Good afternoon. Thank you for the invitation to address you this afternoon. I am particularly honored to be your guest because, although my own government is not a member of the Commonwealth, the United States and Commonwealth members share common formative experiences, defining principles, and aspirations for the future, so I am confident I am among friends.
Last week, in Douala, I addressed the American Chamber of Commerce, or Amcham, which was formed a short time ago in recognition of the significant and growing interest that American companies have in Cameroon and the Central African Region. In my remarks to the Amcham last week, I noted President Obama’s call for a “New Era of Responsibility” in America. I suggested to the Amcham that their responsibility entailed a commitment to take concrete steps to help build a more prosperous Cameroon. I predict that you will see the American Chamber of Commerce taking on a role of increasing leadership and engagement in the coming months and years.
I am pleased to note that the Commonwealth Business Council has taken its responsibility seriously for many years now. The title of today’s forum is indicative: “Business Action Against Corruption”. The title of today’s sessions is not “Business Complaining about Corruption” or “Businesses Hoping Someone Else Will Do Something About Corruption!”. I appreciate the fact that you recognize that business can and should take action on this front.
I firmly believe that the fight against corruption, if it is to be won, will require action from all of us. The government, of course, plays a central role, but so too do the National Assembly, the media, the business community, the churches and mosques, universities and other elements of Cameroonian society.
The international community, too, has a role to play. Let me take a moment to tell you what the U.S. Government is doing to fulfill its responsibility, to take its own action against corruption.
Our single most important step is actually an old one, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. For more than 30 years, it has been illegal for American citizens or American companies to pay bribes in foreign countries. We were the first to take this important step to reduce the demand for corruption, and there is no country in the world that enforces similar rules with the same level of aggressiveness as we do.
For example, in February of this year, Kellog, Brown and Root, a former U.S. subsidiary of Halliburton, plead guilty to bribing Nigerian officials and agreed to pay $400 million in fines. Company officials face long sentences in jail for their crimes. The U.S. Government is serious about ensuring that American citizens and American companies do not engage in corruption. If anyone has evidence of such a crime, the U.S. Government will investigate and prosecute to the fullest extent of the law.
In recent years, we have taken further steps to uphold our responsibility, to do our part to help fight corruption in Cameroon, and around the world.
In 2004, President Bush issued Proclamation 7750, which requires the U.S. Department of State to deny visas to foreign citizens and government officials who have engaged in serious corruption. In the last several years, we have applied this provision against corrupt officials in Africa, including in Cameroon. I believe Proclamation 7750 is an important indication that we will not allow our shores to become a safe haven for corrupt officials. If we know someone is corrupt, we do not want their ill-gotten gains being washed into our economy, our banks, and our real estate.
In 2006, we ratified the United Nations Convention Against Corruption, called UNCAC, which committed us to improving our own governance and to helping countries like Cameroon do the same. The UNCAC includes provisions for mutual legal assistance on cases involving corruption, including political corruption. The UNCAC is a tool that enables Cameroonian and American law enforcement and judicial officials to cooperate on corruption cases.
In the spirit of mutual legal assistance, we have welcomed Cameroonian officials who have visited Washington in recent years to meet with their colleagues in our Departments of Treasury, Justice, and Homeland Security, to see what we can do to help Cameroon track and recover stolen assets stashed abroad.
At this very moment, while I address you today, Cameroonian experts are meeting with their American counterparts at a conference that the United States Government has organized in order to help Cameroon and other African countries that have shown their determination to fight against financial crimes, including political corruption.
This conference is just one example of the U.S. Government’s willingness to work with the Cameroonian Government in its efforts to recover stolen assets that might be found in foreign banks, including, perhaps, the United States.
Let us remember, however, that it is not enough to find a few bank accounts, recover some funds, and congratulate ourselves for a success.
Recovering stolen assets is important, and it is a priority for the U.S. Government.
In my opinion, however, asset recovery is not the most important for Cameroon’s future. In the same way that one does not go and put water back in a bucket that is filled with many holes, what would be the purpose of returning funds to Cameroon unless the system that allowed the funds to disappear in the first place has been reformed?
Each year the U.S. Embassy sends a number of government officials, civil society activists, journalists and parliamentarians to the U.S. for programs on the themes of accountability, transparency and good governance. Our goal is to help you help your government and country. In addition, we organize a number of programs with American experts who travel to Cameroon or via digital video conference to share their experience with Cameroonians to promote good governance. In the past year alone, the U.S. Embassy has organized good governance training for local police officers, military personnel, journalists, prosecutors and officials involved in combating financial crime.
The campaign to fight corruption must continue, and let me be sure I give appropriate credit to the Minister of Justice Amadou Ali, to the judicial and police officials who have waged, in the last few years, one of the most aggressive anti-corruption campaigns on the continent. But, in order to be successful, it must be accompanied by an equally rigorous campaign to improve governance.
It does not matter how many officials are put in prison as long as the government functions with a system that allows, and perhaps even encourages, government officials to handle sacks filled with millions of CFA in cash!
