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REFORMING OUR GOVERNMENT – SOME THOUGHTS

 

In a previous article, I wrote about the role, size and scope of Government. I indicated that Government has to be leaner, smart and efficient. I noted that the Government we inherited from the colonial Master is ill suited and unfitting to respond to the needs of our people. It is my belief that we, the African people must engage in the debate of reforming and restructuring Government to make it fitting to our aspirations as a people. The change we seek should not just be about replacing people here and there, but it must also address the structural and systemic deficiencies of the institutions of Government of our country.

 

 

We must seek to define a role of Government that conforms to our aspirations. We must seek to design and build a Government of the people that is sensitive, empathetic and responsive to the needs and demands of its people. A Government that is not inimical to its people, but one that is a partner in the pursuit of happiness of our citizens. A Government that is not suppressing our freedoms and rights and perceives the discontent of its people as rebellious and unpatriotic, but one that guaranties and protects the rights and safety of its citizens, and tries to address the frustrations of its people.

 

A Government that does not use the military and the police to terrorize and tyrannize its citizens to fear and submission, but one that seeks to promote peace through freedom, equality, social and economic justice, by responding to the frustrations of its people and social injustices. We seek a Government that is not enacting senseless and unintelligent laws that stifle its peoples ambitions and make the life of its citizens more difficult than it already is, but one that creates the conditions for our people and businesses to thrive and grow.

 

A Government that enacts thoughtful and targeted laws within the established legal framework for the institutions of Government and non-Government to operate in a fair, just and legal way. We seek a Government that treats all of its citizens equally irrespective of tribe, ethnicity and creed. A Government that establishes the ground rules, the conditions that are friendly and conducive for the people to express their creativity and ingenuity within the legal framework of the country.

A Government that does not tax small Enterprises out of business, but encourages, incentivizes and promotes entrepreneurship and job creation in the private sector. A Government that does not try to employ all of its citizens, but one that promotes and encourages the private citizen and the private sectors of the economy through tax exemptions, tax deferments, red tapes removals, and lightens the burdens for new startups and making financial assistance and loans available to competent and trustworthy citizens who venture into private business.

 

A Government that actively fights corruption and not use double standards and cherry picks which corrupt and unscrupulous citizens to bring to justice. We seek a Government that establishes rules that coerce and reward good behavior while repudiating and punishing bad societal conduct.

The quintessential role of Government must be to protect and serve its citizens. It’s the paramount reason of its existence. It’s the essence of its conception. It legitimacy lies on the premise of trust and consent of the people. When a Government fails its people, it loses the trust and consent of its citizens, and therefore must yield power, cease to exist and transition through the formation of new Government under the strict guidance of the constitution. When a failed Government clings obstinately to power, --without the consent and trust of the people--, it inevitably becomes oppressive and repressive as it perceives every expression of frustration and discontent of its people as rebellious, insubordinate or disobedient. Such a Government becomes an existential threat to the people. –Very same people it’s supposed to protect and serve--.

 

In this article, I write about how Government can be reformed to make it more efficient. This writing is by no means a definitive or exhaustive guide to reforming Government. Rather, it tries to demonstrate with some real life examples how some common sense rules can help make Government more effective and efficient in what it’s supposed to do: protect and serve its citizens. To put the discussion in context, we actualize the operation of the Government to some real life situations.

For a Government to be effective and efficient in what it does and is expected to do, we must craft and establish thoughtful laws and regulations, rules, policies, processes and procedures. Laws and regulations must be crafted and construed with the principles of separation of power, counter power, separation of duty, checks and balance, audit trails and accountability, built-in arbitration mechanisms to root out misuse, abuse of power and corruption. The built-in intelligence within the law or regulation must foresee the possibility of abuse and corruption. So, any law or regulation must carry within itself some arbitration mechanism, some deterrence, some dissuasion –in its construct-- to preempt corruption and coerce civil and political correctness.

