The Member of the National Assembly for the Mezam Central Constituency in the Northwest Region, Hon. Simon Fobi Nchinda, has observed that the 2014 budget that Parliament adopted has so many weaknesses hence cannot generate growth.
Hon Fobi, a member of the Finance Committee of the National Assembly made the remark in an exclusive interview with The Post in Yaounde recently. The architect and member of the opposition SDF Parliamentary Group that rejected the budget, averred that all the macro-economic indicators of the 2014 budget are in red.
The Post: You are one of the MPs that did not vote the 2014 budget, what is wrong with it?
Hon. Fobi Nchinda: There are preliminary issues to the budget that anybody who wants to adopt the budget must know. The first issue is that it concerns the year 2014. For you to pass the budget of 2014, you have to know how the 2013 budget has worked. The law requires that we receive a mid-term presentation of the 2013 budget, so we can better understand the budget for the projections for 2014. As I am talking to you now, the Government has not yet presented the mid-term review for the 2013 budget which is a leader into the 2014 budget. The law requires that it should be done before the 30th of September every year. It has not been done. So, we are not in a position to read 2014. Secondly, the law requires that the budget for 2014 be put on our table 15days before the opening of the National Assembly session. We then have 20 days within which we study it. That gives us a total of 35days which are necessary so that you can consult the professionals and understand what is in it. But we had less than 10 days, in fact, we were given only eight days within which to study and pass that law because it came late and because we were in a hurry to send it to the Senate. First of all, we had to interview all the members of government. We were working 24 hours a day. No human being for eight consecutive days can work 24 hours and work at top performance. We are talking about FCFA 3,312 billion to be studied and you are trying to force people in eight days to adopt it. There is certain carelessness; I will call it a criminal negligence, a criminal carelessness on the part of Government if you ask us to do that.
What else are you gainsaying?
I am still on the preliminary reasons; I have not entered the budget. So, when you see us of the SDF getting extremely angry, it is because the CPDM Government doesn’t seem to be taking the Cameroonian people seriously. You are dealing with a lot of money which should help the Cameroonian people and you are not giving it the study time necessary. In fact, I think it is even deliberate. So, first, we had to read 2013 to understand 2014 yet 2013 has not been given us. And even the 2014, we were not given time to study.
You had an opportunity to ask questions during the plenary; what reasons did the Government give you for not reviewing the 2013 budget?
There is no reason for violating the law. They gave no reason and I don’t think that they felt obliged to give any. That’s why we don’t feel obliged to follow them either.
What is wrong with the 2014 budget of 3,312 billion?
First; what is a programme-budget or pluri-annual budget? It says that we have a budget for 2014; you should be able to read 2015 and 2016 from the Government budget proposal. So, you should be looking from short to medium term to see a clearer vision. Last year, they told us we were beginning in 2013; we began the programme budget. But as I am talking to you today, the only thing we saw beyond 2014 which was destined for 2015 and 2016 was a total of 170 billion. FCFA 170 billion for a budget that should have been for each year FCFA 3,300 billion minimum? We are not even at five percent of it! So, the reality is that we are still into an annual budget and they are fooling us that we are in a pluri-annual budget. There’s no long term or medium term vision for the CPDM Government. The pluri-annual programme budget was supposed to give us a longer term vision. So, first point, the vision of it is too short. Second, it was done on the projection of a growth rate of about 3.94 percent which will never permit this country to take off. It is a known fact that, for an economy to take off, you must approach a double digit. We should be looking at 7 – 10 percent growth before we can take off. Thirdly, the budget makes no concession to unemployment which is the major problem of the country today. The Minister of Labour tells us that the unemployment rate is four percent, the Minister of Finance tells us is 14 percent. I tell them that where I come from its nearer 80 percent. The two members of Government cannot even agree on what the unemployment rate is. There is one more macro economic indicator, inflation. They say they will hold down inflation but for the first time, the inflation is going around 2.8 percent. It had been around 2.0 percent before. Nobody seems to see that it is climbing and Government is using artificial means to hold it down. These artificial means have to do with subsidies and all sorts of subterfuge that are very expensive. So, all those four macro economic indicators; growth, unemployment, poverty and inflation, are not positive for Cameroon.
The Government is talking about 4.8 percent growth rate, where have you got 3.94 percent from?
I will show you the Minister of Finance’s report that growth rate is 3.94 percent.
Why would you want them to put more than 3.94 percent when it is a reflection of the reality?
I am not saying they should put more than 3.94 percent. I am saying that they should design the economy so that it can produce double digit growth. They have designed an economy which is giving them around 4.0 percent. So, you must design the economy to produce significant growth, which is not the case.
What do you mean by designing an economy to produce growth?
There are certain things that produce growth. One of the things that do not produce growth is corruption, because corruption eats into the very fabric that should produce growth. There is no determined statement by the CPDM Government to fight corruption. There is no place in there where you see the fight against corruption built into the budget, there is nothing.
Are you saying that CONAC and other anti-corruption outfits haven’t got any budgetary allocations in that budget?
CONAC has a budgetary allocation but CONAC is an investigative organ. There is no incentive mechanism built into the body that will stop Kini Nsom, for instance, if he wants to take 10 percent of a project. The Government has not shown itself sufficiently insistent on it. One of the two things that go together is growth and unemployment. If you cannot address yourself to the unemployment problem, you will not address yourself to growth. Let me take all the big projects in Cameroon: Lom Pangar, Memve’ele, Mekin or the Douala-Yaounde Express Road, which are involving hundreds of billions of FCFA. What is the job creation that is coming from those projects? Practically none, because, people are coming with their money from outside and are investing and leaving. There is no clause to oblige them to take Cameroonians to work in there. If you came to build a dam, the dam begins from the conception. You will insist that Cameroon Engineers work on it; you would say Cameroon contractors should work on it, that Cameroon labour should work on it and so on. If you put these policies in place, you are giving jobs to Cameroonians and because of this, the multiplier effects begin to show. Because once you have a job in Lom Pangar, you will want to get married, you will want to build a house; these are the things that trigger growth. But all of it is consumption and product, not production. That is very negative for growth. Obviously, tomorrow, you will get energy, but you could have gotten the same energy along the way with more employment.
