Cameroon Tribune (Yaoundé)

4 July 2014

Cameroon: Government Pledges Renewed War Against Corruption

The Minister of Communication, Issa Tchiroma Bakary, read out the following statement at a press briefing in Yaounde on July 3, 2014.

The Minister of State, Minister of Justice, Keeper of the Seals,

The Secretary General of the Ministry of Justice,

The Secretary General of the Ministry of Communication,

The Inspector General,

Technical Advisers,

Distinguished Inspectors,

Distinguished Directors and Head of Divisions,

Distinguished Collaborators,

Fellow Journalists,

Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is with a renewed pleasure that I welcome you, once again, in this conference hall of my ministry which has become the usual venue of our meetings, to exchange, in all conviviality and frankness, on issues of major importance relating to the life of our nation and the well-being of our populations.

It is about the fight against the embezzlement of public funds initiated by the Head of State, His Excellency Paul BIYA, also known as the « fight against corruption ».

Allow me first of all, to acknowledge the presence, of His Excellency, the Minister of State, Minister of Justice, Keeper of the Seals, who has, in spite of his tight agenda, accepted to be here with me for this press briefing.

Mr. Minister of State, you are welcome to the Ministry of Communication.

Allow me also to take this opportunity to wish you all, fellow journalists, a warm welcome in this conference hall, and to thank you all, for your prompt reaction to the invitation I sent to you today.

Dear Guests,

Fellow Journalists

As you must have noticed, for the past few weeks, there is a certain opinion restlessly working to throw doubt on the sincerity of the fight against corruption inscribed and underscored by the Head of State in his priority actions to restore good behaviours and guarantee the protection of public wealth.

This opinion, widely relayed by a range of both national and international media, seems to be grounded on the commutation and remittance of sentences following the presidential decree n°2014/058 of 18 February, 2014 to commit and remit sentences, and which, undoubtedly for the first time, was extended to our compatriots sentenced for embezzling public funds.

This opinion claims that the release of some prisoners, pursuant to presidential decree of last February 18, or even only under normal judicial procedures, would ring a death knell on the crusade against embezzlement of public funds led by the Head of State and the judicial branch of our country.

This interpretation of facts, which I qualify as inaccurate, leads me to first throw light and give some details that are necessary for understanding the situation, and secondly, to express the full determination of the President of the Republic, His Excellency Paul BIYA, to relentlessly continue without any complacency, the fight against the embezzlement of public funds in our country.

Regarding the decree of 18 February 2014 to commute and remit sentences, allow me to first of all underline that the Constitution of the Republic of Cameroon states that the President of the Republic « exercises the power of mercy ... ».

Mercy by definition is the partial or full commutation and remittance of sentences, conditioned or not by safety measures and probation obligations. Meanwhile, mercy remains without effect on the sentence and applies only to the execution of the sentence. Pecuniary sentences (damages, cost of the procedure) remain due.

This important text of the Head of State, the decree of 18 February 2014, came out in an exceptional context, full of history and significance for the life of our nation.

This had to do with the commemoration of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Reunification of our dear and beautiful country, which was an opportunity for us to celebrate the virtues of national unity, peace and tolerance, so dear to the Cameroonian people.

Reacting on this issue at the end of the ceremony to inaugurate the Fiftieth Anniversaries' Monument in Buea, the Head of State seized the opportunity to explain to his compatriots the real reasons justifying his decision to sign this decree which, also, falls within the prerogatives conferred to him by the Constitution of Cameroon. Allow me to quote him once again:

« With regard to the remittance of sentences, this is to show the importance for us to nurture unity. I wanted it to be a great moment of joy. And that, this joy should also reach even those who were somehow at war with the law. Some have also recovered their freedom. We want it to be a great moment of joy and happiness to enhance national unity », end of quote.

Moreover, it is worth highlighting that the decree of 18 February 2014 is a text of general scope and immediate effect, applicable to all those falling within the framework of the 13 cases targeted in the 13 paragraphs of the said decree.

Regarding the persons sentenced to prison terms for embezzlement of public funds, the pertinent provisions are contained in paragraphs 4, 5 and 6 of the abovementioned decree.

It therefore appears that a total of 24 000 prisoners across 77 prisons benefited from the presidential mercy.

