Atlantic Chronicles

The Major National Dialogue: One Year Later

Opinion, Politics

One year after the Grand National Dialogue, it is difficult to blame those who believe that the glass that was half-full is now emptying.  It is worth recalling, so that no one ignores it, that the organisation of the GDN was dictated by the crisis in the two regions of the North-West and the South-West and that it was about putting together a series of recommendations that could bring peace to these parts of our national territory. One year later, can we say that the goal has been achieved?

Obviously not, since peace has still not been restored. Economic activity is on the ground despite the formal establishment of the commission for the reconstruction of these two regions. Have the armed gangs that commit unprecedented and unspeakable violence laid down their arms? No. Despite the establishment of the Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reinsertion Commission. The dropping out of school of school-age children is still on the agenda despite some positive signals for the next school year, coming from almost all the protagonists of this dirty war that could have been avoided from the beginning if the government had quickly understood from the very beginning that this is a political crisis and that to a political crisis, the answer is political and not military solutions. This dirty war would never have started if the government had not isolated the partisans of the federalist viewpoint, as it continues to do up to now, thereby playing into the hands of the extremists. This dirty war would never have taken place if the government had put the Anglophone issue on the agenda of parliamentary sessions, as suggested by the SDF parliamentary group in the National Assembly to the point of loudly organising the blockade operation at the beginning of the November 2017 session. This crisis has been bogged down by autism, condescension and even disdain from the beginning by those who govern us. The GDN was organised under pressure. Several commissions were formed. Recommendations were formulated at the end of this great mass and transmitted to those concerned. Two months later, the government sent a series of bills to parliamentarians, the most important of which is undoubtedly the General Code of Decentralised Local Authorities. The Commission for the Reconstruction of these two regions has been set up and the main leaders have been appointed.

Regarding the General Code of Decentralised Territorial Authorities, some progress has been made in the following points:

1- The abolition of the Metropolitan Community and the establishment of the ” City Council ” headed by the ” Mayor of the City ” who will henceforth be elected by the mayors of the districts and the councillors from each district. This was done after the double ballot of 9 February last.

2- Within the framework of the General Decentralization Allocation (GDD), a transfer of a minimum of 15% of the State’s revenue to the district municipalities is mentioned, compared to 3.4% before the GDN was held. To date, nothing has been done to move the lines in this direction. Answering questions from MPs in the National Assembly, the Finance Minister indicated during the March 2020 session that the level of this transfer could not be immediately applied given that the extraordinary session of Parliament devoted to the adoption of the General Code of Decentralised Local Authorities was held after the one devoted to the adoption of the budget for the financial year 2020. As if it was not possible to proceed with an amending finance law in March or June. The MPs reverted to the issue during the June session and the Finance Minister suggested that it will be complicated even in 2021 for the minimum transfer of 15% to be respected given the budgetary constraints linked to the socio-economic situation (Covid-19, collapse of export revenues leading to a deficit in the balance of trade and balance of payments due to the crisis in the north-west and south-west regions etc). It is therefore clear that the 15% is not for tomorrow. This will considerably undermine the process of decentralisation that those in power say is in full swing with the forthcoming regional councils.

3- Recruitment and management by the district municipalities of the nursing and paramedical staff of the integrated health centres (CSI) and the district medical centres (CMA). Not yet effective since it is the Ministry of Health that continues to exercise this competence from Yaoundé.

4- Recruitment and management of teaching staff in pre-schools, primary schools and nursery schools. Not yet effective since the latest recruitment of teachers by the Minister of Basic Education is still fresh in the memory.

5- The financial resources allocated by the State within the framework of the responsibilities transferred to the decentralised territorial authorities will no longer be included in the budgets of ministerial departments, but will be directly allocated to the decentralised territorial authorities.

6- Strengthening citizen participation through the involvement of the population in all phases of the preparation and execution of budgets, programs and projects and through the institution of neighbourhood or village committees in the communes. Not yet effective. One only has to contact the district municipalities, the municipal councillors or the heads of districts or blocks to see the evidence.

7- In the event of a conflict of competences between the mayor of the district municipality and the mayor of the city, one of the two refers the dispute to the administrative court for settlement.  It is still too early to rule on this point since the election of the councils of the district municipalities and town halls has just taken place.

In the two regions of the North-West and South-West specifically, it is stated in the General Code of Decentralised Local Authorities that these regions enjoy a special status based on linguistic particularity. In addition to the 18 competences devolved to all regions (economic development, infrastructure, transport, town planning, housing, health, social action, water, energy, education, promotion of national languages and cultures, etc.), the following reforms have been included in the said Code:

1- Special education system and judicial system, the modalities of which will be determined by specific bills.  These specific bills have not yet been sent to Parliament one year after the holding of the Great National Dialogue.

