Cameroon’s ‘Covidgate’: IMF calls for audit of mismanaged Covid funds

By Omer Mbadi

Posted on Wednesday, 26 May 2021 11:33
Paul Biya in October 2018. Sunday Alamba/AP/SIPA

A report from Cameroon’s Audit Chamber of the Supreme Court reveals some irregularities over its handling of funds allocated for the Covid-19 crisis, but the IMF says it is not satisfied with those findings.

The summary of the chamber’s report – on the use of funds allocated for the management of the Covid-19 health crisis – cited some irregularities within the ministry of public health and the ministry of scientific research. The report was commissioned in March and has been circulating online since 19 May.

“This is not an audit, but rather an overview of only 30% of the XAF180bn (€274.4m) allocated to this special fund. Moreover, not all the ministries involved have been brought to the attention of this court,” says a local auditor.

“It would have been better if the chamber went further and highlighted each time the procedures were violated, ignored or simply bypassed, in the interests of education and prevention, in order to limit the occurrence of this type of abuse in the future. These violations were not caused due to a lack of awareness of the rules and procedures of public procurement, but rather due to the greed of some,” says an analyst.

A point of friction

Transparency in the management of Covid-19 funds is a point of friction between Yaoundé and the IMF, that is currently finalising a new economic assistance programme. “The IMF is not concerned about rumours of misappropriated funds, but rather about ensuring that an external audit is carried out as it was a prerequisite,” says a source familiar with the case.

Civil society is also eager to have this external audit carried out, since Cameroonian authorities quickly launched a judicial inquiry, based on the Audit Chamber’s report, after the scandal broke out, so that they could swiftly conclude negotiations with the IMF.

“But if the audits and investigations are neither independent nor credible, the IMF risks getting caught up in the exercise of simply ticking boxes,” Human Rights Watch said in April.

In his letter of intent of 28 April 2020 to the IMF’s managing director Kristalina Georgieva, Cameroon’s finance minister Louis-Paul Motaze committed to ensuring transparency.

“(…) We commit to publishing a bi-annual report on Covid-19 spending, to commissioning an independent audit of this spending at the end of 2020 and to publishing the results. We also commit to publishing reports detailing the results of public contracts awarded by the government and the beneficial ownership of the companies benefiting from the contracts on Covid-19-related expenditure,” said Motaze.

Pre-selection of firms

In its report, the Audit Chamber stated that an “independent audit” should be carried out, echoing President Paul Biya, prime minister Joseph Dion Ngute and Motaze’s statements on the matter.

As a follow-up, Gilbert Didier Edoa, secretary-general for the finance ministry, issued a notice of expression of interest to pre-select firms. “We are still waiting,” says one of the applicants. Given the magnitude of the task as well as the number of ministries to be audited, recruiting more than one firm would be a wise decision.

It remains to be seen whether the conclusions of this independent audit, which promises other nasty surprises, will be available before the new IMF economic assistance programme is finalised. “Presenting a final selection of firms will be enough to speed things up with the IMF,” says our source.

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