It is clear as you may have noticed that this decree was not tailored to suit specific prisoners as falsely claimed by a given opinion.

Dear Journalists,

Distinguished guests,

Since his accession to the helm of the Nation on 6 November 1982, the Head of State has made the fight against corruption and misappropriation of public funds a constant orientation of his policy, as clearly emphasized in his different addresses to the Nation.

Thus, in his very first inauguration speech before parliamentarians at the National Assembly on 6 November 1982, the President of the Republic, His Excellency Paul BIYA set the course for this relentless fight he was intending against all managers misappropriating public funds in the following terms and I quote:

« In these tough times we are going through, the great and long process of nation building implies... rigour in management and perseverance in effort against manoeuvres of demoralization, demobilization and destabilization ».

Since then, he has kept reasserting his firm commitment to taking repressive action against acts of corruption and embezzlement of public funds. In his end of year address to the nation on 31 December 2005, the Head of State, in a peremptory tone, firmly denounced and condemned this social ill, in the following words :

« The embezzlement of public funds is detrimental to the national community. Let me very solemnly say it today, that it must stop », end of quote.

In the same vein, in his communication during the Ministerial Council of 12 September 2007, the President of the Republic, His Excellency Paul BIYA, reiterated his determination to fight this ill. Let me quote him again:

« The embezzlement of public funds, no matter which form it may take, is a crime against the People that are being deprived of their resources. This must therefore be severely sanctioned », end of quote.

Such determination which, as we all noticed, is not an improvisation in the Governance policy of the President of the Republic, was translated by the creation of several institutions vested with specific missions, each one in their area of competence, and which are provided with the necessary means to systematically track down cases of misappropriation of public funds.

The actions carried out by the Supreme State Audit which is the gendarme or better still the secular arm of the State in matters of control of the sound management of public funds fall within this framework.

In the same vein and as far as the specific domains of money laundering and corruption are concerned, the National Financial Investigation Agency (ANIF) and the National Anti-Corruption Commission (CONAC) were set up in May 2005 and March 2006 respectively.

In a certain measure, administrations like the Ministry of Public Contracts, the General Delegation for National Security, the Secretariat of State in charge of the Gendarmerie, or the Public Contracts Regulatory Board, actively participate in the fight against corruption, each one in its area of competence.

All these administrations are fully operational today and perform their duties in this field on a daily basis.

Today, there is no doubt on that those people who attempt to misappropriate public funds are tracked down wherever they may be, arrested and put at the disposal of the judiciary which in all independency, establishes the responsibilities of all.

Dear Journalists,

Dear Guests,

Allow me now to give some indications on the creation and implementation of the Special Criminal Court (SCC), set up by virtue of Law n°2001/028 of 14 December 2011.

It is undoubtedly to, first, stress on the political will to confer a specific character to the fight against corruption, and secondly, to solve the issue of celerity in the settlement of legal disputes relating to the organized economic and financial criminality, that the Head of State proposed to Members of Parliament to set up this special jurisdiction.

The Special Criminal Court, which is not a court of exception, aims essentially at fighting the misappropriation of public funds whereby the prejudice incurred by the State is equal to or above fifty million CFA francs.

In order to guarantee an efficient functioning of the Special Criminal Court, the President of the Republic has signed different instruments, including Decree No. 2013/131 of 03 May 2013 relating to the establishment, organisation, functioning of the specialized Corps of Judicial Police Officers of the Special Criminal Court. Moreover, the modalities for the paying back of the corpus delicti are established by Decree No. 2013/228 of 04 September 2013.

This new provision, pursuant to the provisions of article 18 of the law establishing the Special Criminal Court, habilitates the Public Prosecutor at the Special Criminal Court to terminate any prosecution, upon written authorization from the Minister of Justice, when the corpus delicti has been paid back.

It is worth underlining that both the courts of first instance and high courts are competent in this matter, when the embezzled funds amount to less than fifty million (FCFA 50 000 000).

The whole of these legal instruments created by the Head of State are today fully functional and the processing of cases forwarded to the Special Criminal Court by High Courts has been obviously speeded-up.

For instance, 119 cases from High Courts have been transferred to the Special Criminal Court. Thirty nine (39) of these cases were immediately enrolled. These cases have been subject to or are still subject to public hearings which are, and it is worth mentioning, open to all.