2- Establishment of a Regional Assembly and a Regional Executive Council in each of the two regions. Each Regional Assembly has two chambers, namely the Chamber of Departmental Delegates (70 delegates per region) and the Chamber of Traditional Chiefs (House of chiefs: 20 per region). This has not been done.  With the forthcoming regional council elections, this specificity has been undermined by the presidential decree convening the Electoral College for the regional elections that will cover all 10 regions of the country as a whole. This is in contradiction with the law that provides for different bodies for the two regions of the NOSO.

No decree has been signed concerning the Regional Assembly, the Regional Executive Council and the HOUSE OF CHIEFS. DECREES WERE NECESSARY TO MATERIALIZE THESE BODIES CONTAINED IN THE LAW ON THE GENERAL CODE OF DECENTRALIZED TERRITORIAL AUTHORITIES.

There have obviously been very timid progress, but also some shortcomings. What is to be deplored is the lack of political will in the implementation of the provisions contained in the General Code of Decentralised Local Authorities. For example, apart from the setting up of city councils immediately after the double elections of 9 February last, practically no other major competence transferred to the district municipalities has been translated into practice. Who does not remember the management of mining careers, which has so far been the subject of a bitter battle between the minister in charge of decentralised local authorities and the Njombe Penja City Council? The minister desperately relies on the lack of an implementing decree on mining careers management as if it were up to the mayor of this municipality to sign it. The minister seems to be unaware that there has been no implementing decree to create city councils. This double standard is revealing of the fact that the mafias set up with the complicity of decision-makers lurking in the shadows dictate the progress of the decentralisation process at their agreed pace.

Moreover, it should also be noted that some traps have been deliberately maintained in the texts resulting from the Grand National Dialogue. This seems to be proof that there has been virtually no real political will to move the lines in the direction of capacity building in the care of populations or even m the empowerment of decentralised local authorities require. These cleverly laid traps should at least have merited additional information from the government to Parliament in particular and to the people in general when the Code was adopted:

1- The absence of a deadline, the timetable for the implementation of the different stages of these reforms and the firm commitment to respect it.

2- The insufficient level of the amount of resources transferred by the State to decentralised local authorities. A minimum of 15% where a starting minimum of 25% is needed, which should be constitutionalized in order to provide guarantees of good faith.

3- The always harmful role of the representative of the State, whose powers are not limited solely to the role of controlling regularity (the mediator in the NoSo, for example, is appointed by the President of the Republic on the proposal of the President of the Regional Executive Council and the representative of the State).

4- The education system and the judicial system, which are special because of the linguistic particularity in the NoSo, are not set out in the General Code of Decentralised Local Authorities, which states, it should be remembered, that they will be the subject of specific laws. The deadline for implementing these specific laws deserves once again to be clarified in order to avoid deception, recklessness and inertia. It is no secret that Progressivity has always meant “Without delay” for Yaoundé.

5- The financial cost of the reform as well as the mode of financing. Implementing these reforms requires huge resources, especially financial ones. So far, the government has never detailed the cost and where will the money come from?

It is constant that if the means do not follow, the General Code of Decentralized Local Authorities, which has raised so many hopes for the Jacobins, will find itself in a deep state of hibernation. Given the practically drained state of our public finances and in order not to permanently strangle the Cameroonian taxpayer who is struggling to make ends meet, it will require not only the support of bilateral and multilateral partners but also that all Cameroonians get together.

The President of the Republic must personally take matters into his own hands. In times of crisis, the presidential function is not delegated despite the Prime Minister’s declared willingness to do so. Cameroon has been burning since the beginning of this crisis. In times of fire, even the smallest bucket of water is needed to extinguish it. The President of the Republic can, in a sudden outburst of wisdom that his age necessarily confers on him, declare a ceasefire in the two English-speaking regions. This does not mean disarming the army. It goes back into the barracks. If the armed groups do not follow, national and international public opinion will be taken as a witness. Thereafter, the President of the Republic may solemnly meet with the leaders of political formations as well as those representing civil society. This obviously involves the release of the political prisoners imprisoned in the context of this crisis, the lifting of the sequestration of the CRM leader as well as the release of all the demonstrators imprisoned in connection with the various peaceful marches. It should not be forgotten that a gesture was made in this direction at the end of the Grand National Dialogue. To ease the political atmosphere after the Grand National Dialogue. During these hearings, the President of the Republic may ask them to join the government of the Republic and then put them on a mission of good offices to meet the various protagonists, masked or not, of the secession in order to get around the table for negotiations. Even if the latter demand that the meetings should take place outside the country to ensure their security, consent to this request since peace is priceless. Once these discussions have begun, it will already be a decisive step towards a return to peace. The different options will be put on the negotiating table. At the same time, in order to generate popular understanding and support, a vast information and explanation campaign will have to be organised and carried out by credible people in both the north-west and south-west regions.  Of course, the SDF remains convinced that only the return to federalism, advocated since its foundation, will isolate the extremists and bring back with immediate effect the peace that is so dear to all of us.

The government holds all the leverage for a détente and a return of peace in the NoSo. Provided that we play fair and put the extremists aside.

By Jean Robert WAFO

SDF Shadow Cabinet Minister, in charge of Information and the Media

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