Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa



Remarks by Clinton S. “Tad” Brown Deputy Chief of the Political Section of the U.S. Embassy in Cameroon At the “Conference on Corruption and its Implications on Human Rights” Alliance Franco-Camerounaise, Buea

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Good morning.

Thank you for your warm welcome, and for the invitation to join you for this important conference.  I am always looking for an excuse to travel out of Yaounde, especially when I have the opportunity to visit the South East Region, which boasts beautiful scenery and some of the most hospitable people I have had the pleasure to meet.

But it wasn’t the landscape or the opportunity to enjoy some grilled fish at Down Beach that motivated me to join you; it was the importance of the topic we are here to discuss, and, equally, the significance of the event itself.

First, the topic: corruption.  I do not need to tell you why it is so important.  It is at the center of every challenge—economic, social and security—that Cameroon confronts, and that the U.S. Government, as a partner to the Cameroonian people, must also address.

Second, the significance of the event itself: your invitation caught my attention from among the many we receive each day because it was not a seminar in a fancy hotel in Yaounde, nor was it a request for funding or other sponsorship.  Rather, it was an invitation to take part a community-based event focused on diagnosing a common problem and identifying what members of the community can do to remedy the situation.  In my mind, this type of citizen action is the bedrock of a democratic society.

And so I am thankful for your invitation, humbled by the opportunity to address you, and hopeful that my remarks will contribute something to the day’s conversation.

My goal this morning is to explain the U.S. Government’s policies to fight corruption and foster better governance on a global scale, including here in Cameroon.

I would also like to propose that those of us who want to see Cameroon realize its potential must change the terms of the discussion, keeping the momentum of anti-corruption, of course, but engaging more and more of the nation’s energy on the effort to improve governance at all levels of society, including through a of the national focus away from a critique focused squarely on the government and towards a holistic view, one that incorporates the full range of citizen action, a holistic view of the problem of corruption and of its solution.

I have been the Embassy’s point-person on corruption and governance issues for the last three years.  As you know, the U.S. Embassy in Cameroon, under successive Ambassadors, has been consistently outspoken on issues of corruption and governance. Some people believed that Ambassador Marquardt was on a personal crusade to fight corruption in Cameroon.

And it is true that he was an indefatigable champion for good governance, but Ambassador Garvey’s leadership on these same issues is evidence that the U.S. Embassy’s engagement on corruption and governance is larger than any individual Ambassador.

In fact, the focus on corruption in Cameroon is the result of a consensus in Washington, that extends across party lines—Democratic and Republican—and across all branches of the U.S. Government, that issues of corruption and governance lie at the center of policy and development challenges not just in Cameroon, but in much of the world, including in the United States

Our outspoken position on these issues in Cameroon has led some people, often those who reflexively defend the status quo, no matter how undesirable or indefensible it might be, to ask what action the U.S. Government is taking to match its rhetoric on corruption with action, to uphold its own responsibility to fight corruption.

I am always a bit wary of the question, because I think it distracts from the fundamental reality that, no matter what the United States does or does not do, the outcome of Cameroon’s fight against corruption will be determined by the actions of Cameroonians, and by their actions alone.

Nevertheless, because I am proud of what my government is doing in the spirit of partnership with the Cameroonian people, let me review some of the steps the U.S. has taken, many of which were highlighted by Ambassador Garvey in her recent remarks to the American Chamber of Commerce and the Commonwealth’s Investment Forum.

Foreign Corrupt Practices Act

We all know that bribery, one form of corruption, requires two parties, someone to demand the bribe and someone to supply the bribe.  In cases of international bribery, the supplier of the bribe sometimes comes from one of the world’s developed economies.  Recognizing that the U.S. has an obligation to address the role its own citizens were playing in supplying bribes, the United States Government adopted the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, a law that is as revolutionary today it was when it was passed, thirty years ago.

The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, or FCPA, makes it illegal for American citizens or American companies to offer or provide bribes to foreign officials.  Importantly, the FCPA has extraterritorial reach, meaning U.S. law enforcement will pursue those who break it whether they do so in the U.S., in Cameroon, or anywhere in the world.

The FCPA is more than promises; it has been used countless times, including against some of the biggest and most powerful companies in the United States.

Just recently, a subsidiary of Halliburton was forced to pay more than $400 million in fines for corrupt acts in Nigeria, and senior company officials face substantial time in jail.  The U.S. has aggressively applied this law even to foreign companies that do business in the U.S.  Siemens and BAE Systems, two powerful European companies, have been pursued under the FCPA for their corrupt acts in the developing world.  No other country in the world can boast of such a robust, aggressive effort to prevent and fight corruption by its own citizens and companies.

