Yaoundé — According to a law recently enacted by the Cameroonian parliament, individuals found guilty of corruption and embezzlement of public funds will see the charges against them dropped if they return the money.
Some Cameroonian citizens are concerned that the new law will further encourage corruption within the ruling elite.
The new law, which was passed last December by the Cameroonian National Assembly, states that if the object of the crime is restored, the Public Prosecutor can drop the charges, upon written authorisation by the minister of justice.
The minister of justice has therefore been granted special powers that enable him to interfere with the decision of judges in any given case, allowing those found guilty of stealing public money to walk free.
The law has divided public opinion in the central African country. According some Cameroonians, this legislation will encourage public funds managers to steal without any fear. “People can now take public funds, invest in lucrative deals and then refund it if they are caught”, says Camille, a concerned blogger.
“It is sending a very bad message. It is almost as if people were being allowed to buy off the silence of justice”, adds Jules, a student at the University of Yaoundé.
Others are hopeful that the new law will facilitate the recovery of funds embezzled by high ranking government officials. “So far, we’ve seen former ministers being arrested for corruption and embezzlement. But the government has not recovered any of the money.
If these ministers were given an opportunity to refund the money, Cameroon would have additional funds to invest in development projects”, comments Patrick, another student. “What’s the use of putting people in jail if what they have stolen cannot be recovered?”, he wonders.
A deep-rooted evil
In Cameroon, corruption is a deep-rooted evil. In 1998 and 1999, the country topped the list of the most corrupt countries in the world. The government has since launched “opération épervier” (operation sparrow hawk) to fight against the rampant corruption.
The operation culminated in the arrest of a dozen former ministers, managing directors and close collaborators of President Paul Biya. Despite these efforts, corruption is prevalent in Cameroon. According to a report published in November by the National Anticorruption Commission, 15.4 billion CFA francs have reportedly been embezzled in the construction of a single road in the Eastern province.
As far as the opposition is concerned, President Paul Biya is not really making any efforts to fight against corruption and embezzlement, as he is only enacting Article 66 of the constitution, which requires top ranking government officials to declare their assets before and after assuming their position in the public service.
Paul Biya has recently created a ‘special criminal court’ to try, within six months, those accused of stealing public wealth “to the value of at least 50 million CFA francs”. It remains to be seen whether such measures will be effective in decreasing corruption among the ruling political elite.