Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa

 

SYMPOSIUM

Political Corruption & Human Rights

By Prof. Tazoacha ASONGANYI
Thursday, June 25, 2009

Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen. Once more, welcome to this Seminar on a very topical issue in our community.

I would like to thank the Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa (CHRDA) for inviting me to participate in this Seminar. As my own contribution to this discussion, it seems to be my duty here to lead the discussion on “Political Corruption and Human Rights”.

You are aware that after a long human struggle, human beings now live in groupings called Counties that are organized into the state and society. It is the sovereign individuals that live in society that institute the state (government) and consent to its authority.

In principle, the sovereign individual is supposed to enjoy Rights that protect his/her freedom of action. It is well known that left to their own designs, human beings always have the urge to get the better of their fellows. This is why the state (government) was established to overcome this human urge, and to ensure respect for individual rights to freedom of action which is a necessary condition for the attainment of their highest good of individuals.

This existence of the state means that the sovereign individual in society is confronted by two types of conflicts, namely, conflicts with other sovereign individuals, and conflicts with the state.

Further, in the state, we still entrust the mandate to wield the power of the state to individuals. This still leaves intact the natural human tendency to prey on their fellows and turn state power to the service of self and cohorts. The role of the Rule of Law is to contain this Rule of Man. Power is hemmed in with myriad restrictions concerning the relationship between the state and the sovereign individuals, and between the individual and other individuals in society. Therefore Rule of Law is used to secure the sovereignty of all individual citizens, without exception; this makes every citizen equal before the law.

To further control state power, the power is usually divided into branches, and decentralized into subsidiary structures, all of which provide checks and balances in the exercise of the Power.

In society, it is the individual citizen that conceives the good. Rights are therefore the engine of progress and the vector of dignity for these individual citizens. Rights allow the realization of our greater selves; they allow our emancipation.

It is for these reasons that all human struggles in history have been essentially the fight for the rights of man and the citizen, and for the clarification of the role of the state that governs society in which the individual citizen lives. It is the degree of harmonious coexistence between individuals in society, and between individuals and the state that determines the degree of what are usually referred to as “democracy” and “development”, in all their dimensions.

We will define corruption here as any effort to distort this harmonious coexistence between individual citizen, and between individual citizens and the state.
 
If we use the dictionary definition we are told that the word “corrupt” means: to make rotten, to defile, to contaminate, to make evil, to bribe...; when it is used as an adjective, it means: putrid, depraved, tainted with vice or sin, influenced by bribery, spoilt by mistakes, or altered (word, literary passages, etc.) for the worse.

As for “politics”, it is usually defined as the art of government; the management of the daily affairs of society; promoting the welfare of citizens, as individuals and as a collectivity.

Political corruption would therefore mean corruption that is meant to meet political end of modifying the harmonious coexistence between individuals in society, or between individuals and the state. This is usually achieved through preference for the Rule of Man over the Rule of Law …

Invariably, any modification of harmonious coexistence in society between individuals and the state leads to the abuse of the Rights of the Citizens. Such political corruption can either be through:

  • Frontal assault on the law; or
  • Internal sabotage of the law, rules and regulations by draining them of their power.

Frontal assault would include actions like:

  • ignoring the law with impunity and doing only what favours one individual to the detriment of another individual; or one faction of society to the detriment of others, in the exercise of a public service; Example: refusing to register some citizens and multiple registration of others; refusing to issue voters’ cards to some, hiding information or producing confusing information on polling stations, encouraging multiple voting, changing of polling station results, buying of votes with money...
  • refusal to institute rules for transparency and accountability in the exercise of public service;
  • Offering promotion, gifts or presents as compliments for violation of constitutional or legal principle of equality;

Internal sabotage: This is dangerous, mainly because it is hidden. It is more difficult to battle because it is not easily detected. It includes:

  • Making the law difficult to interpret;
  • Making a law redundant due to difficulty to apply it;
  • Refusing to issue texts of application;
  • Promoting ignorance of the law;
  • Ignoring the spirit of the law…

Examples of violation of citizens’ rights through frontal assault on the law or internal sabotage abound.

AT STATE LEVEL:

  • Assault on and sabotage of the law:

The rights enjoyed by individual citizens are laid down in international instruments which are binding on Cameroon. These are reiterated in the Preamble of the 1996 Constitution as follows:
We “the people” of Cameroon

  • Declare that the human person without distinction as to race, religion, sex, belief, possesses inalienable rights;
  • Affirm our attachment to the fundamental freedoms enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, The Charter of the United Nations, and the African Charter on Human and People’ Rights and all duly ratified international conventions relating thereto…

The central concern is the human subject.