Proclamation 7750

The United States was again at the forefront of international efforts to fight corruption when, in 2004, President George Bush signed into law Proclamation 7750, an Executive Order calling on the Department of State to deny entry to corrupt officials, those who corrupt them, and their dependents who have benefited from their corrupt acts.  Proclamation 7750 is a clear affirmation of the U.S. Government’s desire to deny safe haven to corrupt officials and their ill-gotten gains.

Proclamation 7750 has been applied to the nationals of many countries.

In one case, the judicious application of Proclamation 7750 succeeded in thwarting the effort of one individual who was seeking to flee Cameroonian justice in order to take refuge in the United States.

To my knowledge, the U.S. is the only country that maintains such a policy of denying otherwise qualified applicants specifically on the basis of their corruption.  I am hopeful that other countries will adopt similar measures in the coming years, which will begin to limit the benefits to be gained from large-scale corruption.

UNCAC, Technical Assistance, and Mutual Legal Assistance

The U.S. has also been a leader in multilateral fora, most importantly in the drafting and passage of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption, or UNCAC.  The UNCAC, which was ratified by the U.S. and Cameroon in 2006, is required reading for anyone who hopes to understand the international legal effort to fight corruption and improve governance.

The UNCAC provides a roadmap for preventing and prosecuting corruption, improving governance, and obtaining international assistance.  The U.S. and Cameroon do not have a bilateral mutual legal assistance treaty, but the UNCAC provides the framework that our investigative and judicial authorities require in order to collaborate formally on crimes of corruption, especially for the seizure and repatriation of stolen assets.

The U.S. Government has been providing technical assistance to Cameroon and other states party to the UNCAC.  Cameroonian judicial and police officials have visited their counterparts in the United States to lay the groundwork for closer cooperation.  U.S. officials have come to Cameroon, visiting their counterparts at ANIF, the Police Judiciare, and the Ministry of Justice.

Last October, the U.S. Embassy hosted a seminar to explain how Cameroonian officials could call on the assistance of U.S. officials to further their investigations.  Just last week, five Cameroonian officials engaged in ongoing law enforcement actions traveled to Tanzania for a U.S.-sponsored seminar focusing on investigation of financial crimes and, specifically, the tracking, seizure and repatriation of stolen assets.

The scope and effectiveness of assistance the U.S. Government can provide are limited, however, by the capacity of Cameroonian officials to take advantage of it.  This is where I would like to return to the focus on what Cameroon, and specifically Cameroonians, are doing to fight corruption and, more importantly, improve governance.

In my conversations with Cameroonians over the last three years, it is clear that there is, at all levels of society, in and out of government, a strong sense that corruption is public enemy number one in Cameroon, that the country is suffering because fat-cat kleptocrats have drained the Cameroonian treasury of billions and billions of CFA.

There is obvious truth underlying this frustration, and grand-scale corruption has, in fact, exacted untold damage on Cameroon’s development, resulting in reduced economic growth, lost jobs, substandard education and declining standards of health care.

But I hope we can agree that large-scale corruption is actually just one symptom of a more pernicious and broader problem, the problem of governance.

If we look around the world, we can find examples that prove that grand-scale corruption is not, in and of itself, enough to hold back the development of a nation.  When that corruption is just a part of a larger story of poor governance, however, the results are disastrous.

As someone who has lived in Cameroon for the last three years, who considers Cameroon to be his home, I am not content to compare Cameroon to some of the world’s most underperforming countries and say, “ah, well, at least Cameroon is not that bad.”

As sincere believers that Cameroon has the potential to be a leader, not just in Central Africa, not just in Africa, but around the world, I think we have a role to consistently ask what Cameroon can do better, what Cameroon can do to improve its governance. 

That is not to say that Cameroon has not been active.  I cannot think of another country in the world where so many officials, from the highest levels of power to low-level bureaucrats, have been incarcerated or sanctioned for their corruption.  Cameroon should be proud of ANIF, its Financial Intelligence Unit, which is among the most active and professional of its kind in Africa.  Recent efforts to revise the tender code, and a proposed new anti-corruption law are further evidence of the Government’s eagerness to fight corruption.

To identify what will need to be done to ensure that the current momentum against corruption does not dissipate, I would like to put forward to ideas:

First, that the constant drum beat of criticism for the government’s action, or lack thereof, while sometimes perhaps justified, has ignored that fact that the fight against corruption and for better governance in Cameroon will be won when, and only when, it becomes a fight that engages the broader citizenry of Cameroon.

Second, that the focus on “corruption,” and especially on titillating press coverage that is more like celebrity gossip than investigative reporting, has obscured the issues of governance that are the underlying problem.

In my view, there is too much focus on the government.  I am disappointed when people try to point the finger, saying that the problem is the Head of State or the Head of Government or the Minister of this or the Secretary General of that.  It is simply inaccurate to say that Cameroon’s problems are the result of one individual or that they can be solved by one individual.  The problem is not the government, and the solution is not the government.

