YAOUNDÉ, December 2, 2011—A candid look into how public investment funds are managed in Cameroon reveals that a great number of public investment projects are approved and implemented “on paper,” and considered done despite being poorly executed or incomplete. What’s more, local populations who are supposed to benefit from these projects don’t know that they exist.
All that is about to change for the better, as civil society organizations (CSOs) become involved in the monitoring of project implementation. These CSOs have developed various approaches and methodologies that are helping to improve the rate of completion of planned infrastructure and the quality of the work. Such initiatives are especially important considering that over the past few years Cameroon has launched a process of decentralization, with ever greater transfers of funds to municipalities.
“We have seen both qualitative and quantitative results, with project completion rates going from 54 percent in 2005 to 83-85 percent today,” says Christine Andela of the Dynamique Citoyenne, a local CSO. “Not only has community involvement increased over the years, but we’ve also seen that local public investment committees are increasingly taking into account analytical work made by CSOs.”
Indeed, in a context where the rate of execution of the public investment budget remains low and corruption firmly entrenched, independent and participatory monitoring of the public investment budget could be an effective mechanism for encouraging a relationship of accountability between government and citizens.
To assess this relatively recent experience of citizen involvement in monitoring public expenditure in Cameroon, the World Bank and GIZ (the German international cooperation agency) co-organized a workshop on October 20-21, 2011. The objectives of the workshop were to highlight the range of approaches and methodologies adopted for monitoring the public investment budget; identify factors of success, as well as pinpoint the problems encountered; and propose workable solutions to ensure greater citizen involvement in monitoring and evaluation.
Citizen Participation a Factor of Success
Fourteen civil society organizations with proven experience in monitoring the public investment budget participated in the workshop. Each shared the various ways through which they get citizens involved in monitoring the public investment budget in Cameroon.
For example, the “IRAD” (Information, Capacity-Building, Worksite Support, and Documentation) participatory approach of the organization Voies Nouvelles has been widely duplicated since 2007. Under this approach, the CSO provides citizens with information and details on the budget and on public infrastructure planned in their towns and villages, as well as rudimentary information on construction standards. Citizens then inform the CSO, by telephone, about progress at the worksite and any defects observed. The CSO uses its expertise to verify and document citizens’ complaints and then passes them on to the authorities.
Over the years, Voies Nouvelles has obtained very encouraging results in the Central Cameroon Region, particularly in the education sector, and the fact that citizens still forward complaints even after the group has left the region attests to the ability of communities to identify defects and monitor the public investment budget.
A Path That Is Not Without Difficulties
“Access to information is our biggest challenge. And even when we do get information, its quality is not guaranteed,” Christine Andela says. “Not all projects are listed in the official Projects Bulletin, so inevitably there are projects that we will never hear about. There are also failed transfers to local authorities, as well as projects that are simply hijacked. We see many dysfunctions along the way, and we ought to figure out ways to resolve those.”
Cyrille Onesim Tomo, Executive Secretary of Voies Nouvelles, agrees: “There can be no monitoring without access to information.”
Even though the law guarantees it, getting access to reliable information is a true obstacle course for citizens, particularly in a context where the culture of suspicion on the part of civil servants toward civil society remains strong. “Who are you? Who authorized you to collect this information? What are you planning to use it for?”
These are some of the questions a requestor is likely to get.
As a result, stakeholders typically have to resort to strategies based on interpersonal connections with key civil servants to obtain information to which they are officially entitled.
In addition to the problems of access to information, there are also human and financial resource constraints. Field verification missions are expensive: some sites are hard to reach, and the expertise of a civil engineer does not come cheap.
One solution identified by participants during their discussions was to pool their resources and collectively hire an engineer. Workshop participants also agreed to form a coalition for more effective advocacy concerning access to information and monitoring of the public investment budget in Cameroon.
In its new strategic blueprint for Africa adopted last March, the World Bank designates partnerships with various stakeholders, including CSOs, as the primary instrument of its operations on the continent. “Part of the Bank’s strategy in the region is to strengthen citizens’ voices by using instruments of social accountability,” the document reads in part.