5 July 2018

Cameroon: 'Our Reports Become Basis for Actions in the Special Criminal Court'

interview

Mbah Acha Rose, Minister Delegate at the Presidency in charge of the Supreme State Audit Office.

The Head of State, President Paul Biya has put your institution at the heart of the fight against corruption in Cameroon. Do you think Cameroonians are adhering to the fight against the scourge in the country?

I think they do adhere to the fight against corruption but the issue is the degree of adherence. When you go out for something, you may not have a hundred per cent results. When you achieve something, you can consider it a laudable effort. The mission of the Supreme State Audit Office (CONSUPE) is not only to fight against corruption. We are to fight acts of mismanagement and irregularities by vote holders and authorising officers of public funds. We are concerned with auditing the execution of the State budget and public funds. When corruption is connected to public funds, we call it embezzlement which is only one act of mismanagement. In the course of our investigation, we come across acts of mismanagement. Since corruption is a crime the Financial Disciplinary Board that I head here does not have a criminal competence. So we send our reports to the Head of State. He in turn sends them to the Minister of Justice when they concern criminal offences. We handle civil aspects of irregularities.

In which ways has the Supreme State Audit Office been contributing to the fight against corruption?

Our main mission is that of control. We send teams out. CONSUPE is an external auditor because every ministry has an internal auditing organ. The organs are supposed to work in such as way as to curb acts of mismanagement and cases of irregularities. When CONSUPE comes as an external auditor, it has to work hand in hand with the internal auditors. If the internal auditors do their work, then mismanagement will be curbed. We actually do control. That is why they call us the Gendarme of the State. We privilege prevention as they say that prevention is better than cure. It is good to prevent so that when you come to control, you will realise that the institution is working better and that people do not need to embezzle or cause financial losses to the State before you come to ask them to pay back. When the control teams go out to the field, they realise that people do commit acts of mismanagement and irregularities either because of ignorance or misinterpretation of the texts that govern their institutions. We also have a Financial Disciplinary Board at CONSUPE that tries authorising authorities and vote holders who have mismanaged public funds. If after the trial we find them liable, we order them to pay back the money and even ask them to pay what we call here special fine.

What are the concrete results the Supreme State Audit Office has obtained thus far in the fight against corruption?

We have obtained a lot. This is because a lot of things have changed, especially when people know that CONSUPE will soon come to the field for investigation. When we control and there are criminal aspects, the Head of State authorises us to send them to the Minister of Justice. When the amounts concerned are more than FCFA 50 million, the Head of State sends the cases to the Special Criminal Court. Our reports become basis for actions in the Special Criminal Court. CONSUPE goes out to control public investments. You no longer hear about contractors who have taken the job, have not executed the job but the job has been received. It can no longer happen because after every two years, CONSUPE goes out to the field throughout the national territory to control government-sponsored projects. Contractors know that when CONSUPE teams will come those who received the projects when nothing had been done or the contract had been partially executed but State's money has been used to pay for the contracts, will all have to pay back the money. Even the Financial Disciplinary Board orders people who have embezzled public funds to pay back. CONSUPE has brought back a lot of billions of Francs CFA to the State coffers. From 2016 up to now, the Financial Disciplinary Board sits every month. Suspected embezzlers of public funds do come to the board with their lawyers. When after the judgement, some public servants are found guilty, we send copies of the judgement to the Ministry of Finance where the embezzled money is being curtailed from their salaries. We also send copies of the judgement to public institutions in case their personnel are concerned for a similar action and for people who have retired, we subsequently find a way to recover the money.

What are the major difficulties encountered as CONSUPE sets out to execute the daunting mission?

Our main difficulty is budgetary or financial, if you imagine that we are supposed to control all ministries, public enterprises and councils all over the country. We therefore have budgetary and human resources constraints as we have to send many people to the field. When State money is put somewhere, CONSUPE follows up until it sees the final place where the money has ended. We go to all the structures to find out how public funds have effectively been used with justifying documents. We have three types of missions. One of them is called programmed mission in which at the end of the year, I come out with the list of enterprises that have to be controlled and send the list to the Presidency. The second set of missions are those that come from the Head of State. People also do complain directly to the Head of State and when that happens, he sends that I should go to the field and investigate the allegations. The third mission is the one from people from different areas and sectors who write to me signalling cases of corruption and mismanagement of public funds. In this case, I send teams to go and find out. When it is true, I write to the Head of State who would authorise me to go.

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