It is reported that the Minister of Energy, when he was signing the convention with the Chinese company that is constructing the Memve’ele dam, recommended that 30 percent of the sub-contracts be given out to Cameroonian companies, are you not aware of that?
In fact, that is what Government is saying. Are they carrying it out? It is just a wish. There is no political will to carry it out. Like I say, begin with the designers. As long as you don’t have Cameroon engineers there and you don’t have Cameroon contractors, forget about generating growth. You know in a neighbouring country, when you come in they ask you who your partner is. If they don’t see a national, forget it and go back to your home country. So, when they are coming to your jobsite, they want to see 60 percent of nationals working there, if they are not there, they close the whole thing. That is what is happening in a country I will not name. So, we don’t have a policy for employment, and employment is one of the major ingredients for growth. Therefore, there are many ingredients for growth that I don’t see the government implementing. Let me take a second one; the contract sector, the public contracts. Again, for these major contracts, none of them goes through public tender, not one. Memve’ele, Mekin, the Douala-Yaounde Express Road, the second bridge of the Wouri, no one is going through public tender.
Is it that all of them are by mutual and direct agreement popularly known by its French appellation as gré-a-gré?
They are all gré-a-gré, alright. So, you give a contract by mutual agreement for FCFA 3,000 billion of work and then when you want to buy paper for your office, you go and do a public tender. I think, like they say, you are penny wise and pound foolish. The major place where tender should be done is up there because you can now give them conditions. If you come through a tender, we say this is how we select.
It is alleged that the 2013 budget has not gone up to 40 percent in terms of execution because of bureaucracy by the Minister of Public Contracts?
I am concerned that the Minister of Public Contracts is a bottleneck to execution. When he came before the commission, I told him personally that he is a bottleneck and because everything must pass through his table, not through his ministry, you understand. So, he is a block to it. So, when we drew attention to it, they went and raised a ceiling for what the other decentralised units could do. Even so, he has sent his people in there and this blockage is still going on. But you can have a system where you decentralise; all vote holders of different regions or sectors should take their responsibilities and things should move.
Government points out that one of the positive points of the 2014 budget is the investment budget that is over 31 percent. Don’t you believe this is novelty?
So, you want us to clap for them when they get 31 percent? We want them to reverse the ratio between the recurrent budget and investment budget! We want the recurrent budget to be 30 percent and the investment budget to be 60 percent. Obviously, we know that debt servicing is about 9 to 10 percent. They themselves will tell you that the increase of the budget of about 76 billion from last year was because they recruited 25,000 more people into civil service whom they now have to pay. I wanted them to show me the geographical distribution of the 25,000 new employees. Nobody is willing to tell you because it is extremely, extremely disfavorable to certain regions. You know, let them show us the geographical distribution of those 25,000 people they recruited.
Which regions are you talking about?
The Northwest, particularly, that is why I want them to show it because the Northwest, from what I gathered, is less than seven percent, whereas it should be getting more than 10 ercent.
One of the reasons why the SDF Parliamentary Group did not vote the budget was that the Senators didn’t come to defend their draft budget…?
There is a budgetary provision of FCFA 15 billion for the Senate, that has no detail. It’s an empty shell. First, you are giving FCFA 15 billion to people who are not telling you what they intend to do with it. Whoever it is, we can’t accept that. If they want to buy cars, let them say they are buying cars or they are going to buy groundnuts, let them write it down, let them tell us what they will do with FCFA 15 billion. Secondly, as long as you don’t accept the budget of the Senate which is part of the total budget, you cannot accept the total budget. They sent us an empty shell. If they had the good sense to come in and say, “brothers look, we are both in the legislative, it’s our first year, they could have given some kind of explanation but because of their foolhardiness, they stayed away. We cannot accept an empty shell. We will not accept it from the Senate, we will not accept it from the Presidency, and we will not accept if from anybody, even from the National Assembly, we will not because it is budgetary irresponsibility, that’s the word. We will be irresponsible to pass a budget with a hole of FCFA 15 billion in it. That is why the SDF says no.
You did not vote but they went ahead and adopted the budget, what difference does it make?
The world will know and our conscience will say we said no to it. We don’t have the numbers necessary to pass a bill. You are raising there another issue. If the people accept with us that we are the conscience of the nation, they should vote more SDF people into Parliament, so, we can change this rubbish. So, we are looking forward to the people becoming conscious as to who the real conscience of the nation is, vote more of us in, so that we have the numbers necessary to overturn this rubbish.
What is the forecast you are, therefore, making for the 2014 economic weather?
My prediction, using all the macro economic indicators is: first, it will not bring growth. Secondly, it is a short-term vision. It is a one year vision instead of being the pluri-annual vision that it was supposed to be.Thirdly, we see a tendency for the rise of inflation which they are being quiet about. We see a tendency for the stagnation of national income and this is all the more worrying for two reasons; first, we are under pressure from the African, Caribbean and Pacific countries and the European Union to open our frontiers and have no custom duties, which will further reduce national income. The second reason is that we are under pressure from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to stop the subventions for fuel and that will touch inflation. You see that all the macro economic indicators are shaky. These are not the conditions for you to enter confidently into a new year.
Interviewed By Yerima Kini Nsom