It does not matter how many millions of stolen assets are recovered and sent back from the banks of the United States, Europe and Asia, if officials are not pursued immediately, both under administrative sanctions and criminal sanctions and removed from their functions immediately if they are found guilty or if their actions cast doubt on their suitability to execute their functions.
The police and the judiciary are excellent tools to fight corruption, but the best way to improve governance is to increase transparency.
In 2008, the Open Budget Initiative surveyed the budgeting procedures of 85 countries around the world. Out of a possible score of one hundred, Cameroon scored a 5, placing it in the bottom fifth of the list. Botswana, by contrast, earned a 62. Kenya a 57. Tanzania 35. Niger 26. And Cameroon, 5.
One of the most effective ways to fight corruption is to make it harder for people to embezzle funds. The current system makes it too easy, and makes it too hard for police investigators and prosecutors to pursue them and bring them to justice.
We have a common interest in transparency in public spending, because transparency is necessary for accountability.
We all know that corruption is not a Cameroonian problem, or an African problem. It is a human problem, a scourge that threatens every government in every culture around the world. We can no more end corruption, than we can end disease, but we can establish institutions, laws, regulations and norms to help ensure that corruption does not become too harmful.
In the United States, we have a number of institutions dedicated to strengthening accountability, such as the Government Accounting Office, a Congressional institution which investigates the use and misuse of public funds. Every USG agency has its own internal Inspectorate General. All government purchases and procedures must be published and available to the public and the media. Procedures exist for government employees to alert those in responsible positions of wrong doing, malfeasance, and corrupt ethical behavior without fear of reprisal. Like other senior officials in the U.S. Government, I am required to file an annual financial disclosure statement.
The U.S. federal government requires that officials abide by 14 principles of conduct. These include: Federal employees shall not use public office for private gain; employees must avoid actions that create the appearance that they are violating the law or ethical standards; they must avoid conflicting financial interests and conflicting personal or business relationships.
We also have guidelines to follow when it comes to gifts from individuals, companies, our own employees, and foreign governments. For example, I am not allowed to accept a gift worth over $25 from non-government sources, with strict limits also set on gifts from government officials.
The United States Congress has recognized the importance of transparent budgets in development and recently passed a law that prohibits the U.S. Government from providing development assistance to governments that do not manage their budgets with transparency and accountability. Cameroon, like some other countries, will come under increasing scrutiny – as will our assistance programs – as a result of its poor performance on budget transparency.
My hope is that Cameroonians will insist upon greater transparency and accountability in public spending, not because the U.S. Government says so, but because such a step is in Cameroon’s interest.
I would like to applaud the Government of Cameroon’s recent initiative to revise its system of tendering. At the opening of the conference organized earlier this month by the Agence de Regulation des Marche Publiques or ARMP, Prime Minister Inoni stated clearly: « The Government of Cameroon, under the orders of the President of the Republic, Head of State, is resolutely committed to improve the Cameroonian tender system, to make it more efficient and trustworthy.
The Government has also taken important steps to improve governance and revenue collection in the customs sector. The Cameroon Tribune reports that the treasury is receiving billions of additional CFA as a result of a new committee to recover customs revenue.
These steps will help ensure that Cameroon’s resources are spent more effectively in the public interest.
I agree with those Cameroonians who say: “What Cameroon needs now is more roads, more schools, more energy.” I agree! But how many billions of CFA have already been spent on roads that were never built? How many billions of CFA were spent on medicines that never reached the sick?
Yes, Cameroon needs more roads, but the plan to build more roads will not succeed unless it is accompanied by a new manner of public spending. I hope Cameroonians will insist upon greater transparency and accountability because it is what is needed in order to foster the economic growth and job creation that everyone agrees are sorely needed.
Of course, it is not enough for the Government simply to publish the detailed expenditures. Civil society, including the business community, must engage to be sure funds are being spent in the right areas and effectively.
Returning to the theme of responsibility: who bears responsibility to lead the fight against corruption and for better governance in Cameroon?
It is not enough to say “the Minister of Justice” or “the police” or “the Head of State.” Nor is it enough to say “civil society” or “the media” or the “international community.” The truth is that we all play a role, we all have a responsibility. When businesses collude in corruption, when individuals pay bribes, when journalists look for their “motivation” packets, you all are part of the problem. And when business associations speak out and hold forums like today’s, when individuals say no and report corruption, when journalists investigate and expose graft, then you are all part of the solution.
Each of us must be committed to do our part. We must all together say: “No, I will not pay bribes. NON, je ne donne pas. It is our shared responsibility. NON, je ne donne pas.
I have laid out some of the steps the U.S. Government has taken in order to meet our own responsibility in the fight against corruption and for better governance. Let me close with this question, “What are you doing, as a Cameroonian citizen, as a Cameroonian taxpayer, as a leader, as a member of Cameroon’s business community, what are you doing, to fight corruption and improve governance in Cameroon?”