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Public Hearing: An Innovation In Local Council Management 

By Peterkins Manyong

When,  on May 26,  1990, John Fru Ndi  assured Cameroonians  that the SDF would  bring change to Cameroon, the majority of those who listened to him understood him to mean that Paul Biya must go.

Few persons saw change as the act of ushering in a new mentality. This explains why despite the complete transformation in the mood of thinking, many myopic people still persist that no change has taken place in Cameroon since Biya is still seated at Etoudi. Fortunately, the majority of Cameroonians are now facing the reality that the country is no longer the same.
Proof of this evolution is that there is a semblance of decentralisation at the level of local councils. An example serves in the present case than precepts.

On Friday, October 8, the Bafut Council, headed by Abel Langsi, organised the first public hearing in the history of that municipality, and one of the premier of such occasions in the Northwest. During the occasion, Mayor Langsi announced the Council Development Plan, CDP, a working document that will re-orientate the development of Bafut Subdivision for the next 25 years. The workability of the Plan, he insinuated, will depend on the support of the Bafut population and development agencies.

The occasion was also used to enumerate over 200 projects realised within the past three years, among them a magnificent council complex and the signing of partnership agreements with Plan Cameroon, the National Community-driven Development Programme, PNDP, as well as a twinning agreement with the Lansing (not Langsi) City Council in the US.

To some people it was nothing better than an opportunity for Mayor Langsi to upstage himself. But the fact that the Mayor’s achievements were acknowledged even by Bafut CPDM barons proves that it was not much ado about nothing. Fon Abumbi II of Bafut, a CPDM Central Committee member, is one of the Mayor’s most ardent pillars and, whenever the opportunity presents itself, he advises fellow CPDM militants to collaborate with the Mayor since the council is a state institution.

It is essential to note here that change is not necessarily effected by those at the helm of a political organisation or the nation. The initiative of development-minded people can bring change faster than those in authority who lack proper orientation. By opting to present himself and his collaborators before the public for scrutiny, he was, in fact, giving anybody who doubted what the Council was doing the opportunity to question them.

An elective position is a position of trust and the giver is the electorate. Whatever has been achieved in the public’s interest must be made known in a humble and convincing manner and not in the haughty style of P.B Shelley’s Oxymandias "Look on my works ye mighty and despair".

It is also noteworthy that politics is not like religion whose primary objective is the salvation of souls through acts known only by the doer and his Maker. It is about grabbing power through the ballot box and keeping it through the renewed confidence of the voters. For this reason the left hand must be fully informed about what the right is doing. It is not enough that a politician’s actions are intrinsically good. He must take care to make them appear so.

Another significance of the public hearing is that Mayor Langsi did not court the sympathy of the press; he dared their questions and therefore their judgment. Unlike many of his contemporaries who perceive journalists as intruding peeping Toms, who say more than what they notice, the Mayor upholds the view that reality is what the press says it is. He also sees the press as an indispensable partner in development.

It may not be out of place to mention here that the opinion of the most popular leaders in history was given them by writers. Napoleon said he dreaded the press more than a thousand bayonets and by that act of cajolery was paid back with favourable media coverage. Most of those kings whom we know today as "Enlightened Despots" were, in reality, not enlightened at all, but were given this appellation by the Philosophers.

Catherine 11 of Russia had 21 known lovers, which is not civilized or enlightened conduct. Frederick 11 of Prussia was a conqueror and we know that he who conquers by force has subdued his opponent only by half. But he had the advantage that Voltaire was his personal friend. He flattered Voltaire to sell his image to the world when he said: "Philosophers like you say what ought to be and kings like us are there to do what you say". Voltaire consequently immortalised Frederick with the distinguished title of

"The Philosopher King".

The conduct of the Bafut Mayor also contrasts sharply with those of many holders of elective office in that he lives with the people. He shares in their joys and sorrows as they are together at birthdays, marriages and funerals. Most MPs and some mayors, especially those of the SDF, dread their municipalities and constituencies. They see those who elected them as a band of homburgs, political parasites to be shunned when it is not yet election time. The number of former mayors and MPS who have remained faithful to their parties after losing elections are few; those who have crossed carpets are legion.

Langsi is not, however, the only Anglophone mayor who has held high the banner of his party. Donatus Njong of Kumbo is also a reference point in terms of management. Ben Tosam of Belo is another shining example. Mbella Moki of Buea, although a CPDM official, defies even Yaounde authorities whenever the interest of his municipality is at stake.

Raymond Dinga Gwanyalla of Bali is known to use even personal funds to develop his council area. A few other mayors, whose names are not mentioned, here have also earned plaudits for successfully circumventing that arrogant official called the supervisory authority or the Government Delegate and gone ahead to effect meaningful change in their municipalities.

Our society needs such dreadnoughts to seize the fire of development from that machine of egoism called The New Deal Regime, which sounds the trumpet of decentralisation, but remains an essentially and provocatively centralised system.
 

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