Decentralisation: What Is In A Name?

What Is In A Name?

Agitations across the English-speaking regions since late 2016 till date have provoked varied debates on the best form of state that can address challenges of local development. President Biya’s announcement of a major national dialogue in October 2019 heightened suggestions particularly relating to the form of state.

Suggestions  during pre-dialogue consultation held  by Prime Minister Chief Dr Joseph Dion Ngute touched on federalism and decentralisation.

There are those who think that enhancing the decentralisation process remains the best solution to address the concerns of the Anglophones within the polity.

Yet there are also compatriots who are clamouring to see a federal system of government put in place. Albeit this divergence, majority posit that decentralisation can take Cameroon to her desired level of development and growth if effectively implemented.

Decentralisation is a method of organisation of the administrative arm of government in which the State creates decentralised public entities and grants them jurisdiction and resources.

Here, the state preserves the supervisory and monitoring power. It is a means of developing democracy and bringing development closer to the citizens. Decentralisation comes with an institutionalisation of administrative and financial control for local collectivities.

Decentralisation provides for an active involvement of the local population in the management of their resources. Chapter 1 section 15(1) of law No. 2004/17 of 22 July 2004 on the orientation of decentralization, on the definition of devolution of powers makes clear competencies to be devolved to local collectivities.

“The state shall devolve upon regional and local authorities under conditions laid down by law, the powers necessary for their economic, social, health, educational, cultural, and sports development,” the law specifies.

Experts argue that materialising the local transfer of such powers will greatly sooth the anger at the grass root and usher in a new era of local development.

Effective decentralisation has the potential to enhance national unity and social cohesion.

This policy needs extra political will to give Cameroonians more avenues of participation in the affairs of their communities. Section 4 of the same law states that: “Regional and Local authorities shall be corporate bodies governed by public law. They shall be endowed with administrative and financial autonomy for the management of regional and local interests.

In that capacity, the mission of their councils or boards shall be to promote economic, social, health, educational, cultural and sports development in their respective jurisdiction”. Decentralisation institutes local and regional authorities responsible for local development.

It also allows for financial autonomy. The people decide which project is good, mobilize resources (state support inclusive) and implement these projects. These are the areas wherein the powers that be must exert extra political will as a matter of urgency to materialize these provisions of the law on decentralisation.

Cameroonians deserve some degree of autonomy in the affairs of their regions and municipalities. In section 13, the decentralisation law outlines possibilities of contributions to enhance local development. This is a participative novelty that must see the light of day. “Any natural person or corporate body may propose to the regional or local authority executive any measures aimed at fostering the development and/or improving the functioning of the regional or local authority concerned”, the law on decentralization specifies. Decentralisation versus Federation

Decentralisation offers to communities and the nation at large opportunities for local development while at the same time enhancing national unity and national integration.

It also promotes competition. Rapid development becomes the order of the day. The unemployment rate will drop and more opportunities would spring up.

Section 19(2) states that: “The rules and regulations governing the staff referred to in the preceding sub- section shall be laid down by decree of the President of the Republic”. Decentralization, if effective and efficient, is a form of governance that Cameroon needs at this moment to speed up the development process.

Amid the varied opinions, the government must reanimate its development vision with specific attention on the dictates of the 1996 constitution.

The provisions of the 1996 constitution can reshape governance in Cameroon and specifically address Anglophone concerns if fully implemented. Government must shift from the seeming inertia on decentralisation that has been witnessed in the last 23 years since the constitution was crafted. Times have changed.

This is a generation that is asking more from the powers that be. The government which represents its people must not remain silent to this overwhelming desire for change. This is not the time for policy speeches, it is a season to work the decentralisation, make it real and trigger local development.

A glance at article one of the January 8, 1996 constitution, Cameroon is a unitary decentralised state. This means that decentralised collectivities should be delegated some degree of power and resources to manage their affairs.

That constitution is yet to be fully implemented: The regional councils will see the light of day in the days ahead. He election took place Sunday.

The senate representing councils was set up only in 2013.It is in its second legislature. The administrative and functional autonomy of councils needs to be given a new touch. Since 2010, about 25 ministries have transferred competencies and resources to councils.

By December 31, 2015, councils were given full powers to carry out 60 out of the 63 ascribed to them. A prime ministerial text of December 16, 2016 granted to councils three other competencies. Thereafter, the Prime Minister signed a decision on the effective transfer of financial resources to local councils. The Regional Council is about to take off. The General Code on Regional and local authorities is already in use.

Current Prime Minister Chief Dr. Joseph Dion Ngute also signed another decision raising the quota for local collectivities to FCFA 50 billion. Government promised in 2020 to allocate 15% of the state budget to local councils.

For now, the sale of automobile stamps, windscreen licenses, local development taxes are within the preserve of councils. Part of forest revenues and funds collected by the treasury has been given to councils through the Special Council Support Fund for Mutual Assistance known by its French acronym, FEICOM.

Mayors and municipal councilors through a presidential decree have been salarised and placed under remuneration. That is why after the first three laws on decentralisation of 22 July, 2004, the legal and regulatory arsenal governing this process has constantly been on the rise.

Prof Joseph Owona’s book on Decentralisaton states that, “Cameroon’s model of decentralisation as implemented is an in-depth reform of the State. It is a major option of the Greater Ambitions Policy of the Head of State”.

This policy calls on all social actors for its successful implementation.

Foreign Experiences

Decentralization has not only thrived in some parts of the world but it has contributed in making communities great. France’s Law n° 82/213 of 23 march 1982 and subsequent laws instituted territorial decentralisation in the country to the advantage of the regions.

The region is governed by 3 (three) regional organs: the regional council, a deliberative assembly elected through direct universal suffrage; the economic and social committee, the consultative organ, and the president of the regional council in replacement of the prefect of the region.

In Italy, there are 20 regions whose provinces and councils comprise subdivisions. Regions are made up of autonomous organs with specific powers and functions.

Regions lay down rules in some domains: organisation of regional authorities and administrative organs, local rural and urban police, fairs, markets, museums, mineral water. They execute administrative functions in the above-mentioned areas or when the State delegates power to them.

They have financial autonomy and some revenue from the treasury is allocated to them. They can institute import, export and transit charges.

The organs of the Italian region are: the regional council, the Giunta and its president. The regional council has legislative and regulatory powers in duties assigned to the regions.

The regional Giunta is the executive arm of the Italian region. The president of the Giunta represents the region. He promulgates regional laws and regulations and heads regional administrative bodies.

In Italy, law n° 81 of 1993 and constitutional law n° 1 of 22 November 1999 enshrined direct election of the president of the Giunta in conformity with that of mayors. This gave political weight to regional institutions.

Cameroon can borrow a lot for these successful decentralization models to address the current concerns. Positions of Government Delegates have been wiped off in the current administrative set up to give local municipalities more powers and visibility.

First published in September 2019 and partially modified in July 2020