As concerns the cases undergoing judicial investigation, to date, 19 defendants have benefited from a dismissal of charges and one hundred and seven (107) were referred back to the Special Criminal Court.

As of 3 April 2014, the Special Criminal Court has ruled over fifty-two (52) cases among which 36 on the merits and 16 on the preliminaries.

Twenty-six (26) defendants have been freed, and 51 sentenced. Some of them have appealed.

With the effective putting in place of the Specialized Corps of Judicial Police Officers of the Special Criminal Court, some investigations have resumed.

Now, as far as the sums due to the State are concerned, these are related to the paying back of the corpus delicti in cash, fines, and costs of procedure as well as damages.

As for the issue of paying back the corpus delicti by some defendants who solicited the stay of proceedings, the sums already paid into State coffers and which were deposited in an account open at the Public Treasury, amount to two billion four hundred and one million two hundred and thirty five thousand six hundred and ten CFA Francs (2 billion 401 million 235 thousand 610). Sixteen arrested persons have already benefited from this measure.

Concerning fines and procedure costs, these are estimated at one million CFA francs and six hundred and two million three hundred and twenty-three thousand six hundred and twelve CFA Francs (602 million 323 thousand 612 CFA Francs).

To date, the Special Criminal Court has already ruled for the payment of damages worth twelve billion one hundred and sixty-four million six hundred and eighty-two thousand five hundred and four CFA Francs (164 million 682 thousand 504 CFA Francs).

Dear Journalists,

Dear Guests,

As we all notice, the mission of the Special Criminal Court is neither to condemn at all costs, nor pronounce only acquittals, even though there is a certain opinion believing this to be the way one can truly judge the independency of the judiciary.

The Special Criminal Court is a common law jurisdiction whose functioning is contingent upon sustainability and is not to be viewed in terms of « operation ».

So, even if some defendants have already been sentenced or acquitted by a given partisan opinion, all of them, whoever they may be, should benefit from the presumption of innocence and we should all respect the secrecy of not only the judicial investigations but also the secrecy of preliminary investigations.

Allow me to remark in relation to this, that every judicial procedure can lead either to a condemnation for proven fact, or a dismissal of charges for unproven fact, or an acquittal.

In another case, every inmate may, as it was the case in February, from mercy, commutation of sentence, or remission of sentence. These of course are a prerogative of the Head of State as provided by the Constitution.

It is worth mentioning that, the power of a conviction does not make it a truth. Therefore, whatever the opinion, rumour, convictions of one or others, the judge is solely empowered to pronounce the guilt or acquittal of a defendant. And if one considers his trial to be unfair, he or she is entitled to refer to appeal courts provided for by the law.

Fellow Journalists,

Dear Guests,

The importance which the Head of State confers to fostering good morals and to the priority of the general interest in the management of public funds, which are undeniably a pillar of our development, can never be overemphasized.

Therefore, on 15 September 2011, during the Third Ordinary Congress of the Cameroon Peoples' Democratic Movement, the Head of State, in his general policy opening speech, did not miss, once again, to warn CPDM militants and all managers of public wealth. And I quote:

« Be aware, Ladies and Gentlemen, that my determination to fight this scourge is total and the fight against corruption will go on with more intensity, without fear and complacency, discrimination, notwithstanding the social status or the political affiliation of the accused persons. Nobody should consider himself to be above the law », end of quote.

Recently, the Head of State, in his 31 December 2013 address to the Nation, severely criticized selfish attitudes of some of our compatriots, who do not refrain from taking all necessary steps for their personal success at the detriment of the general interest. Allow me to quote him once again:

« Our Administration remains permeable to selfish interest. This is most often incompatible with the interest of the national community. In a modern State, this drift cannot be tolerated », end of quote.

This determination of the President of the Republic to relentlessly fight corruption and embezzlement of public funds, which is a precondition for the effective development and emergence of Cameroon by 2035, requires the entire support of the People who vested this task upon him. The administration of justice is a mission conferred to a special corps by the Constitution.

This is the reason why I invite Cameroonians of all walks of life to give entire support to our judiciary and to let the Special Criminal Court and other relevant courts to work in all serenity in order to issue fair decisions within a reasonable timeframe and as set forth by the law.

Thank you for your kind attention.

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