Public contracts system in Cameroon, their procurement and execution were expected to have hit crescendo today or should have at least been about to attain perfection looking at what government has put in, in terms of reforms.
In fact, the Public Contracts landscape was in 2018 given a new lease of life notably with the June 12, 2018 Presidential decree to lay down common rules applicable to contracts of public enterprises and June 20, 2018 Presidential decree to institute the Public Contracts Code in the country.
Coming after the creation of a whole ministry dedicated to public contracts on December 9, 2011 with attendant reforms, the performance of the entire public contracts system, many thought, was to be built on the respect of rules and procedures so that project execution no longer suffers any prejudice like was the case before the wide-ranging reforms. The Ministry of Public Contracts is there to play the general overseer role and Regional Follow up Committees are on the field and largely overseen by Members of Parliament, in fact representatives of the beneficiaries. Hopes were therefore rife that poor execution of contracts, projects abandonment and other evils which bedevilled the public contracts chain in the country could be history. How well the noble initiative has lived up to its billing remains a debate topic that can entertain heated discussion by keen observers till cows come home.
On paper, steps have been taken but on the ground, there is little to show in terms of qualitative and quantitative execution of development projects for which government and development partners pump in huge sums of scarce financial resources to step up the living conditions of the population. Far from the awaited change, contractors continue to abandon projects, vote holders keep barking with threats of contract cancellation echoed at each outing of government officials even as the beneficiary population continually languish in deficiency.
If it is not the Minister of Public Contracts summoning defaulting contractors to resume work or face the music, it is his counterpart of Public Works threatening hell on contractors not living up to expectation or even cancelling contracts. For instance, on July 25, 2022, the Minister of Public Contracts published a list of some 100 abandoned construction sites, calling on the contractors to resume work latest 21 days thereafter or face the wrath of the law. His release noted that the move was in order to combat the phenomenon of abandoned projects as part of the consolidation of the public procurement sector. This sounds awesome!
The muscular outing of the Minister of Public Contacts follows that of the Minister of Public Works who has on several occasions cancelled road construction or maintenance contracts for abandonment of projects. This has been recurrent even on the heels of sweeping reforms.
Visibly, it is an old-aged problem that needs more than mere threats and somewhat suspension to remedy the situation. It may sound heart-warming to tell whoever cares to listen that this or that suspended contractor will not be allowed to bid for public contract for these number of years. But when one imagines the ease with which companies are created and registered here as well as the complex networks in contract award system in the country, the visible gestures appear more for the gallery than causing the change needed to alter the harsh contract malaise.
Stakeholders should pose for a while and examine themselves; if they don’t truly know why contracts are abandoned. Questions on how such contracts were awarded, what the contractors presented as savoir-faire and what equipment they showed to motivate the choice of the vote holder to award the contract to a particular contractor and not other competitors abound.
A problem as serious as poor or no contract execution merits an in-depth diagnosis of its causes so as to cut the tap root from where the bad practices grow to blossom. Reforms engaged thus far are yet to produce palpable results. Visibly, the problem is more of human than instructive. Without exaggerating, people know what to do but deplorably still have the age-old tendency of almost always doing things the wrong way once their egocentric desires are guaranteed. Stakeholders, by virtue of the existing Public Contracts Code, know exactly who does what, where, when and how. Ignorance has got no blame in the prevailing situation.
If not, what explains the fact the with all the legal and administrative instruments in place coupled with multiple skills-sharpening workshops on celerity in public contract award and execution, Cameroon still either rotates on one spot or keeps regressing in project execution?
As authorities dig deeper to uncover the causes with the hope that they can muster the courage to strike them off for once, it...