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Could The 25.000 Youth Recruitment Make Or Mar Biya At The Polls?

 

By Chief Bisong Etahoben

During his annual address to the youth on the eve of Youth Day which is usually celebrated in Cameroon on February 11, President Paul Biya on February 10 announced that his government will this year recruit 25.000 young Cameroonians into the public service. Ever since, political activists of the ruling Cameroon Peoples’ Democratic Movement (CPDM) have been making political capital from the announcement by manipulating some segments of the youth in Cameroon to demonstrate in support of President Paul Biya for “this laudable initiative in favour of the youth”.

           

However, the announcement has also sparked off a lot of commentaries and informed opinions on the feasibility of such a massive recruitment project, especially at a time when the Minister of Finance Essimi Menye has been persistently informing Cameroonians of the difficulties his ministry has been encountering in raising the over 50 billion FCFA it needs monthly to pay the salaries of the about 200.000 Cameroonian civil servants. If today the Cameroon government holds an unenviable world record of delays in the payment of service providers ostensibly because of being financially strapped, it is partially because most of the public revenue goes in paying public service salaries and wages. (It should be recalled that service providers and contractors in Cameroon can sometimes wait for over ten years to get their bills paid).Cameroonian civil servants have no fixed pay day as they are paid according to the rate at which revenue trickles into the public treasury.

               

In Cameroon, budgetary allocations for the payment of salaries far exceed provisions for investment on capital projects. And most times, revenue falls far short of budgetary provisions. For example, during the 2010 fiscal year, revenue fell 50 billion FCFA short of what was budgeted.

               

“With all the difficulties they have been facing in paying civil servants already on the public payroll, from where are they going to get the money to pay an extra 25.000 employees to be added to the payroll?”, one knowledgeable economist asked.

               

Some school of thought close to the ruling party has been quick to point out that thousands of Cameroonians above the age of retirement continue to work and it is government’s intention to send all those who have attained retirement age home. This school of thought holds that if everybody due retirement were to be sent home, more than 25.000 places would be created for the new recruits.

               

That may be true. However, doing so would create more problems than it would solve for both President Biya and his party during this election year as well as for the public treasury. In fact, pushing those due retirement out of the civil service would increase, rather than reduce the volume of money paid out monthly by way of remuneration for services. How can this be?

               

The truth is that in 1993, faced with a debilitating economic crisis, government was forced to slash down civil service salaries by about 70% in some cases in order to reduce the monthly salary package. This arbitrary reduction of salaries did not affect the retirement rules and regulations. Thus retired civil servants receive pensions calculated according to how many years they put into the public service. For example, the law provides that if one served and retired after the official mandatory thirty years, his pension is calculated at 30 years multiplied by two which amounts to 60 and so the one receives 60% of his salary at the time of retirement. This is transferred to his/her next-of-kin when he/she dies and ends when his/her next-of-kin dies. This is calculated based on the one’s salary before the 1993 salary reductions. And so, most retiring civil servants who were earning about 30% of their pre-1993 salaries find their pensions doubling their salaries to 60% of their pre-1993 salaries.

               

So, instead of massive retirements helping to cut down the monthly salary package, it on the contrary increases it and so any talk of massive retirements militating salary-wise in favour of the 25.000 youth recruitments is illusionary. It would rather create a deeper hole the public treasury would find difficult to fill.

               

“If one takes into consideration all the financial and political implications involved in this 25.000 youths recruitment announcement, one would hardly find any advantages for Biya the politician especially in an election year as 2011”, opined one political analyst.

 

For one thing, any massive retirement of the old guard in the public service in favour of the youths would spell political doom for Biya the presidential candidate. First because if past elections results are anything to go by, more than 70% of the young electorate voted against Biya and his party at elections since 1992. This accounts for why Biya and his party did everything to kick against the tripartite recommendation that wanted voting age to be brought down to 18 years. Biya and his camp won by getting the pro-CPDM National Assembly to vote in favour of putting the voting age at 20. And even this does not favour the Biya camp in any way. This because his retired age-mates would not be happy with him and would thus vote against him and the internet-wise youths who see their colleagues the world over kicking out sit-tight rulers would not be eager to behave otherwise.

           

For another thing, with their pension higher than their salaries, the retiring old guard which should otherwise be happy with Biya if they were told to go, would not be happy at all. Reason: most Cameroonian civil servants depend on graft to make ends meet and so even with their pensions doubling their salaries, they would be very unhappy being deprived of their main source of income – bribe money!!

