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Operation Sparrow Hawk’s Wing’s Clipped As New Penal Code Grants Ministers Immunity 

 MPs Fumed Over Ministerial Immunity

By YerimaKiniNsom

Some Members of Parliament,MPs, have expressed anger and disappointment that the new Penal Code grants immunity to sitting Government Ministers.

TheMPs expressed their rage during a plenary sitting at the National Assembly on June 22, during which the Penal Code bill was adopted.As soon as the Speaker of the National Assembly,gave them the floor for general discussions, the MPs violently took exception to section 127 of the Code. This provision that relates to judicial immunities reads as follows; “ Any judicial, legal or investigating police officer who in violation of any law conferring immunity, byprosecution, arrests or tries a member of Government or ofParliament, shall be punished with imprisonment from one to five years’’.

Taking the floor, the MP for Donga Mantung Constituency, Hon. Cyprian Awudu Mbaya, regretted that over 99percent of the proposed amendments of the bill raised at the level of the Constitutional Laws Committee were rejected by Government.From such a premise, he wondered whether legislation in Cameroon is done by Government or Parliament.

While rejecting the provisions of article 127 of the Code, Hon. Awudu Mbaya said it is the Constitution that has granted immunity to MPs and the President of the Republic because they are elected officials. He said using the Penal Code to grant immunity to mere appointees like Ministers was ridiculous and surreptitious.

The MP advisedGovernment to seek amendment of the Constitution if it truly wants to grant immunity to Ministers.
“No civilisedGovernment anywhere in the world will vote a budget, give people and grant them immunity. It is giving the leeway to use the budget anyway they like with impunity’’, thundered the MP for the Bui Constituency, Hon Joseph Wirba.

HonTamasang from the Mezam Constituency equally condemned the provision, saying it was initiated to shield corrupt Ministers against prosecution. Hon. Fobi Nchinda also from the Mezam Constituency said such provision was really scandalous especially for a Government that claims to be committed in fighting corruption.

Takingthe queue, Hon. Evaristus Njong of Boyo Constituency, blamed Government for not applying article 66 of the Constitution ten years after it was adopted by Parliament. The article provides that all State officials and other vote-holders declare assets before and after holding public office.
The MPs also picked holes with other provisions, claiming the law was not hard enough on offences of homosexuality which one of them described as a crime against humanity. They said the fine FCFA 20,000 against the offence is too insignificant and will encourage more people to practice homosexuality.
Hon. Tamasang roundly condemned the death penalty provision in the Code, saying it was strange in an era of human rights.

Meantime, some CPDM MPs also took exceptions to the adoption of the Penal Code.
To Hon Martin Oyono from the Ocean Constituency, the immunity granted to Ministers does not protect whistle blowers of Corruption. According to him, if a person reports a Minister for embezzlement, the said Minister will use his immunity to shield himself, track down the person who raised the alarm and may even kill him or her in the process.

To Hon Peter Njume from the Ndian Constituency, the Death penalty provision of the Penal Code should be scraped off because the person who is commanded to kill another and the one who gives the command are both guilty of murder. This, he added, also make the Cameroonian people guilty of murder because their consciences will be tormenting them.

Hon Rose Nguini from the Mefou and Akono Constituency questioned why the Penal Code did not grant women the opportunity to be polyandry, since it silent on the issue of polygamy.

SDF’s Parliamentary Objection

The bill was adopted by a majority of CPDM MPs after the SDF Parliamentary Group had presented a parliamentary objection, calling for its withdrawal. The SDF Parliamentary Group Leader, Hon Joseph Banadzem, who presented the objection, moved that the bill be withdrawn for Government to carry out broad-based consultations with all stakeholders.

The objection partly reads as follows: “We have come to realise that from the moment this bill was tabled, public opinion is much divided as to the extent of the consultations carried out in the course of its preparation. The members of the Bar Association are yet to come to terms with the pronouncements of the Bar Council in this regard. The association of Journalists and other media practitioners cannot digest the fact that the criminal aspects of our press law have not beenmade mentioned of: talk- less of the fact that in many countries, these offences that often send journalists to prison in our country had long been decriminalised”.

The SDF group said many stakeholders, have not been consulted in respect of many offences in the bill. Many professional associations like that of Doctors, Engineers, and Architects among others have not been consulted on the relevant provisions contained in the bill.
“The consultation was therefore not broad-based. In the light of the foregoing, we submit that this bill be withdrawn for further and broad-based consultation on all its provisions before re-tabling it to Parliament for full scrutiny”.

The majority of CPDM MPs voted against the preliminary objection. While reacting to the SDF objection, the Minister of Justice and Keeper of the Seals, Laurent Esso, who defended the bill, said he was surprised that the Bar Council President presented a memorandum, saying they were never consulted. He said the Bar Council was consulted in November 2011. He enumerated a list of mostly Government Ministries whom he said were consulted on the Penal Code proposed amendment.

The Minister came down hard on the Bar Council and the SDF Parliamentary Group, saying they would have done their home work before making such “sterile and ridiculous” claims.

Hon. Banadzem sprang back to the floor and maintained that Government did not do broad-based consultations on the bill. He said it was unfortunate for the Minister to be saying that he consulted the Bar Council five years ago. The MP said five years is a very long time during which many things have evolved. This, he went on, should have been enough reason for the Government to consult the stakeholders anew before tabling the bill in Parliament.

After rushing through the questions, Minister Esso returned to the issue of granting immunity to Ministers and said, since the President is elected by the people and enjoys immunity, he has decided to delegate some of his immunity to those he appoints as Ministers and should not be questioned for delegating his powers.

The National Assembly finally adopted the bill after the Minister answered some questions from 20 MPs on controversial issues in the bill. The adoption of the Penal Code granting immunity to Ministers, according to political pundits, has dealt a severe blow to the National Anti-Corruption Commission fight against corruption.

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