 

A smart law or regulation --in the construct of its execution-- , must carry some archetype to encourage, incentivize and reward good behavior while dissuading, repudiating and punishing bad conduct. A well thought law or regulation –in its design-- should incentivize the good citizen to want to obey and follow it, and not constrain the people to find their way around it or bribe their way through it. An intelligent law must have in its synthax and formulation, built-in mechanisms for checks and balance and accountability. People are less likely to do the wrong thing when they are aware that the probability of them being caught and held accountable is very likely. A Government is only as effective, efficient and smart as the laws and regulations, rules, policies and processes that it establishes and enacts.

 

An effective Government must also rely on the ability, the competence and the deontology of the civil servants or Administrators that it employs to execute the Laws and regulations it intends to enforce. These civil servants represent that face of the Government at the point of delivery of a service. The post conventional morality, the level of honesty, the integrity, the ethical standard, the competence, the sense of honor and respect for the rule of law, the commitment and dedication to the cause of change of these civil servants, are all requisites for our country to establish an effective Government. Commitment and dedication to changing our country must become front and center to the new social compact of our time.

Well defined and thoughtfully structured institutions, smart and intelligent laws and regulations along with highly competent citizens with uncompromised integrity, law abiding and dedication to the cause of building a better country for our posterity, --better than the one we inherited-- are the essential and fundamental ingredients for establishing a sound and functional Government of our liking. A Government dedicated to the protection and service to its citizens. A Government that is competent, empathetic and responsive to the needs of its people.

 

Our commitment to change must embody this urgency –to reform Government-- in the constructs and expressions of the new social compact. It must imbue and pervade the collective consciousness of the fabric of our society. Changing our country is a life-long commitment. It’s a journey to the hearts and minds of a people who are relentlessly dedicated to the cause. Changing our country is more about conviction than it is about knowledge and level of education. The people we elect to the branches of Government must share our convictions and our aspirations. Don’t elect someone just because he is of the same tribe and ethnic group as you are. For if you do, you are faltering on the promise and commitment to changing your country. We must only vote for people who share our convictions and aspirations as a people. The National Assembly must become the ground zero, the epicenter of the fight for change. It’s the place where we build the institutions of good Governance and enact the laws and regulations that will bring the changes that we yearn and crave for.

 

Some may say the president –simply--will not allow it. Well, it’s our job to get the president to embrace and support positive changes. We the people must stand up for what’s right and just. And as we do, you may be surprised to see the president join the wagon of creative change.

 

It must be abundantly clear to the sub-Saharan African people, --after some 50 years of independence and wandering in the wilderness of bad Governance, chronic and systemic corruption-- that the kind of Government that we aspire to, can’t be construed and established by the colonial Master. –Because, such a Government will not serve the Master’s interest--. So the African people must engage in this debate of reforming Government by themselves and for themselves, if they were to free themselves from the colonial bondage masterfully disguised in the Trojan Governments we see in sub-Saharan countries today.

A Government with the above attributes, can only be construed by our leaders and citizens who are determined, committed, dedicated to the cause of change. Citizens of good faith –animated by a profound desire and a strong conviction to respond to call of our time—to dedicate themselves selflessly to build the foundation of a new society. Citizens who genuinely love their country and try selflessly to make life better for their fellow countrymen of this generation and generations to come.  

The Cameroonian Government is comprised of about 50 Ministries and employs several hundred thousands of citizens, namely civil servants. –exact numbers not known--. What do these people do on a daily basis ? What is it that it’s required of them ? Why do we as a people need them there ?

 

Well, these are the people who are supposed to execute the processes in place to provide services to the people and to the country. Their job is essentially to execute the policies, processes and procedures derived from the laws, rules and regulations that make the country operational and keep it open for business. They essentially provide Government services and execute the processes on the things that make a country functional and open for business, such as Licensing, Inspections, Authorizations, law enforcement, Permits, Tax Collection, education, health services, law enforcement etc --just to name a few--.

So why is it that a request for a passport, a driver’s license or a business license will take 3 months or more to be processed ? While the answer could be multi-slivered, at least two of them are empirical. The first element most of us may have witnessed is that our Government is very convoluted. It’s full of nonsense and adverse –or unintelligent ?-- rules that for the most part are just making life --intentionally or not-- difficult to its citizens. It’s almost like, our Government is there to be a headwind to our progress, to prevent the people from achieving their ambitions and to stifle their aspirations. In modern countries, the institutions of Government are always being reformed to make it easy to assist the law abiding citizens to realize their dreams and ambitions and move on with their lives. The Governments in modern countries want to get out the way of the people and their dreams.

