By Dr Jean-Cedric Kouam (Pdf Version)
The building permit is a preliminary declaration that allows for the verification of a construction initiative in a given locality, in line with the respect of town planning and architectural rules in force. In Cameroon, this document issued by the local council authority is mandatory for any possible new construction or modification of an existing construction. Therefore, any construction without an official permit is liable to a penalty of 30% of the estimated cost of the building.
According to Law No.2004/003 of April 21, 2004 governing the Cameroonian Urban Planning Code and the decree of 23 April 2008; the process of obtaining this document has been considerably shortened. Yet, it remains quite complex. This complexity is evident in the plurality of procedures, requirements, norms, offices, conditions, actors, documents, and stakeholders involved in the process. All these are accompanied by the heavy financial burden, time-consuming processes, boycotts, administrative bottlenecks and corruption; all of which lead to unorganized and slow urban development. Moreover, within this complexity, is the reality that such mechanisms differ from one place to another across the national territory; thereby creating some sought of uncertainty, non-uniformity, and lack of trust in the system. The improvement in the issuance mechanism of Construction Permits in Cameroon is very vital for a country that has the ambition to achieve its economic emergence by 2035.
The objective of this paper is to examine the actions aimed at improving the mechanism for issuing building permits in Cameroon. It is structured in two sections. The first section focuses on the constraints related to the issuance of building permits in Cameroon while the second section deals with the mechanisms aimed at improving the administrative authorization procedure and the process of issuing this administrative authorization.
- Constraints related to the issuance of building permits in Cameroon
The regression of Cameroon in the “Doing Business Index” ranking for several years now is linked to diverse constraints particularly those relating to the issuance of building permits. Actually, to obtain a construction permit in Cameroon, there are conditions stipulated under law N° 2004/003 of 21 April 2004 which regulates the urbanization mechanisms in Cameroon.
One of the problems faced by the government in this domain is that, despite its necessity, individuals are still not aware of the importance of the construction permits. Building has become a common phenomenon in the country as people seek to own their homes or promote the real estate business ventures. In several towns and villages in Cameroon, houses are constructed every day in different neighborhoods; however, many of these houses are built without building permits. This explains why there are poorly constructed buildings which fall off resulting in human casualties and the destruction of properties as these buildings did not meet the formal official requirements. In a related study carried out by most holders of the building permits often go contrary to the building and construction terms which lead to the destruction of the building by the city council.
At the moment, the procedure for obtaining construction permits in Cameroon differs from town to town, and it appears to constitute a severe hindrance to prospective investors from building in different regions. For example, the case in Yaoundé appears different from that in Douala or Buea. That is, building a house in the Cameroonian’s economic capital, does not only require a landowner to obtain the building permit, but also to respect the terms stipulated in such a building permit.
Furthermore, obtaining a construction permit in Cameroon today; is a slow, cumbersome and long process, which limits many economic actors to engage in real estate investment. This applies even to simple individuals desiring to build private residential houses. The consequences here include; several people end up living in rented apartments, or becoming destitutes, after retirement from official services. Also, those who occupy official houses become immersed in such structures at the detriment of owning their own houses.
In the face of these challenges plaguing the issuance of construction documents in Cameroon, the Government of Cameroon has been taking measures to combat these challenges. It is therefore necessary to understand how effective these measures are operating in the field. The following section addresses this in detail.
- Mechanisms to improve the issuance of building permits in Cameroon
One measure taken to combat the challenges of obtaining building permits in Cameroon is the institutionalisation of an online application, which started in January 2018. The government set up this system to help reduce analogous administrative processes, increase speed, and transparency in the processing of files. The Secretary-General of the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development (MINDHU) has recently reviewed and validated reports which will pave the way for the creation of One-Stop-Shop for the application, treatment, and deliverance of building permits online.
Since the holding of the 3rd session of the Cameroon Business Forum, the Prime Minister indicated an improvement in the cost of processing building permit applications, with the recommendation that the procedures be computerized and One-stop shops set up for issuing building permits in Douala and Yaoundé. The implementation of these recommendations and the need to monitor the uncontrolled development of Cameroon’s cities, led the Ministry to launch the process of improving the effectiveness of urban planning and issuance tools.
It is within this framework that the Ministry of Urban Planning and Development.has undertaken to support the Douala City Council in the process of computerizing and dematerialising procedures for the issuance of urban planning documents and to ensure the speed of file processing and reduce costs. However, the success of these measures depends on many factors, such as the access to good Internet connection and available electricity.
The government of Cameroon is also sensitizing Cameroonians on the need to obtain a building permit before starting any construction, through newspapers like the Cameroon Tribune. This initiative would be more fruitful if other communication measures were used. Some of these include the private press, radio and television adverts, social networks, billboards and text messages from MINDUH.
In Cameroon, the main criteria for the issuance of a building permit states that; the projected building constructions must comply with the town planning requirements in line with the location of the works, its nature, its destination, its architecture, the development of its surroundings, and comply with the general building rules in force. The plan of construction work should be developed under the responsibility of an architect registered on the roll of the National Order of Architects of Cameroon.
Despite the strategies put in place to improve the process of issuing building permits, the government of Cameroon continues to face many obstacles, including those related to the lack of awareness of the population and the cumbersomeness and slowness of administrative procedures. In order to improve the process of issuing building permits in Cameroon, the Government of Cameroon has, since January 2018, launched the process of institutionalizing the online application, to help reduce administrative processes, increase speed, and transparency in the processing of files. It is equally important to continually mobilize the public press to raise awareness on the need for building permits. However, the success of these measures depends on many factors, such as increased access to the Internet and electricity.
 Ranked 166th out of 190 economies in Doing Business 2019, Cameroon lost three places due, among other things, to building permits which still remains problematic as the country is ranked 132nd in this segment.