By Anthony Antem (Download article PDF)
Highlighting the challenges of Regional Councils in the Implementation of Effective Decentralization in Cameroon
Unpredictable developments of the Anglophone crisis (1) in the English-speaking regions of Cameroon and recent manifestations from several professional syndicates including teachers (2) and health workers have increasingly put to question the effective practice of decentralization in Cameroon. Decentralization, in itself, is understood as an advanced and structural system of public administration which obliges central administrations to recognize the existence of local councils and entrust their management to trained local administrators with an overall objective to ensure proper administration of people and resources for a collective interest. The failure to implement decentralization which is contained in Cameroon’s 1996 Constitution led to the concept being re-examined in the course of a Major National Dialogue, held in Cameroon in 2019 to examine the root causes of the Anglophone crisis. As part of the resolutions of the Major National Dialogue (3), it was resolved to institute regional councils/assemblies which was long previewed by the 1996 constitution (4) as the last phase geared towards the effective implementation of decentralization in Cameroon. Regional councils/assemblies are in principle the governing bodies of the regions of Cameroon. In application therefore, the government of Cameroon proceeded to organize the first ever elections for regional councilors in December 2021 (5) which are now fully operational across the 10 regions of Cameroon. What impact therefore can regional councils/assemblies have on the decentralization process in Cameroon? This article therefore examines the role and functioning of regional councils and highlight some of the main challenges faced by regional councils in the discharge of their responsibilities in the decentralization process in Cameroon.
The Role and Functioning of Regional Councils/Assemblies
As clearly defined in the 1996 Constitution of Cameroon, regional councils have the duty to promote and control cultural, economic, educational, health-related, social, and sport-related issues in the regions. The members of each council are delegates indirectly elected by the populace and traditional rulers selected by their peers. Each council is headed by a president, who is elected by the members from among their own ranks. Members serve five-year terms. Each council is advised by members of parliament from the area and by an administrator appointed by the president of Cameroon. This appointed administrator acts as the president’s personal representative and wields considerable power. The president of Cameroon reserves the right to disband any regional council he so chooses. The Regional council enjoys administrative and financial autonomy to manage the affairs of the region. With respect to their functioning, the Regional Councils are scheduled to meet quarterly in ordinary session when convened by its President. The duration of each session may not exceed 8 days, exceptionally for the budget session, which may last 15 days. It is however important to highlight here that following resolutions from the Major National Dialogue (6), English speaking regions of Cameroon were attributed a “special status” (7) which redefines the organs as regional assemblies with a clearly mapped structure and operational framework taking into consideration the cultural values and identities of the English-speaking people. The difficulties of decentralization in Cameroon have led to the institution of Regional Councils as an advanced stage and acceleration of the decentralization process.
Highlighting the Challenges of Regional Councils in Cameroon
The effective operationalization of regional councils is subject to essential factors such as a judicial framework, infrastructural developments, financial and administrative autonomy as previewed in the constitution of Cameroon. These factors are only achievable through political will and in-depth collaboration with central administrators. However, realities on the field do not reveal any concrete projects being executed by regional councilors besides meeting sessions. This can be attributed to several reasons amongst which;
- The central administration’s lack of political will to relinquish power to regional councilors. Regional councilors do not have the power to make and implement decisions as this can only be done in consultation and under approval from administrative authorities appointed by the Head of State. The 1996 constitution explicitly stipulates that regional councilors shall operate within a framework of powers conferred upon them by the state.
- The lack of financial resources (8) to execute developmental projects at the regional level. This has been one of the major setbacks of decentralization as authorities elected do not have operational budgets and no alternative sources of income rather than depend entirely on the central administration. Upon the creation of regional councils, the government had resolved to allocate 20% of its annual budget (9 billion FCFA) for the functioning of the councils, this is yet to be done and consequently halts the functioning of regional councils.
Based on some of challenges highlighted above, the following proposals can therefore serve valuable if properly implemented.
Firstly, the central administration should respect its engagement to allocate 20% of its annual budget for the functioning of regional councils/assemblies or provide subsidies on developmental projects. Added to this, the government can draw inspiration from the functioning of regional councils in New Zealand (9) to endow councils in Cameroon with the ability to devise alternative or additional modes of fundraising to avoid dependency on the central administration. Public-private partnerships and inter-governmental cooperation can be instituted to support the functioning of regional councils.
In a bid to ensure effective administration at the regional levels, the central administration should willingly ensure de-concentration of power to accompany the decentralization process by relinquishing considerable decision-making power to presidents of regional councils/assemblies. This would suppress avoidable professional lapses and recurrent laxity in administrative procedures thereby accelerating operations at the level of councils. Equally, the regulatory framework guiding the activities of regional councils should be finalized for councils to be in charge of recruiting health workers and teachers to serve within the regional councils.
In addition to these, regional councils should prioritize collaboration with other sub actors of development such as civil-society organizations (CSOs), traditional rulers, professional syndicates/associations and religious organizations to ensure effective management of the councils within their jurisdiction. Councils/assemblies must engage with their communities at various levels and encourage community participation in decision-making processes, considering the needs of people living in communities and those who will live there in the future.
This article assesses the impact of regional councils in the effective implementation of the decentralization process in Cameroon. It is worthwhile mentioning that this process is an integral part and key determinant of the socio-political and economic stakes in Cameroon especially in the troubled English-speaking regions. Though there are hopes that the decentralization process can be important in addressing the Anglophone crisis in Cameroon, the existing challenges faced by Regional Councils may undermine the ability to create the desired impact.