YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon – A Cameroonian bishop has condemned the “audacity” of government officials who have been accused of stealing funds earmarked to battle the COVID-19 pandemic in the country.
“I really felt bad that within a period like this when most people, most governments are trying to look for ways and means of combating COVID 19 disease – a virus that is killing and taking away the lives of many people – that people will still have the audacity to embezzle funds of this nature, that is meant for the common good, that is meant to save the lives of people,” said Bishop Michael Bibi of Buea, in Cameroon’s South West Region.
According to the Johns Hopkins COVID portal, over 1,200 people have died of COVID-19 in Cameroon, with more than 77,000 people testing positive.
In the face of such a health emergency, Bibi said it was evil for people to steal money.
“To say the least, this is inhuman. It is not correct, and I think that the Cameroonian government should do proper investigation and the people who are responsible should be brought to justice. We cannot allow things like this to go ahead because it is not proper. Humanly speaking, it is bad,” he told Crux.
Cameroon’s Ministry of Health has come under fire for its poor transparency in the distribution of hundreds of millions of dollars of COVID aid, with members of the opposition and some international aid agencies accusing members of the government of embezzlement.
In the face of the mounting scrutiny, Cameroonian President Paul Biya earlier this year instructed the Justice Ministry to investigate.
Meanwhile, 23-page report by the Audit Bench of the Supreme Court that was leaked in the local press on May 20 reveals disturbing facts about the way the $382 million of COVID funds were managed.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) was overbilled at ten times the expected rate, and there was no public bidding for contracts. Some contracts were allegedly given to “ghost companies” that didn’t actually exist.
Over $11 million was budgeted for the local manufacture of chloroquine and azithromycin. Instead, the heal ministry imported the drugs from India and repackaged them in Cameroon.
Renovation work on facilities meant to welcome COVID-19 patients was not completed – only seven of eleven facilities were completed.
“The conditions under which the special contracts were awarded remain unknown to the Audit Bench of the Supreme Court, which reflects a certain opacity in the awarding of contracts, and which affected most of the contracts,” the report states.
The Audit Bench accused the Ministry of Public Health and the Ministry of Scientific Research and Innovation of 30 management errors, and recommends ten legal proceedings that could end up as criminal investigations.
The ministries have denied wrongdoing.
Bibi said the government must pursue these cases.
“Corruption thrives when there is little follow up to bring the culprits to justice,” the bishop said.
He said conversion of hearts is the only way the problem can be rooted out of the country.
“Corruption is something that is common and I think that we all have to fight against corruption; we all have to educate ourselves that whatever position we have in the Church, in the government, and if we have funds that are given to us for the common good, we should use it for the common good,” he told Crux.
“We should not think about our individual benefits or what is going to benefit our family members and friends, we should think about the common good. For me I think that is key, and my prayer and wish is that we should be converted from this attitude of corruption, because if we are not converted, the country will never develop, things will never move properly,” Bibi said.