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NW Councils Embrace 

By Chris Mbunwe — The Small Money Big Change Programme is a tool for community engagement and development, piloted in Babessi-Ngoketunjia Division, Northwest Region, from 2009-2011. 

Participants at Small Money Big Change workshop

The tool was Shamsul Akhtar, Institutional Development Advisor with Volunteers Overseas, VSO, working with the Babessi Council at the time. Previously, there had been low levels of community involvement in council projects compounded by poor implementation of council work and failure to meet local needs.

International development practice recognises that the most effective way to address these problems is to involve communities in the preparation of Council Development Plans through participatory planning, including the assessment of priority needs of communities.

It is against this backdrop that over 15 councils in the Northwest met at a one-day workshop in Jonsmaz Hotel, Bambui, and after being schooled about the Babessi Council’s experiences, Mayors, Secretary Generals and Municipal Treasurers voted to implement “Small Money Big Change” programme throughout their councils.

Bidding farewell to Cameroon, the initiator of the programme, “Small Money Big Change,” Shamsul Akhtar, expressed gratitude to the Cameroon Government for opening up to the programme. He thanked the Babessi Council, which today still serves as the best pilot centre, showcasing the benefits realised with the programme. The councils were drilled on the methods, partnership of councils and communities, benefits and evidence derived from the Small Money Big Change Programme.

They were equally educated on how to hold introductory workshops, community meetings, setting up beneficiary groups, submit proposals to councils, community contributions, disbursement of funds from councils to communities accounts, implementation of projects, accomplishment and reception of the projects by councils and the communities. Emphasis was laid on “training on project identification, book keeping, and resource mobilisation.”

The VSO Institutional Development  Advisor, Shamsul recalled that from the consultations with communities, the council executive and observations, the key challenges that were identified within the Babessi Council for successful development included the need to encourage  good governance, meet council responsibility under decentralisation, improve accuracy and realisation of annual budgets and plan of action, provide basic services for the population, increase councillors’ involvement within council decision-making process, ensure equitable allocation of development projects and others.

He said for the three years he spent in Cameroon, he discovered that through participatory budgeting and planning, most councillors are very active. Participants were stunned when he said, “I am not telling you this because I am an Indian, but to let you know that decentralisation process in India started in 1972 and your own process here has developed so many communication gaps.”

Shamsul explained that since Small Money Big Change is people-oriented and a source of unity, when councils will fully embrace it, beneficiaries will vote Mayors who would have succeeded in bringing development to their municipalities, thereby renewing their mandates. He advised councils to move to the population and float the ideas.

The Mayors of Bamenda II, III, Fundong alongside others expressed joy to VSO and promised to implement the project. Facilitators from VSO were Cheryl Hebert, Kareen Cerdena, Amelita Norona, Silvestre Ngwa Suh and Shamsul Akhtar.

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