12 June 2006

Cameroon: Tightening the Noose On Mismanagers of Forest Revenues

The roads are unpaved, towns are not lighted, there are few schools, fewer teachers, potable water is scarce and a paucity of health centres, some neither have drugs nor doctors. This is the palpable reality for the people living in the Southeast of Cameroon.

Marquardt,Egbe:Working for transparency

The misery of this region contrasts perplexingly with the huge sums of money - some FCFA 5 billion yearly - logging companies pay to the local councils as forest royalties.

The impression visitors to Boumba et Ngoko Division, where exploitation is heaviest, get is that the money put at the disposal of councils every three months is not properly used. Someone, it seems, is putting a sticking hand into the put.

It was axiomatic then that Mr. Hillman Egbe Achou, Minister of Forest and Wildlife, who, alongside US Ambassador, Niels Marquardt, visited Boumba et Ngoko Division, from June 3 to 7, stressed the proper management of forest revenue. Both men were in the area on the invitation of World Wide Fund for Nature, WWF, an international conservation NGO.

Minister Egbe Achou fired the first salvo while addressing the people of Salapoumbe, a small town of about 13000 people, whose council has been benefiting from forest revenues. "I have come with the US Ambassador to see the reality on the ground and to see how revenue generated from the forest is being used," Mr. Egbe said. He said forest revenue is not much but could be a point of departure.

"This is time for the truth and you should be able to clean your house, I want to see the impact of the forest revenue trickling down to the people," he said.The wildlife and Forestry Minister warned that he would be coming again with another team for evaluation. "I will not fail to take measures to ensure that the money is properly spent. This is not time for mere speeches," he stated.

The Minister was reacting to an earlier speech presented by the Mayor of Salapoumbe in which he said despite forest revenues, the council still faces financial problems. "We have a lot of problems created by debts inherited from the previous administration," the Mayor said. He even called on the US Ambassador to help construct a dam in the town to enable the people generate electricity.

Moloudou, Nothing Has Changed

The Minister and the Ambassador continued the trip down to Moloudou another Subdivision on the borders with Congo Brazzaville. Here Mr. Hillman Egbe remarked that he was surprised that 12 months after he visited the region, nothing has changed. He wondered aloud what the Council has been doing with revenues accruing from the forest.

After listening to a positive report presented by a committee for the management of forest resources, known by its French acronym as COVAREF, in the town hall, Hillman Egbe asked if such attention is being given to other aspects of life in Moloudou.

"The government has noted that after 12 months, the miserable conditions in Moloudou has not changed. Are you waiting for government to come and manage things for you?" he asked.

Quizzed on whether the US could help Cameroon government ensure that forest revenues are properly used, Ambassador Marquardt said, "I do not think the government needs my assistance on this issue. We have seen what the reality is. We have seen certain municipalities where these revenues are effectively used.

We have seen others were they are less effective used. I think it is clear to everyone what needs to be done," he noted. Marquardt hoped that after the tour a lot of things would happen.

It is feared that should councils persist in mismanaging forest royalties, the noble goal of conservation in the Southeast of Cameroon might be jeopardised. The villagers who have been asked by government not to go into the protected areas might be forced to ignore this call.

Hillman Egbe told the people of Yenga village near Salapoumbe that "that government by preventing them from going into the protected forests had given them other options to enable them lead a comfortable life."

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