The anti-corruption drive started in 2006 was a major turning point in Yaounde’s attitude towards the problem. It came after decades of blatant denial of its existence by the regime in Yaounde. Understandably, President Paul Biya was applauded at home and abroad. The United States pledged its full support to the campaign, as did many other Western powers and multilateral institutions. And then, suddenly, the operation dubbed sparrow-hawk began looking ugly. Critics said it had been diverted to fight political opposition and ethic groups complained of discrimination in the arrests. Others wandered of what point the operation was, if it ended with the jailing of those found guilty, leaving stolen money stashed away. No doubt, by the time fresh arrests were made last week, some of the initial applause had considerably given way to suspicion.
The arrest of two former ministers brought the number of high profile arrests to more than 20. Security sources have told the Standard Tribune that in all around 500 people have been arrested. The number is impressive, even given the scale of corruption in the country. It shows for the first time that even if political scores are being settled, people with no known political might are being taken in. Added to the number of police officers being reprimanded every now and then for “harassment and extortion”, it is our belief that authorities are moving in the right direction. At some point, it would dawn on the public that things are changing.
Biya must take credit for those steps. But we fear that the lack of broad reforms could make any real results elusive. You cannot fight corruption by simply catching people and jailing them. It has not worked with other forms of crimes. Unless measures that make it difficult to be corrupt or steal from the public purse are put in place, people will still take a chance at bribery and embezzlement. Critical to this is to introduce more transparency in the way public affairs are conducted. Government procedures need to be simplified and made known to the wide public. Corruption in the taxation, customs and judicial sectors are largely provoked by red tape and opaque procedures. Simple things like making large payments by bank transfer and cheques can limit the amount of cash in circulation and leave traces about where government money is going to.
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