 

In Africa, our people feel quite the opposite. It almost like the Government wants to block you from progress. The convoluted nature of the rules and the senseless, adverse and unintelligent regulations, combined with the “enslaved mindset” of some of our people are the catalysts that perpetuate the plights of society.

The second reason is probably the overly centralized Government. In Cameroon, almost everything is done in Yaounde –the capital of the country--. The screening, processing, the decision, the execution and the delivery of service. If you live in Manfe or Bamenda and you are going on retirement, you must make several trips to Yaounde and then wait for several years –if you stay alive—before your hard earned retirement allowance is released to you. If you live in Bafoussam or Nkonsamba and wants to operate a small Enterprise or an NGO, --which by the way will create some jobs--, you must go to Yaounde to even begin the process. In a country without adequate communication system, --telephone, computer systems, roads, sea and air--, that sometime means paperwork –and persons-- moving through the roads or air to Yaounde and back. On top of this dreadful and agonizing wait time, the applicant must surfer his way through the several nonsensical processes and requirements that sometimes bribery and corruption are the only viable recourse to obtain a service --in a timely manner--.

 

The convoluted regulations have made it almost impossible to receive a Government service –for which the citizen is freely and rightly entitled to-- the legal way. This is the imbroglio and self-inflicting plight –imposed by our Government to its citizens— that the sub-Saharan African man must deal with on a daily basis in his own country. It’s this hell, this Armageddon, --inflicted to our people by our Government-- that has triggered the massive exodus of epic proportion of this generation of sub-Saharan Africans. – political, but mostly economic refugees--. It’s the sad memory that many in the Diaspora have of their home land. Memories which have caused some to swear –vehemently-- to disown their country, while others have –implicitely but strongly-- pledged a no return. –to Armageddon--.

 

We all carry in us –knowingly or not-- some sense of responsibility of the situation of our country. The collective guilt we all share as a people must compel us to act. Silence –complicit or not—is as just a guilt as the intricacies of the few that have caused us to stumble –so steeply-- as a people. The teachable moment if any, is the inevitable truth that we must learn to stand up and fight for what’s right. For if we don’t, we will be caused to stumble and fall by the wrongs of others. But this is just one thread to the story of our country. To this dark tunnel of despair and helplessness, there is a thread of optimism, a thread of hope, that informs us that the African people are slowly being awakened to the reality of the time. Our people are surely becoming more conscious of the urgency of the now. And this new generation will not stand idly bye when our people cries out for help.

 

“I feel much better here (US), I will never return to Cameroon. What for ?“ Said one Cameroonian. “That country is ‘Malchance’ ”. Says another. And as I listened to these words with sorrow, coming from my own countrymen, I felt powerless and said to myself “That’s not the way it’s supposed to be. Something is got to change”.

 

So what can we do about it ? We have all complained about it, we are all angry and ashamed about it, we all carry the scares and signature of this –inhumane and unacceptable treatment, inflicted --intentionally and unintentionally--by our own Government to its own people-- and presumably we all want –or at least pretend to want to —to do something about it.

Lets take the case of a Passport Application --or a License to Operate a certain Business-- and see how we can improve it. Hypothetically, let’s assume we are defining a Standard Operating Procedure –SOP-- that must be followed by an administrator to handle passport requests –or a Business License Request--. The SOP can specify that the Administrator will have at most 72 hours to make a decision on the request. He must approve or deny, but in no more than 72 hours. Whatever decision he may arrived at, he must apply the statutes in place to justify how and why he came to the determination to deny or to grant a request.

In the case of a denial, the process can trigger another process of verification by another Administrator in another office –to avoid collusion--who can concur with the decision or overrule it. The SOP can also dictate that the second recourse be reached within 48 hours. So a good Administration should be able to deliver on a passport application –or deny it-- within a week of application. The SOP can guaranty that the Applicant will receive a response from the Government within 2 weeks. If not, the Applicant will be allowed to file a law suit against the Government –free of charge—for the delay of processing. A judge in the court of Law –if he determines that the Applicant qualifies-- can order the Administration to act. This is an example of how separations of duty, separation of power and the establishment of a counter power –usually the Court of Law—can bring a great deal of efficiency to the system while curbing corruption. You get the point.