Let me give an example: year after year, in survey after survey, Cameroon and its institutions come under heavy criticism for corruption.  Often, the judiciary, the schools and the hospitals are singled out as being the most corrupt institutions.  The result is a constant drumbeat of grumbling in the press and corridors of Yaounde, Douala, Buea and around the country, complaining that magistrates and prosecutors are the problem.  They are all so corrupt!

But if we stop for a moment to reflect, to take a more holistic and citizen-based approach, we might wonder just who is corrupting all of those judicial officials?  And what might ask what the lawyer’s associations are doing to bring their own colleagues to task, to police themselves, to do their own part to improve governance in Cameroon.  The same goes for the schools, and for the hospitals.  How many teachers have been suspended by the teachers’ unions for demanding bribes?  How many doctors have been reproached by their professional associations for their corruption?  I am not aware of many. Is it because there are not that man teachers who demand bribes, there are not that many doctors who demand bribes, not that many lawyers who bribe their judicial colleagues?

It is easy to point at the other, especially at the government, as a way of removing our own responsibility.

The solution is better governance, which can only be achieved through the sustained, deliberate engagement of the body politic, the people, you, in the matters of state.

I have listed the many ways in which the U.S. Government has ramped up its efforts to help fight corruption, but we increasingly aware that our efforts are not enough in and of themselves, and that real progress will come only when the citizenry in each country becomes more robustly involved in issues of governance.  So we are seeking ways to provide more tools to citizens of countries where corruption is a problem.

Most recently, the U.S. Congress passed and the President signed legislation calling for a halt to U.S. assistance to governments that have not taken steps to increase transparency and accountability in their budgets.  As Ambassador Garvey noted in her remarks to the Commonwealth Business Council in Yaounde two weeks ago, Cameroon scores near the bottom in the Open Budget Institute’s international evaluation of budget transparency.

Why are we putting so much focus on budget transparency and accountability?  First, because we have an obligation to the American taxpayer, to be sure U.S. funds are being well used.  How can we be sure funds are used in a given country if no one knows how the country’s own funds are being spent?

Second, we are convinced that transparency and accountability are essential tools in ensuring good governance and fighting corruption.  On this front, we are practicing what we preach; there is a clear trend in the United States, particularly in the current administration and in the wake of the financial crisis and subsequent bailouts.

Every dollar that has been used in the multi-trillion dollar bailout of financial institutions can be tracked on a public website.  U.S. states are increasing providing their budget details on the internet.  If you live in the state of Missouri, for example, you can visit a public website and get details, down to the dollar amount, of every budget receipt and expenditure, not the planned budget, but the actual figures for money in and money out.

A secret budget does nothing but make crime easier for unscrupulous government officials and make the job harder for law enforcement.
When no one knows exactly how Cameroon’s budget is being spent, it makes it harder for police investigators and prosecutors to identify and track acts of embezzlement and corruption, and money is stolen and wasted.

The press covered a recent story in the wake of the Pope’s visit earlier this year, wherein a Minister had received sacks filled with hundreds of millions of CFA.  The press covered this story like a corruption story, but for me it was clearly a story of governance.  What can one expect, when ministers and other government officials are expected to conduct government business by moving around huge sums of cash?  In this day and age, the only people who should be moving around with bags filled with cash are criminals, who do not want to be tracked and held accountable.  This is a question of governance.

The officials of Control de l’Etat and the Audit Bench of the Supreme Court may work heroically to fight corruption, but the odds are against them.  With an open budget, however, they receive reinforcements.  When everyone knows how the funds are spent, the National Assembly, the media, civil society groups, churches, everyone becomes a part of law enforcement, and everyone plays a role in ensuring that public funds are well-spent.

And the struggle for good governance, to ensure that roads are built, that hospitals have the necessary medicines and that schools are well-staffed, is the responsibility of everyone in a society.

Too often, we are content to criticize the government, to say that CONAC is not doing enough, to demand that foreign Embassies step in, or to blame this or that group in society for driving corruption.

Really, the responsibility is incumbent on all of us, on all of you.  What are you doing to fight corruption in Cameroon?  What are you doing to improve governance?

I am aware of the challenges, of the roadblocks and obstacles.  But they are of less interest to me.  What is more important is learning how you plan to overcome them, how you plan to do your part to change the status quo.
You can be confident that you have an ally in the U.S. Government, that we will continue to accompany you in this important effort that is, in the end, will succeed only if and when it engages the whole of Cameroonian society.

Let me close my remarks by asking the question again:

What are you doing to fight corruption in Cameroon?  What are you doing to improve governance?  What are you doing, to move beyond words, to move beyond complaining about what others are doing, to do your own part to fight corruption and improve governance in Cameroon?

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