This preamble of the constitution of Cameroon which is an integral part of the constitution constitutes the spirit of the whole constitution and a guide to its implementation by government in relation to the sovereign citizen.

The 1996 Constitution furthers states as follows:
Part I, Section 8.2.1: “National sovereignty shall be vested in the people of Cameroon who shall exercise same either through the President of the Republic and Members of Parliament or by way of referendum.  No section of the people or any individual shall arrogate to itself or himself the exercise thereof…”
8.2.2: The authorities responsible for the management of the state shall derive their powers from the people through election by direct or indirect universal suffrage, unless otherwise provided for by this constitution
8.2.3 The vote shall be equal and secret, and every citizen aged twenty years and above shall be entitled to vote.
8.2.4: State power shall be exercised by: The President of the Republic; Parliament.

Internal Sabotage of the law:

  • The law is written in a way that its implementation leaves the President of the Republic to incarnate the sovereignty of the people, especially because he calls the shots in Parliament; therefore “State Power” in Cameroon is exercised solely by…The President of the Republic.
  • The section that states that “No section of the people or any individual shall arrogate to itself or himself the exercise of the peoples’ sovereignty”, is redundant!
  • The electoral system that renders the vote unequal through multiple registration, refusal to register people and other omissions and commissions constitute internal sabotage.

Such sabotage of the law constitutes political corruption through which state power is taken away from the people and vested in one man.  This has serious consequences on the rights of the citizens.

  • Difficult access to courts:

It is the place of the court to say what the law is; to uphold the Rule of Law. Most of the time, the court can only rule on matters brought before it; it cannot initiate litigation on its own. This means that a court cannot promote justice and freedom if the victims of injustice and oppression cannot get into it; therefore the courts have to be accessible to ordinary citizens seeking justice for their grievances. For example:

  • The Penal Code of Cameroon Articles 134 and 134(a) states that “any public servant or government employee who for himself or for a third party solicits, accepts or receives any offer, promise, gift or present in order to perform or refrain from performing or postpone any act of his office”; or who receives any reward “as a remuneration for having already performed or refrained from any such act”. This can only be implemented if a framework exists for easy sorting out of such corrupt officials. Administrative officials usually feel that they have the obligation of results during elections in order to get promotion, so they engage in electoral fraud with impunity. And sometimes they actually get promoted!
  • Section 46 (2) of the constitution states: “access to the constitutional council is reserved for President of the Republic, President of the National Assembly, President of the Senate, one third of members of the Senate, one third of members of the National Assembly”. There is internal sabotage of the law by denying access to the court.
  • Section 53 (1-2) of Constitution on impeachment. There is internal sabotage of the law by the failure to indicate conditions under which matters shall be referred to the Court of Impeachment
  • Section 18(2a) & 23 (3a) of the constitution: “All Private members’ bills and amendments which, if passed, would result in the reduction of public funds or in an increase in public charges without a corresponding reduction in other expenditures or the grant of equivalent new supply of funds, shall be inadmissible”. There is internal sabotage of the law by making it redundant since condition is difficult to fulfill.

C) Contracts as vehicles of poverty and riches:
Contracting of services involves several stages, each of which usually involves exchange of money. The many stages include: issuing of purchase order, Call for Tenders, Tendering, Files of Tenders, Selection of Contractor, Signing of contract, Implementation of contract, Reception of service, Payment of bills. Each stage lacks transparency and accountability, and so leads to corruption that enriches individuals and impoverishes beneficiary communities. The result is that construction of roads, classrooms, health centres and supplies of material and office equipments is inefficient, leading to gross violation of freedom of movement, the right to health, education, etc. Therefore:

  • There is sabotage of service delivery through concentration of powers (failure to decentralise) leading to poor execution of contracts
  • Non-functional structures are created to deceive and corrupt villages: schools (without teachers), health centre (without drugs and staff), plethora of pupil per class vs 60, infrastructure without accompanying amenities (electricity, water, etc) to attract staff;
  • Refusal to put in place transparent and accountable contracting procedures.

