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“OPERATION EPERVIER”: Beyond Arrests, The Need For Deterrent Measures 

By Francis Wache

In his end-of-year message, President Biya truculently announced that the fight against corruption would be waged mercilessly in 2010. Hear him: "Democracy however also means protecting public funds. That is why we started waging a merciless war against corruption. No one should expect us to stop midway through. We will continue to the very end, no matter what some people might say."

Barely a few days after that speech, apparently matching words with action, the anti-corruption hawks swooped on a rare casualty: Mrs Haman Adama, the first high-level female casualty and the first victim from the Grand North. Arrested on the same day was Roger Ntongo Onguene, the erstwhile General Manager of Aeroports du Cameroun (ADC). Arrested alongside these bigwigs were scores of their collaborators.

Two days later, the anti-corruption dragnet hauled in two other big fish: the second female victim, Mrs Catherine Abena (has the turn for women come?), who served as Secretary of State for Secondary Education and Henri Engoulou, the former Minister Delegate at the Ministry of Finance in charge of the Budget under Polycarpe Abah Abah, who, himself, has been incarcerated at the Kondengui maximum prison.

There are indications that other arrests are in the pipeline. Those arrested are accused of embezzling staggering sums. Yet, so far, the impression given is that of creating a psychosis, a crippling fear that, sadly, has led to lethargy and apathy in high places as office holders ponder who will be next.

Critics point out that, because of the dramatic and theatrical manner in which the arrests are made, the operation smacks more of political vendetta than of punishing venal public officials. Critics argue that because of the sporadic manner of the arrests, the regime is out to repress and discredit those with covert or overt political ambitions. That is why they consider the detentions as selective punishment or sheer witch-hunting.

While the arrests might be significant signals about the end of impunity, they are merely signals. Cameroonians expect that those accused should stand trial and pay for their misdeeds. In a country like Cameroon, where poverty has become systemic and pervasive, the common people consider some of the display of affluence by public servants as provocative. For people who can scarcely provide themselves a meal a day, the castles and mansions they see sprouting in the heart of the equatorial forest or the Sahara desert, are signs of indecency from those entrusted with catering for the public weal.

Thus, the people conclude, the predatory practices of bureaucratic crooks divert direly needed resources. In essence, they say, corruption stifles development. Because of its insidious nature, corruption has an incalculably negative impact on the welfare of the people. For, it is inadmissible that, while Cameroonians wallow in grinding poverty, those entrusted with the public purse should loot it with such recklessness. They should be punished, crucified, the people scream.

True, one way to curb corruption is to name and shame, that is, expose those guilty and expose them to public dishonor. But, that is not enough; it’s just a beginning. To go the whole hog, those arrested must be made to repay all the loot -usually stashed away in foreign financial havens. This has not been done. Yet, punishing them merely by locking them up in prisons should not be enough. They should be compelled to return the pilfered booty to the Public Treasury alongside serving their prison terms, if convicted.

It must be remembered that hordes of other corrupt crooks are still lurking in high – and low- places, waiting for the opportune moment to dip their hands into State funds. That is why it is imperative that they should be discouraged through virile deterrent measures. Conversely, it is also possible to reward those who are paragons of probity, integrity and good governance by entrusting them with senior government positions. Differently put, corruption could be curbed by promoting meritocracy.

Some one has defined corruption as "the abuse of public power for personal gain or for the benefit of a group to which one owes allegiance." One reason corruption has become so entrenched is because big shots of the ruling party seldom draw the line between State matters and party affairs. During party manifestations, for instance, they are wont to spray dancers and other desperate comedians with freshly minted bank notes. This should stop.

Also, the system of cronyism should be discouraged. Take two cases of those languishing in jail: Mr Ekoto Etonde was the Government Delegate of the Douala City, CPDM Member of Parliament, Board Chair of the Douala Ports Authority and SIC! With such jobs, it is difficult not to feel like a superman. Second case, Forjidam: the man was at the helm of the Chantier Naval for decades. After such a protracted stay in one position, there is an inevitable blurring of the personal and the public.

One preventative approach, therefore, would consist in not allowing one person to man several posts and another would be to discourage office holders from staying put in posts for protracted periods. After all, they are, in the end, only human. One way to convince skeptics that it is not business as usual is to put in place robust and intransigent deterrent measures, especially by enacting effective legislation on the matter. Otherwise, the cankerworm will continue to spread.

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