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Corruption Is Like War Crimes –Chungong 

The first-ever African Secretary General of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, IPU, Martin Chungong, has said corruption is synonymous to war crimes. Chungong headsthe IPU created more than 125 years ago. He told The Post in this exclusive interviewhow IPU deals with countries that don’t subscribe to democratic principles; the fight against corruption and the Cameroon Parliament; rising global conflicts; UN Sustainable Development Goals amongst many other issues.

It is little above a year when you took over as the Scribe of IPU. What is the balance sheet so far?

I actually took up service on July 1, 2014. I would say that I am satisfied because the vision I had for the organisation is to make some headway. I wanted the organisation to be more active in the topical hotspots around the world. And we have done our best in that direction. We have been more aggressive in our action in the Middle East; we have been involved in mobilising the Parliament in Syria in support of efforts to resolve the crisis in that country. I have been personally promoting dialogue between the parliaments of North and South Korea, in view to the reunification of the peninsular.
I also said that I want to provide more visibility for the institution. That is what we are doing very actively using the new media to promote knowledge of the IPU and what it does in order to attract more attention. I have been very active in recruiting new members of parliament for the organisation. Recently, we celebrated the admission of the 167th member of the organisation. During the year 2015, I had to host the 4th conference of speakers of parliaments from all over the world in New York.

You just mentioned crisis-stricken areas where you have been but I have not heard about Africa…

Before I came to Cameroon, I spent some time in South Africa and Angola. These two countries are very active members of the IPU and so I had to go there and see how we can promote the work of the organisation in those two countries. But I see that 2016 is going to be a busy year for me in Africa because I have received invitations to pay official visits to Togo, Ivory Coast, Senegal and Benin.

How potent is the IPU to deal with some nations that don’t subscribe to democratic principles?

There, we are saying that the IPU is not the policeman or gendarme of democracy. We are there to identify democratic standards and help parliaments live up to those standards. We are not going to establish a league table of democratic parliaments. But there have been occasions where we had to flex our muscles. I take for instance, Thailand. You know Thailand has been under military rule for over a year now and they have been on our radar screen. We have put them on notice. As at March 2017, we want to see a newly elected parliament. And we are robust, engaged with them because I have now been invited to pay an official visit to Thailand to help more along the constitution drafting process.
We have a mechanism within the organisation that looks at violations of human rights of members of parliament across the world. I want to say that I am disheartened to note that violations of human rights of parliamentarians are on the rise. And we engage with those countries where those rights are violated. We bring pressure to bear on the authorities of those countries to make sure that justice is done. And I am pleased to say that dialogue is fruitful, we have cooperation with parliaments. To the best of my knowledge, there is no one country where we have cases of alleged violations of human rights where we are not receiving cooperation from the authorities. So, they are recognising the moral weight of the organisation. I think that soft diplomacy, discretion and a fair amount of friendly pressure can bear fruits.

Apart from addressing right of MPs that have been abused, does IPU go further to push member parliaments to also ensure that the rights of the common man are also respected through the types of laws they debate and vote in parliament?

Yes! Basically again, we are saying that parliamentarians are there to act on behalf of the citizens. They have been elected to act on behalf of the citizens. Whatever they are doing should be informed by their concerns to meet the expectations of the citizens. That is something that has to be seen through every action that parliamentarians and parliaments take.
If we take the classical example of the new development agenda, my ambition and vision is that each parliament in the world, when taking a decision, when voting a law, scrutinising a law, when making choices available for implementation of government policies, when holding government accountable, their action should be consistent with the new development agenda. Because it is this agenda that is intended to transform this world into a more humane place where everybody can be in an atmosphere free from diseases, etc.

In this case you are referring to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals set by the UN for accomplishment within 15 years.

Yes. I say sustainable development and it is a package. We have the 17 goals and that is not all. We have the climate change agreement that has just been signed in Paris, you have the disaster risk reduction framework that was adopted in March 2015; we have the Addis Ababa July agreement on financing for development. This is the overall sustainable package. You cannot talk of sustainable development without these components.

You served Cameroon parliament for long before moving on. Are our elected MPs and even the President of the Republic legitimate, considering the massive irregularities that are registered during elections?

You will allow me not to pass judgement on my own country. I have that obligation not to do so. But I can say that having been a witness to the development of democracy in Cameroon, I think it has come a long way and what I always tell people is that, democracy is not a finite state. That is, you never say I have arrived at the destination. It is work in progress. Every country, even those which claim their democracies are better, are still working. So, I will be saying that Cameroon is making progress along the path towards democracy. And the important thing is for there to be political will to perfect progress, to make the democratic institutions better.
For the elections, looking at what is happening in other parts of the world, I would think that Cameroon is not on the wrong path. It may not be perfect but when you have elections which are disputed and lives are lost because those who have organised the election have rigged, then there is something fundamentally wrong. But I think I have not seen that in Cameroon in recent years. So, I think that the signs are encouraging but I will urge the authorities to continue to perfect the state of democracy in Cameroon.

