems to have an overbearing influence on the other two powers, making it difficult for checks and balances to prevail. Don’t you think the fight against corruption should start at this level?
I think the fight against corruption has to take place at every level. So I think that if we take on board the lack of capacity and look at the progress that I have seen in the ten months that I have been in the country, positive progress in tackling corruption, positive progress on human rights, positive progress on increasing the capacity within the judiciary, I think the problems are well known, and apportioning blame is not particularly helpful. I think what is helpful is trying to work out where the solutions are.
Can corruption be fought in a situation where there have never been free and fair elections; would you say free and fair elections have a bearing on corruption?
Of course, free and fair elections have a bearing on corruption but are not the only thing that has a bearing on corruption. The election process is important; it is a sign of increase to the democratic space; it is evidence that a country is growing and developing into the future. Obviously, there is a direct link between corruption and election process which is something that everyone will be looking out for. We expect that elections next year should be evidence that Cameroon has moved forward democratically.
Corruption could have been easier to fight if there were free and fair elections; if those who elected would really hearken to the aspirations of the people. The fight against corruption isn’t simple; there is no one single cause, there is no one single solution. So it is much more about the battle at all levels of the society particularly at the local level where people say NO to corruption; people stand up against corruption.
Yerima Kini Nsom|Monday, August 09, 2010|ThePost|
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