24 February 2013

Cameroon: Financing of AIDS Book Steams Trial

A prosecution witness at the Olanguena AIDS Case alleged that the former Minister used State funds to publish his book.

A prosecution witness testified against former Health Minister, Urbain Olanguena Awono, saying the latter funded the publication of his book "AIDS on African Soil" with State funds and pocketed the sale proceeds.

In his testimony on Friday, February 22, 2013 at the Special Criminal Court, SCC, in Yaounde, prosecution witness, State Audit Inspector, Gilbert Bayoï, said after an audit of the National Committee for the Fight Against AIDS (CNLS), his team realised that CNLS had signed an agreement with French publishing house, PRIVAT, on August 1, 2006 to acquire some 3,000 copies of the book before a contract was signed on August 9, 2006 between the publishing house and the author, Minister Olanguena Awono.

Thus, the Audit Inspector said, CNLS had engaged itself to buy a book before the latter was published. This prompted the publisher to demand a contract guaranteeing the production cost before the publication of the work. "Instead of publishing the book with his personal funds, Minister Olanguena preferred using State funds," he said during examination by Advocate Generals David Wesiheba and Jean Claude Taghim.

Furthermore, Urbain Olanguena Awono allegedly caused the payment of the acquisition cost of FCFA 11 million by CNLS on January 23, 2007, the same month the publisher put the book on sale in France. This, to him, meant the publisher waited for the co-contracting party to execute the condition the publisher had fixed and concluded that State funds in CNLS had served in the fraudulent financing of a private book. "The Permanent Secretary of CNLS, Dr Maurice Feuzeu did not have the capacity to sign the contract with PRIVAT on behalf of CNLS since his competence was limited to expenditures below FCFA 5 million," he pursued. The mission also uncovered that the sum of FCFA 6.4 million had been wired to CNLS' account in SGBC bank as part of the proceeds of the sale.

During cross-examination, Gilbert Bayoï said the January 23, 2007 payment order indicated the money was from State funds. When the author's contract was brandished by defence lawyers, Gilbert Bayoï said till the end of his mission, neither the publisher nor the accused brought any proof of the financing of the book project by the publisher. Olanguena Awono asked why he could not, as a Cameroonian, be beneficiary to available State subvention for his book project, Gilbert Bayoï replied that this posed the problem of conflict of interest as the December 5, 1974 law, completed by the law of July 8, 1976 in its Article 3 forbids the use of public funds by vote holders for personal use.

At 3.45 pm, Presiding Judge Francis Moukouri adjourned the case to March 5, 2013 for the hearing of more prosecution witnesses. The case pits the State of Cameroon against former Health Minister Olanguena Awono and five others accused of misappropriating State funds amounting to FCFA 287 million meant for the fight against AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.

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