By Dibussi Tande
Although the principle of public funding is a great one in theory (creating an active, diverse and egalitarian democratic system), its main role in Cameroonian politics seems to be to “soften” and domesticate the opposition.
On July 1, 2007, the Government of Cameroon announced that it had earmarked 1.5 billion CFA francs to fund political parties taking part in the July 22 parliamentary and municipal elections, although it did not shed light on how that money was to be distributed among the 44 parties participating in the election.
However, a few days later, the Secretary General of the opposition SDF (cited in The Post), revealed that her party had been promised 217 million FCFA. She added that 108 million FCFA would be used for the council elections and 109 million CFA for Legislative elections.
Given the very tense, acrimonious and sometimes violent relationship between the government and the opposition, particularly the SDF, many Cameroonians still have serious reservation about public or state funding of opposition parties. They believe that public funding of the opposition cannot occur without some sort of qui quo pro; that the subsidy to political parties is simply a slush fund used to bribe the opposition from protesting too loudly about pre and post electoral irregularities.
At a minimum, opponents of public funding argue that by taking money from the State, the Cameroonian opposition legitimizes both the Biya regime and a largely unfair electoral process skewed in favor of the CPDM. It also prevents them from actively building grassroots support and seeking private sources of funding.
The Case for Public Funding
Proponents of public funding however point out that the Cameroonian situation is not unique, and that even in Western democracies where political parties have the ability to raise lots of money through private sources, they are still eligible for public funding. This is the case, for example, of the Presidential Campaign Fund in the United States which offers matching funds to presidential candidates. As Samuel Fambom has pointed out:
The issue of public funding of political parties has been debated for a long time in old democracies. Three main arguments militate in favour of political parties. The first is that political parties must be treated as public services for the same reason as other services whose products are ideas, political socialisation and the renewal of the political class (Pere, 1998). The second argument is that the public funding of political parties provides a living space to the opposition, which of a nature to encourage the spread and diversification of ideas, the opening up of debates and political alternation. According to the third argument, the public funding of political parties enable to respect a basic democratic principle, that of equality, by evening up the chance of the participants in the electoral game.
In the specific case of Africa, Fambom argues that:
… the consolidation of democracy requires as a precondition the enhancement of the capacities
of the political actors for action which, in the African case, can only be achieved by an
equitable allocation of public resources among the actors… In the new African democracies, where the majority of the citizens are poor, it is difficult for political parties to gather significant amounts of funds from contributions of their members. Under these conditions, the only sources of finance available are assistance from foreign donor and the subsidies of public moneys.
(It is worth noting that law no. 90-56 of 19 December 1990 instituting multipartyism in Cameroon stipulates in Section 9 that “No party shall be authorized to exist if it receives subsides from abroad…”)
So where exactly does the money used to fund political parties in Cameroon come from? How come parties are simply “promised” state funds as if it is a favor from government and not a specific budgetary allocation? And, are there any checks and balances to ensure that the money given to political parties (including the ruling CPDM) is solely used for its intended purpose? Or does the government simply turn a blind eye thereby effectively making it the hush money that critics insist it is?
Public Funding of Political Parties in Cameroon
In Cameroon the funding of political parties is governed by:
(1) Law No. 2000/015 of 19 December 2000 relating to the public funding of political parties and election campaigns and Financing political parties and
(2) Decree No. 2001/305 of 8 October 2001 to define the organization, composition, duties and conditions of functioning of the Committee on the control of the use of public funds earmarked for political parties and election campaigns.
According to the law on the public funding of political parties;
- Public funding shall serve to cover regular political party activities as well as for the organization of election campaigns;
- Each year, the finance law shall include a subsidy to cover certain operating costs of legally recognised political parties;
- The subsidy shall be an allocation of public funds by the State to a political party to cover inter ilea :
- recurrent administrative expenses ;
- the dissemination of its political programme ;
- the co-ordination of the political activities of its members ;
- preparation for elections ;
Apart from the funds that political parties receive annually for running expenses, they also get additional funds during the campaign period. Section 9 states that:
The State shall contribute to the funding of election campaigns by defraying some of the expenses of political parties during elections; that the funding shall concern expenses relating in particular to the preparation, publishing and printing of circulars, manifestos and posters.
These election campaign expenses include expenses resulting from the organisation of election meetings and logistics.
These funds, according to Section11,
…shall be shared in two equal parts among the political parties taking part in the elections as follows:
• a first part shall be allotted to the political parties which took part in the last legislative election, proportionately in the number of seats ;
• A second part shall be served to all political parties proportionately to the lists submitted and endorsed in the various constituencies.
To ensure that the funds are used for their designated purpose, the law stipulates that:
“Any person who, acting on behalf of a political party, uses the funds provided for within the framework of public funding, for purposes other than those specified in the law shall be punished as provided for in Section 184 of Penal Code.”
To this end, Decree No. 2001/305 of 8 October 2001 institutes a control committee with the task of auditing political parties that receive state funds, and establishing “cases of embezzlement of public funds allocated to political parties in accordance with the laws in force.” The Committee produces an annual report which is forwarded to the President of the Republic.
The Reality of state funding in Cameroon
Although the laws governing the public funding political parties are fairly straightforward, their implementation is fuzzy at best and characterized by a lack of transparency. For example, instead of a specific parliamentary allocation based on an objective assessment of the political landcape, it appears that the global sum allocated for elections is arbitrarily decided upon by the regime in power. Which explains why the amount earmarked for elections changes from one election to the next without any clear pattern. For example, for the 2004 presidential elections, the SDF was promised 400 million FCFA (of which it allegedly received only 46 million FCFA). Yet for the twin legislative and municipal elections of 2006 which require much more resources, the SDF will receive 217 million FCFA , that is, about half of what it was supposed to get in 2004.
Also there are no effective checks and balances to ensure that the taxpayers’ money is used for its intended purposes. First, the control committee lacks the human and financial resources, and even the expertise, to effectively monitor the activities of the recipients or to audit their financial records. In fact, the committee is yet to carry out an exhaustive audit of political parties who have so far received state funds, in spite of widespread allegations of misuse and outright embezzlement of these subsidies by party stalwarts.
Finally, even in the hypothetical case where it functions as planned, the committee is unlikely to serve as a deterrent for embezzlement because its activities are shrouded in secrecy. It cannot make its findings or its annual reports public. Instead, it sends them directly to the President who decides what to do with them. Even in cases of obvious mismanagement, the President is likely to turn a blind eye because the existence of political parties that can effectively participate in local and national elections creates the much needed illusion of a free, vibrant, and plural political landscape…
As a result of these shortcomings, political parties who receive state funds virtually have a free hand to use these funds as they see fit – either for their intended purposes or for personal enrichment. We can safely conclude that although the principle of public funding is a great one in theory (creating an active and egalitarian democratic system), its main role in Cameroonian politics seems to be to “soften” and domesticate the opposition.