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Cameroon’s President Paul Biya Promises Decisive Action to Advance Development

YAOUNDE, December 14, 2009 – Cameroon will take decisive and coherent actions in the coming months to fundamentally change the current trajectory of low economic growth and to speed up reforms that foster private sector development without which the country would ultimately miss its stated objective of becoming an emerging economy by 2035.

The commitment was one of several made Monday by Cameroon’s President Paul Biya, during his hour-long discussions with visiting World Bank Vice President for the Africa Region Obiageli Ezekwesili.

The “business-as-usual” path on which Cameroon has been trapped for years now will not deliver the promise of a middle-income country by 2035, Ezekwesili told Biya during their discussions. Ezekwesili gave a presentation that simulated growth at current levels over the next 15 years. The data showed how far off Cameroon would be from the middle-income country status it seeks if its peoples and government did not up their game.

“During our meeting, President Biya said he will provide leadership and the cabinet will embark on implementing the reforms,” Ezekwesili told reporters, admitting that she left her audience with Biya convinced that he was committed to acting on what she called “the urgency of now”.

Besides the promise to provide leadership in implementing Vision 2035, Biya endorsed the need to improve collaboration and cohesiveness on actions taken by different ministries charged with advancing development. Biya, according to Ezekwesili, has agreed to create an economic team to champion reforms and implementation of Vision 2035.

With public investments shown to be dropping for years even in priority areas such as education, health, and infrastructure, Ezekwesili discussions with the president focused on winning support from the top to refocus investments in ways that alleviate poverty; creating safety nets for the most vulnerable segments of the population; as well as tapping into and securing every opportunity for inclusive growth.

President Biya also pledged to continue providing leadership and to sustain the strong political will needed to fight corruption, improve governance, transparency and accountability.

“The president and his cabinet need to send a clear signal that corruption is unacceptable and that there are no sacred cows, by systematically and indiscriminately taking action to punish the corrupt – everyone of them, not just a few – and reward good behavior,” Ezekwesili later told members of the Cameroonian Government during a working session focused on accelerating progress in sectors of the economy receiving World Bank funding.

The World Bank Vice President took exception with the chair of Cameroon’s government-created anti-corruption agency who tried to argue during the session that Cameroon was just a victim of a smear campaign by foreign NGOs when it comes to its poor ranking on governance, functioning institutions, anti-corruption, transparency and accountability.

“It is not only perception; it is reality,” Ezekwesili was forced to remind cabinet members in attendance.

The proof of that reality was confirmed by a recent World Bank-funded client survey, which showed that 35 percent of Cameroonians surveyed said improvements to governance must be the top development priority of the country. The survey also found that a further 13 percent of Cameroonians said they would like to see decisive action taken to combat corruption.

Earlier Monday, Ezekwesili heard the same emphasis placed on corruption during her meetings with representatives of civil society organizations and a team of Cameroonian experts and government officials charged with advancing the country’s adhesion to the principles of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI).

Notwithstanding their potential to rake in revenue for the public treasury, the fast-depleting and non-renewable natural resources sector cannot be over-relied on to develop Cameroon, Ezekwesili said. What is essentially an enclave economy should not be promoted at the detriment of the greater promise of developing human capital and fostering a knowledge-driven economy, she stressed during the working session with cabinet members.

With unmet demand in energy expected to trigger the construction of more dams, alongside roads and other infrastructure to help extract Cameroon’s huge mineral reserves, the bulk of them scattered across the country’s vast equatorial forests, the session with cabinet members endorsed a proposal to establish a Task Force to coherently tackle the complex issues of legal forest conversation and exploitation;  the EITI issues related to mining; and the environmental problems that this development is bound to bring about.

The session with cabinet members also gave an attentive ear to discussions about the potential of tapping into the Cameroonian Diaspora to make up for huge deficits in human capital now apparent within the country’s public sector. The Diaspora could also help to create jobs and wealth through investments that continue to be delayed because Cameroon has not yet implemented the reforms needed to make it an attractive investment destination.

“Private capital does not go to environments that are hostile to it,” Ezekwesili said. She urged cabinet members to remember that no country awaits Cameroon to move its development and reforms forward, and that only those countries that make the most effort will win over some of the capital for which many nations are ferociously competing.

The World Bank Vice President pledged her institution’s support to Cameroon’s reform agenda, including notable action that it envisages to improve the investment climate; its access to carbon credits linked to sustainable management of forests; and its ranking among developing countries in order to increase the amount of funding it receives from the World Bank.

The World Bank also promised support to accelerate reforms in the education sector in order to help Cameroon look beyond natural resources to a knowledge-based economy; to introduce a results-based management system within the health sector; as well as to provide support for agriculture sector reform that would ensure that Cameroon benefits fully from the resources pledged recently by rich countries to promote food security.

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