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An Evaluation Gap Cameroon Cannot Ignore 

By David Akana* — For the sake of this paper, let’s rewind the clock to May 1, 2006. Cameroon has just reached the completion point of the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative. A significant portion of Cameroon’s debt has been cancelled. Vast amounts of money are freed up for investment in social programs and poverty reduction initiatives with the overarching goal to improve the standards of living of Cameroonians.

Heavy construction work begins in Yaounde and Douala and other cities. Primary education is declared free. Investment in the fight against Malaria, HIV/AIDS and other public health diseases is increased. Basic and secondary education, energy, and water emerge as top sectors with the highest investment budget. The budget for Defense and National security is increased to secure the country better.

As we know, HIPC was built to be a major turning point in the development direction of our country – isn’t it? Now let fast forward the clock to 2013 and assess the overall impact of HIPC. Does anyone have documented evidence of the veritable impact of HIPC on the living standards of Cameroonians? Do we know what part of HIPC investment made the most impact and what failed and needs correction?

Let us be more specific: what progress was made to improve the quality of treatment in our hospitals? How many jobs did it generate? How many road accidents did it prevent? By what percentage was rural exodus halted? Unfortunately I do not have answers to these questions.
Well, that was a quick conceptual evaluation exercise – wasn’t it? Regrettably with no answers – or you have the answers? By the way, my goal in this paper is not to evaluate HIPC. It is to attempt to establish the case for a yawning evaluation gap in Cameroon that complicates our development efforts in the sense that without credible and independent evaluation, we would never be able to know if we are succeeding or failing.

From within government, it is possibly to argue against an evaluation gap for the following reasons: there is a unit in charge of the promotion of results-based management (PROMOGAR) at the Prime Minister’s Office. As the name suggest, its role is to promote evidence-based management in public administration.

Besides PROMOGAR, each ministry has an inspector general with compliance, auditing and supervisory roles. In addition, to the monitoring unit in each ministry to keep track of governments’ “Road Map”, there is an entire agency in charge of auditing all administrative agencies. This is known as Ministry of Supreme State Control.

In the second branch of government, Parliament is constitutionally mandated to control government action. And they do this with oral and written questions to government during parliamentary sessions and parliamentary investigative commissions. Within the third branch of government, the Judiciary, there is an audit bench with responsibility to assess the account of all public bodies. It publishes a report each year.

All these institutional arrangements are extremely valuable from the perspective of public accountability except that they play no evaluative function. Evaluation is not auditing. It is not monitoring and neither is it supervision. Evaluation is determining the worth or merit of policies, organisations, programmes, projects, products and personnel through a systematic and scientific inquiry process (Scriven, 1967).

Auditing arrangements such as the audit bench of the Supreme Court may shine the light on government finances while the National Anti-Corruption Commission (CONAC) may identify and help prosecute individuals mismanaging public finances. But none of these institutions are equipped to determine the worth of the government policy that at 32 years, you cannot seat for public concours regardless of how skilled you are or FEICOM, just to name a few. Only credible and independent evaluations can perform this role.

I am told that examples explain things better, so let me use this example: for several decades higher education policies in Cameroon have been criticised as too skewed towards general education. We might disagree on this criticism – but I guess agree on the massive unemployment ability of graduates.

Yet year by year, government has responded by creating not only more general-education-oriented universities such as in Maroua and Bamenda but also thrown more money into the sector without knowing what works, why it worked, how it worked, under what conditions and at what cost?

Can we afford to address our higher education challenges by creating more universities without fundamentally questioning the overall wisdom behind our curriculum system? And addressing other systemic issues related to national and international competition, or employability? Pick any sector or policy area in Cameroon and make a similar analysis and I bet you would come to the conclusion that Cameroon’s policy formulation and programme design process are like a medical doctor prescribing medication to a patient they have no idea of what they are suffering from.

Moving Forward

Vision 2035 is the official development blueprint of Cameroon. The 76-page document found on the website of MINEPAT targets a transition from a poor to industrialised country by 2035.
While there is mention of results-based management (performance management) several times in the document, it does not appear strong enough to provide the sort of accountability and course correction that might be required as the programmes go into implementation.

Going back to our little exercise of the impact of HIPC at the beginning, this is what happens when countries, organisations or programmes move forward without learning the lessons of previous initiatives. Take for instance, the fact that no one has any specific knowledge of the rate at which crime has increased or decreased in our major cities as of 2013, how do you go ahead budgeting for the fight against crime in the new 2035 Vision?

Isn’t it akin to leaping into the dark? At what point would you say I have achieved success? How do you know whether the fight should not be intensified in the borders with Central Africa rather than with E. Guinea? How do you know the strategy shouldn’t be targeted more at cybercrime? Only a robust and credible formative and summative evaluation can answer these questions. No bureaucrat in Yaounde can individually answer these questions. At best they will design a strategy that is subjective and reflective of their personal experiences and unrepresentative anecdotes. The full picture will be missing.

Evaluation ought to be central to the new strategy. Moving forward in disregard of evaluation is synonymous to accidental growth and means we are not as concerned about finding answers to our development conundrum as we say every day in public declarations. Government’s resources are infinite and should be invested smartly.

In conclusion, like no amount of Coartem (Malaria drug) will cure a liver problem, no amount of investment in fighting crime will reduce the rate without knowing where the robbers are coming from and why they take up robbing in the first place and what alternatives we can offer them to become normal people in their communities.

*David Akana is a former journalist of the Cameroon Radio Television Corporation (CRTV) and now works with the World Bank precisely the Evaluation Office of the Global Environment Facility (GEFEO) in Washington DC as a moderator of an online community of practice of climate change evaluators

First published in The Post print edition no 01466

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