D) Institutional vacuum and window dressing:
No appropriate structures to ensure transparency and accountability in providing services to the public. All laws, rules and regulations for checking corruption suffer from internal sabotage:
a) CONAC/ANIF: all lack independence and freedom of action. All tied to the Presidency
b) State Control: Tied to the Presidency.
c) Refusal to provide the law of application of article 66 of the constitution on declaration of assets and property.

DURING PRIVATISATION:

Acceptance of bribery from competing companies to privatize on unfavourable terms,  thus affecting negatively the GDP which impinges on many rights: employment, education, health, etc

IN THE PRIVATE SECTOR:

Avoidance of taxes or payment of low taxes through corrupting officials; avoidance of custom duties, etc; this also impacts the GDP, and the many rights that wealth ensure..

IN POLITICAL PARTIES:

Political parties, especially of the opposition are supposed to check government action. Since they do not do so effectively, they share responsibility for the resultant poverty due to commissions and omissions of government. They also suffer from:

    • Internal corruption to maintain an inconstant electorates favourable to the leadership;
    • Use of money to gain votes of members, and to gain favours from leaders.
    • Abuse of power due to intolerance of divergent views;
    • Corruption of MPs through shady expenditures from the “black box” in Parliament;
    • Corruption of some political parties to set confusion and prevent opposition unity.

CONCLUSION:

Some years a go, a report from BBC News indicated that “one in 10 people in Cameroon say they or a member of their household has paid a bribe in the past year”.  This was the finding of a global opinion survey which suggested that Cameroon was/is the most corrupt country, since a majority of those surveyed there admitted paying bribe. In conclusion:

  • There can be no corruption-free society; there are only societies where perpetrators of corruption are actively sorted out and punished and societies where perpetrators are allowed to act with impunity.
  • Those who campaign for zero tolerance in corruption know that corruption can never be totally eliminated; but the rate can be greatly reduced by mounting a vigorous fight against it.
  • Corruption in Cameroon is about life and death: about not building a classroom, a dispensary, buying essential drugs, etc., because the funds meant for the projects are spent on bribing a line of people to create a corrupt fraternity that declares on paper that the budget has been spent on the projects, and the projects have been duly received! The ideal would be that if contractors use corrupt means to gain a contract, they must execute it. A road should never be declared to have been tarred when vehicles are still getting stuck there during the rains!
  • We should never think that anybody, Westerner or others, will ever be so sorry for us that when they have the opportunity to make quick money by bribing/corrupting any of us, they would hesitate to do so. Who would hesitate to easily have his way anywhere in the world? It is all about interests; nobody but Cameroonians will best defend the interests of Cameroon. We should shed the habit of complaining and waiting for some imaginary person from somewhere to come to our help.
  • The Ambassador of the USA in two important statements to the American Chamber of Commerce in Douala and Commonwealth grouping in Yaounde has been giving us lessons on accountability and transparency in the management of public affairs, and the need for individual citizens to get fully implicated in the effort to bring change. Interestingly, her prescriptions all resemble what obtained in the Governments of Southern Cameroons/West Cameroon before “reunification”. This means that the practices being recommended today are embedded in the history of Cameroon.  Since this Seminar is taking place in Buea which was the seat of the government of Southern Cameroons/West Cameroon, it will not be difficult to lay hands on two important documents, namely:
  • The West Cameroon Financial Instructions, and
  • The General Orders.

The two documents show that the government was based on strong institutions, not on the whims and caprices of “strong men”. Such institutions included:

  • An Accounts Department headed by The Controller of Accounts; “The Controller of Accounts was the Chief Financial Officer of the West Cameroon Government….and the financial operations of Government (were) under his control and supervision…”
  • An Audit Department headed by The Director of Audit: The Controller of Accounts and The Director of Audits and their representatives had the right of access to all records, and were entitled to information regarding any official bank account.
  • Decentralisation to Local Government: local governments ran hospitals, schools and other services. Strong decentralisation provided an effective institutional check of power.
  • Public Service Commission: no promotion or recruitment or appointments were based on the whims and caprices of officials
  • Commissions of Enquiry Ordinance (Cap 36 of the 1958 laws): empowered the Prime Minister to appoint a commission of inquiry into any department of government to investigate possible wrongdoing to ensure that trustees of public service hold the public trust, so the public always had the power and responsibility to demand an account, which was sometimes public.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Strong institutions, systematized procedures and frameworks, and the strict respect of the Rule of Law are effective instruments in the fight against corruption. These require strong Political Will which we do not seem to have in our public officials!

Thank you for your kind attention.

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