Cameroon: Rancour Over 2 Billion FCFA COVID-19 Presidential Gift

On April 20, 2020, President Paul Biya of Cameroon announced the donation of two billion FCFA (four million dollars) allegedly from his personal resources to be used in the purchase of anti-COVID-19 relief materials for distribution to all the 356 local councils in Cameroon. The materials include face masks, washing soap, plastic buckets and hand sanitisers.

One month after the materials were moved from Yaounde in big trucks by the Minister of Territorial Administration, Paul Atanga Nji, most of the localities have yet to receive them. And those localities that are lucky to receive went away furious and would rather not have been invited to the handing over ceremonies.

“To start with, if the presidential materials were equitably distributed among the 356 council areas in Cameroon, each council area would receive materials equivalent to 5,617,977 FCFA (10,000 dollars).

“What have we seen being handed over to some council areas?

“In Bafoussam, which is one of the largest and most populated councils in the West Region for example, materials handed over to the mayor were estimated at a paltry 400,000 FCFA (800 dollars). Where did the materials for 5.2 million FCFA (9,000 dollars ) go to?”, asked a militant of the Social Democratic Front (SDF) party in Bafoussam.

In the locality of Demdeng, inhabited by over 2,500 people, only one plastic bucket, six face masks and six tablets of washing soap were handed to the village chief on May 2, 2020!

“Local administrative authorities are using the coronavirus pandemic thing as a source of enrichment for some of them.

“There was this case in the Littoral Region where government officials claimed they hired chairs, canopies and loud speakers to be used during a ceremony to hand over the gifts to the local population for over three million FCFA (about (6,000 dollars) only to hand over materials worth 400,000 FCFA (800 dollars). What rationale can there be behind such reasoning?”, asked Abwa Jones, a lawyer in Yaounde.

On Monday, May 18, 2020, the chief of a village in Biya’s region of origin (Southern Cameroon) refused to accept a plastic bucket from the sub-divisional officer during an elaborate ceremony, saying he did not know how he was going to distribute it amongst his subjects.

Retorted the sub divisional officer: “They don’t refuse gifts from the president and they don’t openly criticise the president. If you continue I will remove you from your stool.”

It is estimated that less than 50 per cent of the two billion FCFA presidential material for the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic would finally reach the target populations. Already, some of the materials have started surfacing in local markets for sale.

In a related development, the Minister of Public Health, Dr Manaouda Malachie, has announced that the solidarity fund for the fight against the coronavirus in Cameroon created by the head of state with an initial deposit of one billion FCFA (two million dollars) now stands at 3.5 billion FCFA (about seven million dollars).

The minister revealed that the extra 2.5 billion FCFA was donated by individuals and business enterprises as a sign of solidarity in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

Within the context of the palliative measures announced on April 30, 2020, by government to help businesses cushion the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on the economy, donations by business enterprises are tax deductible.

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Chief Bisong Etahoben

Chief Bisong Etahoben is a Cameroonian investigative journalist and traditional ruler. He writes for international media and has participated in several transnational investigations. Etahoben won the first-ever Cameroon Investigative Journalist Award in 1992. He serves as a member of a number of international investigative journalism professional bodies including the Forum for African Investigative Reporters (FAIR). He is HumAngle's Francophone and Central Africa editor.

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