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Cameroon Hasn’t Attained Transparency Status In Extractive Industries – Civil Society Activist 

Interviewed by Yerima Kini Nsom

The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, EITI, is an organisation made up of countries which came together to ensure that revenue from oil and other resources are handled with transparency. Cameroon became part of this initiative in 2005 and has so far presented three reports to the EITI General Secretariat on the oil and natural resources revenue in Cameroon.

It tries to ensure that these exhaustible resources from this sector should benefit the citizens. It seeks to help member countries to transform their resources into sustainable economic programmes for the benefit of its citizens.

Richard Ndi Tantoh is member of the EITI Follow-up Committee in Cameroon. In the following interview, the Human Rights Activist, who is also the Director of the Ecumenical Service for Peace, explains Cameroon’s situation as far as reaching the compliance stage of the initiative is concerned. Excerpts:

The Post: Has Cameroon reached the compliance stage of this initiative?

Richard Ndi Tantoh: No. Cameroon has submitted three reports to the general secretariat and, as of the last report; it was classified as close to conformity. This meant that the country had a few things to do to meet the conditions for full compliance.

Some questions were asked for Cameroon to answer. The National Follow-up Committee sat and deliberated on the questions and proposed answers. Some of the questions concerned gaps in revenue collected and revenue declared. Cameroon gave answers to thee questions that were sent to the committee. A team of experts came to the international secretariat and worked with the committee in Cameroon in May.

They were supposed to follow up on the comments that were made on the Cameroon report. They went back and are presently preparing a report on the situation of Cameroon which will be presented. If that report is good enough, Cameroon will get to the status of a compliance country.

What are the conditions for Cameroon to become a compliance State?

Cameroon needs to reduce bottle necks around the number of ministries involved in the extractive industry sector, try to build capacities of people so that they can be conversant with issues of extracting industry and oil. We need more collaboration with people who are doing the exploitation. We have developed strategies to face these challenges. We are trying to get a consultant to start work on the next report. We are taking on board some of the recommendations that were presented to us.

One of the things the International Secretariat has not been appreciating so well is that they work on English Standards of accounting but we work in the French system where accounts are declared by the Supreme Court or National Assembly.

They think that this system is not strong enough to guarantee the validity of financial statements. But I think from the discussions we had with the team that came from the secretariat, the Minister of Finance, who is the chair of the National Committee, clarified on the situation. They made important remarks about the progress Cameroon has made this far.

What are the conclusions that were made during this meeting?

They met with all stakeholders, including those involved in the process of revenue collection and even companies; so, I can not say exactly what the conclusions were. We, as members of the committee, are stakeholders and we could only give them what we had as our contribution. We thought that they will be able to come up with a report which will push Cameroon’s case for compliance.

As an Independent observer, do you believe revenue from minerals and other natural resources are effectively used for the amelioration of the living condition of the citizens?

The EITI is not really concerned about how revenue is used at the moment. It is about seeing what comes out. At first, revenue was not declared. Now we are able to see the figures, and we want to see that it goes into the budget. Money which goes into the budget is used for the State.

Some of the resources from oil, one can argue conveniently, that it has been used to promote investment in Cameroon because they are part of the budget. We are not yet trying to see how the money is used. It is a whole package. Money from oil is not isolated. It is part of the Government budget so we cannot say that this is what money from oil has done, per se.

As we move on progressively, there are discussions to make sure that even those who live around the areas of extraction may benefit. These are things that are in the pipeline, so that, if new deposits are found, the councils in these areas will be empowered to negotiate such that the companies involved in exploitation will take the inhabitants into consideration.

Even the Ministry of Environment is also involved; the environmental impact of the activities of these companies should be checked. A number of self guards are being considered. We are just getting into the extractive industry and we need to learn from our errors. When you get into a sector like that, you need to build up and move ahead.

Do you believe Cameroon will reach that stage of compliance?

Yes. I think very strongly that we are making efforts. The civil society is playing its own part. It will be to the advantage of all Cameroonians. We will be able to know how much is coming and how it is being used. Our oil is getting exhausted. All the money that gets into the Government goes to the treasury and it is from here that we know the revenue collection.

We declare it but we do not get into it. We think that we can broaden the spectrum as regards the kinds of industries. Even water can be part of it. It is part of our natural resources, though it has not been included into the EITI spectrum. All we want is that the exploitation should be transparent.
 

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