One key issue that is used to rate democracy is accountability of government to it citizens. Recently, Transparency International published a report in which Cameroon was classified the second most corrupt country in Africa. Government described the report as biased. As a keen observer,how do you assess the fight against corruption in Cameroon?

Yes, I have been following with great deal of interest what has been happening in Cameroon. But let’s go back to the term you used, accountability. The very fact that government reacted to the report shows that it feels accountable for something that it may or have not been done. It is a good sign. In a worse case scenario, they would simply have disregarded it. But they felt obliged to do something about it. That is one thing I feel that it is important to note.
I have also noted the efforts that authorities are doing to fight those who are found guilty or alleged to have committed corruption offences and many of them are in jail today. Of course, that again makes work in progress. It is a culture that has been going on in Cameroon for a long time and it is going to take a while to actually do away with that culture. I think once again or what I see from the face of it is the determination by the authorities to fight corruption. Because every penny somebody puts in their pocket for private gain, is a penny that could have been used to promote health for the general population. So, for me, I liken corruption to war crime and it has to be fought energetically.

Cameroon and other member countries of the Lake Chad Basin Commission have been in stiff battle with Boko Haram. With your prowess in dialogue, what advice can you give to the warring parties to end the conflict?

Terrorism cannot be condoned in whatever form. Terrorism has no excuse and I have been condemning all acts of terror. This runs counter to democracy where you have freedom of expression and action. From that point of view and on the basis of principle, I condemn terrorism very firmly. But we have to be realistic and admit that it is part of life. It used to be that terrorism was circumscribed to a particular region of the world. But no country today is immune from acts of terrorism. See what happened in Paris recently. It calls for robust response from the international community. It has to be fought in a very energetic fashion of course, if the only language they understand is military force, then you have to do that to protect the wider civilian population. But it is important to be mindful of human rights when fighting against terrorism. You don’t go out and kill people indiscriminately because you suspect there are terrorists.
We need more resources for the authorities to fight terrorism. I have personally contributed to the appeal launched by Cameroonian authorities to a fund to fight Boko Haram. I think it is a good cause, it is a noble one. In a few weeks, we are going to convene a major meeting in West Africa on how parliaments can help fight the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. For there is a risk of these weapons falling into the hands of terrorists and if this happens, it would take terrorism to a higher level thereby posing greater threats to international peace and security.

You are the very first African, non-European to head IPU after 125 years. How are you collaborating with your staff?

It is always a challenge. I am proud to have broken that record after 125 years, especially as a Cameroonian. Now, the leadership of the organisation has gone to another continent, so what value is there in this? So, I am challenged to do more. I am pleased to rely on a team of very competent senior management colleagues. They are helping me a lot with advice on the various policies and actions we are putting in place.

Which are the areas of collaboration of IPU with member state parliaments?

I would go back to the objectives of IPU – promoting dialogue, democracy. But increasingly, I am saying that democracy does not exist for democracy’s sake. It is a means to an end. We want strong parliaments that make policies and take actions to hold governments accountable for the interest of the people. That is why we are very active on issues of terrorism, global efforts to fight HIV/AIDS, promote maternal and child health etc.

Any special message for IPU member countries and Cameroon in particular in 2016?

I prefer to say for the member countries of the IPU. And this message has been articulated in the end of year message that I have addressed to parliaments around the world. That 2016 is going to be the year when parliaments should fully own the development agenda. I have said that in the past, when we had the Millennium Development Goals, MDGs, parliaments were not involved in devising that agenda and we saw it when it came to implementation. There was no ownership by parliaments. Now that has changed. Parliaments have been fully involved in the sustainable development agenda.
One message, which I think is important to mention is on Africa. I would very much like the perception of the continent to change in the sense that when you look at the news, invariably, when they talk about Africa, it is often about negative things – war, famine, political strife, etc. And that is what the world sees. It doesn’t see the good things coming out of Africa. When there is peaceful transition of power in Nigeria, nobody talks about it, when Botswana organises elections and they are not disputed, nobody talks about it. For them, it is a matter of course but these are good stories that Africans should start selling themselves. You can help them build the image and help Africa to do better because I think that many regions today have their attitudes informed by the fact that we are painted black already.

Interviewed By Nformi Sonde Kinsai

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