If one were to take all the afore-gone into consideration, it would be difficult to find any intelligent rationale behind the Biya announcement that 25.000 youth would be recruited into the public service this year.

               

“The announcement was made without political, economic and financial hindsight. It was a spur-of-the-moment decision taken in fear of the possible multiplier-effects of the Jasmin Revolution that started in Tunisia and which has since been spreading like wild fire in the Maghreb, with every indication it may spread to Sub-Saharan Africa”, was the way one political scientist put it to this Reporter.

 

“The decision was taken with every intention not to implement it because its implementation would spell disaster for Biya in this election year”, chipped in Osang Monayims, an economics student in Britain on a visit to Cameroon.

 

Let us for once imagine that the decision was taken in good faith and that government intends to implement it. How are they going to go about its implementation? What would be the main preoccupations and priorities behind the minds of those charged with executing the decision? Would priority be given to demographic, regional and political considerations or would it be given to merit?

               

Whatever criteria those executing the decision would chose in deciding on who to recruit, one can only see a ticking time-bomb waiting to explode after all is said and done. With ten regions and 250 tribes and languages, every Cameroonian would be waiting anxiously to count and see how many of his/her kith and kin would be given places in the public service. And this would be a campaign topic as those tribal/cultural groups which would find themselves not properly represented in the recruitment lists would not fail to punish Biya and his party at the polls.

               

“The Biya organisation knows it would not implement the decision and since they know they have many ways of cajoling the people into thinking they are recruiting, they would just deceive the people and easily get away with it. In fact, it is safer for them not to do anything than to engage in any half measures that would certainly backfire”, said a university graduate currently selling cocoyams in the Muea market.

               

There is quite some reasoning in the cocoyam seller’s assessment of the situation. What if government decides to embark on a public relations exercise to hoodwink the people into thinking it is recruiting 25.000 youths and ends up recruiting a sprinkling that totals just about 1.000, then publishes non-existent names of 25.000? How do the people know which name is real and which is a ghost name?

 

My Inquisitive Pen

We, The Tax Payers Who Pay The Salaries Of Civil Servants

By Chief Bisong Etahoben

In my last issue, I wrote extensively about the travails of the Cameroonian journalist especially as concerns the financial difficulties private media practitioners in this country face in the exercise of their onerous duties. I am sorry to say I still have to return to the obstacles faced by the ladies and gentlemen of the fourth estate this time around.

 

The financial year is on and all honest compatriots involved in business are supposed to pay their taxes. I think I have written this in the past: that in the days of West Cameroon, business people who report to the Inland Revenue Department to pay their taxes on their own volition without obliging the state to use extra means to recover the said taxes benefitted from tax rebates.

 

What obtains now in the new deal era? Well, as is the case in most government offices where civil servants think the offices belong to them, tax officials, contrary to what their bosses in Yaounde have been saying in the national media, have been doing their best to squeeze as much as possible from honest tax payers for their private pockets than they do to fill government coffers. To get as much as possible for themselves before they are appointed to less juicy positions, they create all obstacles on the way of tax payers in order to enrich themselves.

 

You see, over the years I have decided not to go to the taxation department to undergo the tedious exercise of being humiliated by junior compatriots in order to pay my taxes so I always send my wife who is as patient as an angel to do the rounds for me. I had since decided I would never bribe anybody in order to pay my taxes!! While the Minister of Finance has been explaining over and over again that he has instructed his collaborators across the country to work hand-in-hand with tax payers to facilitate the collection of taxes, his field staff have been doing exactly the opposite.

 

And so my wife was in for another grilling the other day in Limbe. The tax laws in this country dictate that business people declare their incomes each month and even when they do not generate any income at all (as is usually the case with media houses) they must declare that they made no money. And this is what we have been doing over the years. If you don’t declare your monthly income, at the end of the year, the taxation people could decide to arbitrarily assess you by imposing an imaginary turnover figure on you.

 

Since we have had to pay money over the years because of this arbitrary assessment (money which is not receipted for), we have since decided to ensure that we do the right thing every month by declaring that we made no income. In fact, it is so easy to know whether a newspaper makes money or not by just buying a copy of the newspaper.

 

The only sources of income for the newspaper are advertisements and sales. With the advent of the internet, most newspapers which have online editions hardly sell a thing. And even when some copies are sold, vendors and news agents pocket their commissions plus the money meant for the newspaper proprietors so I have since written off sales proceeds as a source of income. We at the WEEKLY POST depend entirely on advertisements, which hardly come.