 

You may be thinking, well how can this work in Cameroon ? Well, it begins by having our law makers –the parliamentarians— make a smart law. If the law is intelligent enough and has enforcement mechanisms clauses attach to it, it will work. It may take some time to get it to be as effective as the intents of the statute, but overtime, it will work as intended. You better believe in change ! When you travel the world, you see this at work. Why wouldn't it work for us ? Lets wakeup and believe in what’s right and just. That’s how we change our world and the world.

 

What if the request could be processed in Douala or Bamenda and not Yaounde ? Someone from the SW or NW province will potentially be spared some 300 km and hours of additional travel. We can begin to see how we can make our Government more efficient by decentralizing, restructuring –removing the red tapes-- and redefining processes, while rooting out abuses and misuses of power and corruption. Computer communications can play an essential role in relaying information back and forth to the capital for an audit trail and verification of the processes. This would be an example of a Government whose role is to serve its people. A Government that is continually looking for ways to improve and make it easier for its citizens to pursue their dreams and their aspirations.

 

Let’s take up the case of the Sea port in Douala. We can craft a smart SOP that defines the processes that will root out corruption and remove the outrageous wait time to get your goods and merchandizes in and out of this essential port of entry. The process must impose time limits for the Authorities to arrive at a decision. The process must be very specific in the formula used to compute Tariffs or custom duty. The formulations must be simple and easy to understand. The citizen must have at least two recourses to seek relief should a corrupt Administrator decide to delay and play for time. We just need intelligent people to come together and write out, not just the process but more importantly ensure that the process be followed to the letter. Any Administrator caught in taking bribery or being corrupt in any way must be relieved of his duty and terminated immediately. Smart SOPs and harsh and immediate punishment against the corrupt and unscrupulous will rid our system from the plight of corruption. But we must be determined and committed to fight and defeat it. How about creating a Ministry of Anti-corruption ?

 

Take the case of taxation. I have heard many stories of Cameroonians trying to setup a small business back home. By some stories, it can take up to six months –or more-- just to get a permit or Authorization to operate a small company or an NGO. And even after you surfer your way through all the roadblocks, the headwinds, the briberies, the delays, the intimidations, now come the Tax “death squad” asking for more bribes with the looming threat to shut down your business ? Again, here, our Government can and must do better.

 

Government is paid for through the proceeds of the taxes it collects. We all get that. But having these random threats from unscrupulous and corrupt Tax collectors showing up at a Business place has a very grave and adverse effect on the psychology of any Business. We must have a very thoughtful and well-crafted process for tax collection. The process must unequivocally stress that the tax collector can’t and must not show up at someone’s business place to collect taxes. Hypothetically, the law governing these small Businesses can state the following: A business or NGO must report all of its expenses –revenue, expenditures, deductions etc..— twice a year between 1st thru 30th of January and 1st thru 30th of July each year. If the business or NGO fails to meet this deadline, the law allows the Department of taxation to go to the court of Law and ask that a summon be issued and served to the Business or NGO within 72 hours. The Business is then ordered to report to Court for a hearing. It’s the responsibility of the court of Law to set a schedule of payment. If the business fails to obey the schedule, then additional injunctions can be made. But at no time can a tax collector show up a Business place to collect anything. A tax collector who violates the law and the established SOP as outlined in the statute must immediately be terminated. This will save us the intimidations, the corruptions and perhaps the score settling between biased, zealous and jealous tax collectors and Businesses as reported by Business owners in Cameroon today. Again, well construed SOP and strong punishment for the corrupt and incompetent Government Administrators will root out the systemic and chronic corruption that has plagued our country for so long. But we the people must first say enough is enough, and stop accepting corruption as part of the “Modus Operandi” of our society.  

