June 12, 2021

In Cameroon, billions of CFA francs dedicated to the fight against Covid-19 diverted

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A team of caregivers at the Laquintinie hospital in Douala, in November 2011.

“My patients did not have oxygen. Nursing staff lacked personal protective equipment. It’s always like that. Many have died. We could have saved them if we had not had these shortcomings ”, laments Doctor Simon *, sitting behind his desk at the Laquintinie hospital in Douala, one of the care centers for patients infected with Covid-19 in the economic capital of Cameroon.

With his gaze riveted on his smartphone, he scrolls through the audit report of the audit chamber of the Supreme Court. “I cannot believe that this government chose to embezzle billions of CFA francs and let innocent people die, confides the doctor. It’s cruel. “

Read also Cameroon: “The State has managed in the greatest secrecy the money intended to face the Covid-19”

The 20-page document dated March 2021 was leaked on social media on May 19. The Chamber of Accounts takes stock of the use of the special national solidarity fund created in 2020 by Paul Biya, President of the Republic for thirty-eight years, “For the fight against the coronavirus and its economic and social repercussions” in Cameroon.

Endowed with 180 billion CFA francs (some 275 million euros), it was to be used, among other things, for the purchase of protective equipment, tests, ambulances, medicines, and the care of quarantine of travelers.

“Many abuses”

If the audit chamber notes that the government strategy has been «Prompt» see “Well developed”, thus making it possible to contain the spread of the pandemic, it notes, however, that financial management has “Revealed weaknesses and revealed numerous abuses”.

Suspicions of corruption had circulated for several months in Yaoundé, the capital. At the beginning of April, the Presidency of the Republic took over the management of the Covid-19, entrusted since 2020 to Prime Minister Joseph John Ngute and his government.

Read also In Cameroon, on the trail of the coronavirus in the districts of Douala

A “Sudden will”, according to Sarah Saadoun, senior researcher in the business and human rights division at Human Rights Watch (HRW), who would be linked to negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a third emergency loan.

The audit report commissioned from the Supreme Court would have enabled the authorities to attract the good graces of the IMF. With some success: in a statement published on May 27, the international institution announced that it had reached a new agreement with Cameroon, nevertheless indicating that “Efforts to improve governance with effective application of the anti-corruption legal framework will also be essential”.

« Covidgate »

In the progress report of the audit chamber, already qualified as « Covidgate » in Cameroon, the auditors specifically target two ministries which have played a “Central role” in the response to the pandemic: the Ministry of Public Health and that of Scientific Research and Innovation.

Opacity in the award of contracts, overruns of allocated budgets, embezzlement, blatant overbilling… The picture drawn is overwhelming. A mismanagement that is well illustrated by the component on rapid screening tests acquired via the companies Mediline Medical Cameroon (MMC) and Moda Holding Hong Kong (shareholder of MMC) from Mohamadou Dabo, a Cameroonian businessman and honorary consul of Korea of the South, also close to the Yaoundé regime.

Read also “They are dying”: in Cameroon, clandestine health centers helpless in the face of the coronavirus

According to the Chamber of Accounts, MMC benefited from a “Quasi-monopole”, winning 90% of the tests purchased for 95% of the credits committed, to the detriment of two other local service providers who nevertheless have “Proven” in the sale of drugs and medical devices.

Moda Holding, for its part, charged the Ministry of Health for transport costs “Not proportional to the quantities of tests delivered”. Thus, note the auditors, a Covid-19 test purchased from MMC cost 17,500 CFA francs (nearly 27 euros) per unit, or 10,415 CFA francs (nearly 16 euros) more expensive than the price of the manufacturer SD Biosensor. which sold it for 7,084 CFA francs (nearly 11 euros), which cost the state 14.5 billion CFA francs (some 22 million euros).

Caregivers are not protected

In the fourth quarter of 2020, while the Global Fund to Fight HIV, Tuberculosis and Malaria offered its tests at 2,932 CFA francs (4.50 euros) per unit, the government continued to obtain supplies from MMC , a company created in 2017 and whose “The balance was zero” until June 2, 2020.

“We can conclude that Mediline Medical Cameroon has been reactivated for the needs of the cause”, specify the auditors, who note the excess of 21 billion CFA francs (32 million euros) of the initial budget allocated to the purchase of the tests or the absence of 610,000 screening tests invoiced by MMC and missing from the ‘inventory.

Read also Coronavirus: in Cameroon, the management of the pandemic severely criticized

Since the start of the pandemic, testing difficulties have fueled corruption networks and encouraged the purchase of false negative tests by people wishing to travel. The caregivers, them, did not stop complaining of problems of premiums or the lack of equipment.

According to the Covid-19 situation report from May 13 to 19, 2,664 of them were infected for 39 deaths in Cameroon. “The staff are not protected, nor taken care of free of charge as the Minister of Health says”, denounces Essiane Endameyo, secretary general of the National Union of establishments and companies in the health sector.

“This excessive looting which is tearing the country to shreds”

One of his friends and colleagues died three months ago after being hospitalized in “The old Orca”, an annex of the Yaoundé central hospital transformed into a care center for patients with Covid-19, nicknamed “The mouroir”.

In the report, the audit chamber specifies that the acquisition of personal protective equipment was budgeted at nearly 3 billion CFA francs and commitments were made to the tune of 23 billion, an excess of 20 billion. The purchase of this equipment at prices higher than those set by the State also caused the treasury to lose CFAF 1.2 billion.

Read also In Cameroon, in the shadow of Covid-19, cholera, measles and malaria continue to kill

Since its publication, the report has aroused indignation in the country. “We wonder where we are going to arrive with this excessive looting which is tearing the country to shreds”, denounces Philippe Nanga, coordinator of the NGO Un Monde Avenir and secretary general of the platform of civil society organizations in Douala.

If ministers and officials have since been heard by investigators from the Special Criminal Court (TCS) – created to investigate and try those suspected of having embezzled public funds – many Cameroonians are calling for the resignation or even the arrest of Manaouda Malachie , Minister of Public Health, or Madeleine Tchuente, Minister of Scientific Research and Innovation.

In a statement, Emmanuel Sadi, the government spokesperson, reacted by denouncing a “Media frenzy” and an “Popular revenge” ignoring the ” presumption of innocence “. The remark angered some Cameroonians, who rose up against this double standard from which many opponents and members of civil society now imprisoned have not benefited.

“This turmoil will not change the regime. Unfortunately, it is not the real thieves who will go to jail, only those with less support at the top or the most cumbersome. I have young doctors who have been telling me for a few days that they are looking for ways and means to leave the country. They’re right. What is the use of sacrificing yourself and seeing your patients die when they could have been saved? “, asks a member of the Cameroon medical order.

In the conclusion of its report, the audit chamber of the Supreme Court noted thirty management errors and recommended the opening of ten procedures concerning facts likely to constitute offenses against criminal law.

* Loan first name, because the person wished to remain anonymous.