 

So, if you want to know what the WEEKLY POST made by way of income, you just need to buy a copy of the newspaper and you would see that there are always no advertisements therein. In the rare cases when we have advertisements, it is government law that such income is declared and this we always do and government always takes its 19.25% value-added tax and the other 1.65% for what I hardly know why.

 

This year, we were shocked when on presenting the monthly income declaration forms signed by the taxation people, they decided not to recognise the validity of their own documents. And insisted we made money and so should pay a turnover tax!!!

 

Of course, they always do all these things so that you should beg them and then they would start asking for bribe. When they refused to recognise their own documents when my wife presented them she phoned me and asked me to talk to the official in charge. And when I asked the said official why he wanted to arbitrarily assess my newspaper when in fact we have documents signed by them that would exonerate us from arbitrary assessment, he became furious and started asking me whether he was working in my house. He finally decided that since the WEEKLY POST did not make any income as shown in the tax documents duly signed by the taxation department, it would not be issued the annual business licence, i.e. patente.

 

The problem with government workers in this country is that they fail to realise that the offices they work in are not theirs. They are not their personal houses. Those offices belong to all of us whose tax money was used to build them. Civil servants are the servants of the people, no more, no less. They are just the custodians of public property which is the offices in which they work. They don’t own the offices. They are there to serve the people. They are the servants of the people and not their masters.

 

Tax payers are supposed to be encouraged, in fact, government is obligatorily supposed to create the enabling environment for citizens to pay their taxes. Where honest tax payers go to the taxation offices and are treated as criminals and bullied at when they ask relevant questions, they would not be in hurry to return to such offices next time to pay their taxes.

 

And too, civil servants should understand that business people can live conveniently without them but they cannot earn their salaries unless tax-paying citizens pay their taxes which are used in paying civil servants’ salaries.

 

We the business people, we the bayam sellams, we the shoe-menders, we the carpenters, we the masons, we the hawkers are their paymasters because without the little and large amounts collected from tax payers, there would be no money to pay civil servants including the Head of State, Ministers, Directors etc.

 

Suing Diplomatic Missions That Mutilate Cameroonian's Passports.

Individuals who have had the occasion to pass through the passport services of the General Delegation for National Security in Yaounde or in the ten provincial headquarters of Cameroon would notice an ever increasing number of Cameroonians lining up for passports. More than half of those applying for new passports have been issued passports before which were not completely used, i.e. the pages were not completely covered by usage stamps.

One maybe forced to ask: Why should these Cameroonians apply for new passports when the old ones were unused? The answer in most cases is simple: the old passports have been mutilated by American and European embassies where they applied for visas! These mutilated passports are always rejected by other embassies when the same individuals apply for visas elsewhere and so Cameroonians are left with no other options than to apply for new passports.

Another disturbing question thus arises: Must diplomatic missions which refuse Cameroonians visas mutilate their passports after refusing them visas? The truth is that there is no legal provision for diplomatic missions handling visa applications to tamper with the passports of individuals to whom they have refused visas. In fact, diplomatic missions have no right whatsoever to write anything in the passports of visa applicants. All they are empowered to do is paste visas in them or return the passports as they were handed over to them. It is even clearly stated on page 20 of the new CEMAC passport, Note N. 2 that: "It is forbidden to make any mark on this document or any erasure, correction, deletion, or written addtition, or to add extra blanc pages. Any correction not made by the competent authority on issuing this passport will invalidate the document". Thus, anything done to the passport, which are strictly individual possessions owned by the issuing country outside the pasting of visas is illegal and should give rise to legal redress by offended Cameroonians. It is a flagrant violation of their rights to individual ownership.

If this is the case, why then do western diplomatic missions, which have always been bending our ears about respect for individual rights, mutilate the passports belonging to those to whom they have refused granting visas? The answer is that western embassies so despise Cameroonians and infact, Africans in general, that they are not satisfied with refusing them visas but must virtually destroy their passports before handing them back to their owners.

Besides imposing prohibitive visa fees and punitive reception facilities on those applying for visas, they must further humiliate Cameroonians by arrogating to themselves the right to mutilate the private property of Cameroonians. This is impunity at its worst.

What should abused Cameroonians do in order to rid themselves of this ultimate infringement on their private property? Two options are open to them, all of which are legal:

1. Sue subsequent rejecting diplomatic missions for refusing to use available space in the mutilated passports for their own visas or,

2. Sue the diplomatic missions which mutilate their passports for rendering them unusable. Either way, the Cameroonian would be saved the extra expenditure of paying for a new passport and the erring diplomatic missions would learn to respect Cameroonians who commit no offence by wanting to travel abroad.

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