 

Take the case of public transportation and public safety. Our Government can pass a regulation requiring that the motorcycle operators –or the so called Bensikin—provide a protective helmet to the passengers they carry. Or the Government can simply respond to the public transportation need of the people by providing for a safer public transportation mechanism. There may be other options but doing nothing should not be an option. How many more people have to die –deaths that can prevented-- and surfer head injuries before our Government acts to protect the people ? How many more people have to die on the so called “axe lourd” Douala-Yaounde before we come up with the idea to enforce very strict speed limits –say 100 Km/h-- and think of adding lanes to the Douala-Yaounde road, or build a second road altogether, so we can have a one way road on each direction ? Think of how many live this can save over time ? Government must do for the people, what they can’t do for themselves. Government must ensure safety, protection and provide service to its people.

 

So this is how thoughtfully designed and well-construed laws and regulations, smartly crafted SOPs, well enforced processes along with well-trained civil servants can make our Government leaner, more effective and less corrupt. Our system must have built-in archetypes to encourage and reward good behavior, while punishing –through disciplinary actions including firing and immediate termination of corrupt, unscrupulous, and incompetent civil servants-- bad behavior. Personal responsibility and accountability are the cornerstone for any decisive fight against corruption. We can do it.

 

If you have ever been to a Ministry in Yaounde, you may have noticed that more often the office is half empty. You see lots of chairs and tables, sometimes coats and suits hanging on the seats, but the occupant is nowhere to be found. Many times you are told your case requires the Directors attention, but the dude will not be back in the office until next Wednesday --and it's just a Thursday--. And yes a civil servant can be on a short --and hopefully, approved-- vacation, but who is his backup ? Who is supposed to assumed his responsibilities while he is out ? This is bad governance run amok, where there is no personal responsibility and accountability. Our people have to be responsible and competent at their job. And they must be held accountable when they fail to meet their responsibilities. Not surprisingly, a previous Minister of finance reported to have uncovered what he called, some 22,000 unscrupulous civil servants who were falsely collecting salaries and pensions. As it turns out, half of these people were dead and the other half were retired. What’s really unscrupulous with this finding is accusing the dead of falsehood and not holding the living –people of Government-- accountable for not having an attendance policy in place.

 

"Government is not a solution to our problem, government is --or can be-- the problem." -- Ronald Reagan--

 

Empty offices and people seating and doing very little or nothing all week is symptomatic of big and inefficient Government. Let it be known that the government does not create wealth nor does it produce income; it only receives money, through taxation from its citizens and corporations. The private sector is where wealth and income are created. We, the people of Cameroon –Francophone Africa in general—are akin to think that we go to school, graduate from University, to only come back and work for the Government. Well that time is over. The Government has grown too big, too costly, too ineffective and can no longer hire. While becoming a civil servant is an honorable proposition, getting into the private sector is just as important for a country's economy and the kicker; it’s where much wealth can be created.

 

Our Government has the responsibility to incentivize the entrepreneurial spirit, small business initiative and the creativity of its people. The role of the Government we seek should not be to hire all of us, but it should be to create an environment where small businesses can flourish and grow. An environment where our people can harness their ingenuity and express their creativity and imagination. Our Government should allow importation of goods and produces at very low or no tariffs, especially for the things for which there is no local competitor, such as cars, television, cell phones, air conditioners etc..

 

Paying a tariff or a custom duty value higher than the price of an imported used car at the port of Douala makes absolutely no sense for a country that does not manufacture cars. This type of regulation is not just bad economic policy. It stifles economic growth and development. A Government should not be an impediment to the economic upward mobility of its people. A good Government should not enact Laws and Regulations that work against its own people. These are the changes we seek from our Government. The change we aspire to, is about our ambitions and our convictions on the things we want to see improve in our country, and not a personal disdain for any President, any Minister or any individual.

 

I would think many would agree that 50 ministries for a country the size of Cameroon is too much. Too much Government has never been a solution to the Peoples problem. Too much Government can be a problem. By some estimates, our country spends CFA 4 billions –or more-- a month to pay the civil servants to run its Government, not accounting for Government waste and abuse. We can certainly do better.

The Cameroon military is now comprised of hundreds of thousands men and women. –overwhelmingly men--. Since independence, our Country –thankfully-- has not had an active war with any of its neighbor. –Well, except of the Bakassi skirmishes--. Thanks to our geography, we are surrounded for the most part by small countries that can’t hurt a fly let alone be of any serious threat to us. –with the exception of Nigeria to the west-- . So what is the role of this military ? The constitution of Cameroon defines the role of the military as that of protecting our National sovereignty. For the last two decades, this military has been essentially used as an instrument of repression, and killing of the innocent people who come out from time to time to cry out for Freedom and justice.

Cameroon has been under –an implicit and undeclared-- Marshal law -- or state of emergency—now for two decades. Our large military is really a waste of money and man power. No disrespect for our honorable men and women in uniform who serve our country well. But by some accounts, you have Colonels, Generals –70 plus years of age—still serving and collecting huge amount of salary doing essentially nothing. How about retirement or incentivize them to transition to the private sector, thereby creating an opportunity for the younger graduate ? –just as the generations before gave opportunity to them--

The military personnel must be removed from our streets. Law enforcement is the function of territorial administration and not the armed forces, except in times of war or when a state of emergency warrants it. The constitution of our country –as bad as it is—defines the role of the military as that to protect the territorial integrity of the country and not internal law enforcement, unless the country is in a state of emergency that must be declared by the president, which I don’t know that it’s the case. Take the military off our roads and back to barracks. Our military is comprised of strong, healthy and hefty young men and women that we can use for nation building. We can train them to build roads, schools, bridges, hospitals, soccer stadiums, public housing.. etc..

 

We must define a role for this Military in time of peace. We can use this military for nation building. Our Military must be mostly “Genie Militaire” or --the so called-- "Smart Military" that can be used to build roads, bridges, schools, public housing, vaccination campaigns, etc.., instead seating and doing nothing, and just waiting to be used as an instrument of repression, tyranny and fear. Then how about the Police and Gendarmerie ? Why have both ? Why complicate the process of law enforcement for a country where good governance is so conspicuously lacking ? We can surely have a special division within the police to perform the role of the gendarmerie. We can slowly merge the Police and Gendarmerie into one body of law enforcement officers.

 

This is just a short list of changes that we can make to our country’s Government, in lieu to make it leaner, more efficient and more effective in serving the people. A Democratic system of Government should be a Government of the people, for the people and by the people. A leaner Government must do for the people what they can’t do for themselves, --no more no less-- lest it becomes more intrusive, more overreaching and more heavy handed. Too much Government is never an asset to the people. But too much Government can be an impediment, a culprit that stifles economic progress and development. The change we seek must put emphasis on the role and size of Government.

 

The Cameroonian opposition must articulate new and progressive ideas for an alternate vision to our country and not just whine and complain of the political shenanigans of the ruling party. --Shenanigans which by the way is just the nature of politics. Politics is a brutal and nasty contact sport ! Get used to it --. When the political opposition would have articulated  a viable alternative, the current system will have no choice but to respect, to acknowledge and maybe to learn from the alternatives being proposed, and perhaps adopt them in its own platform. Change must be earned through the power of ideas, persuasion and ingenuity. It will never be handed gratuitously to an undeserving and incapable opposition. The greatest gift we have been given by the Creator, is the power of our imagination. It’s up to us to harness and use it for the good of our country and our people.

 

The opposition parties must carry the message of hope and change to the Cameroonian people. And nowhere is the fight for change more significant than controlling the National Assembly where the laws are being made. The National Assembly must become the ground zero, the epicenter for the fight for change. It’s the place where the people can stage the fight for change, intellectually, constitutionally and politically. We must only vote for people who share the conviction and commitment of changing our country. 

 

The National Assembly must become the ground zero, the epicenter of the fight for change. It’s the place where we build the institutions of good Governance and enact the laws and regulations that will bring the changes that we yearn and crave for. --ANST--

The greatest gift we have been given by the Creator, is the power of our imagination. It’s up to us to harness it and use it for the good of our country and our people. –ANST--

 

“The National Assembly must become the ground zero, the epicenter of the fight for change. It is the place where, we the people, can stage the fight for change, intellectually, constitutionally and politically.” –ANST—

 

“Change is more about conviction than it is about knowledge or level of education. We must only vote for people who are dedicated to the cause, and share our convictions of changing our country.” –ANST--

 

 

Powered By the African New School of Thought --ANST--

 

 

 

 

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