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By Prof. NGO TONG Chantal Marie (Download pdf version)

The Public Independent Conciliator in the Process of Decentralization in Cameroon


There has been several proposals and decisions relating to the governance mechanisms to handle the Anglophone crisis in Cameroon. Following the major national dialogue that took place from 30th September to 4th October 2019, accelerating the process of decentralization was one of such proposals. As a result, important legislative developments took place with the adoption of Law n°2019/024 of 24 December 2019 bill to institute the general code of regional and local authorities, with major implications for local governance and the Anglophones’ quest for self-determination. Specifically, there was the institution of a special status for the Anglophone regions taking into account their linguistic, cultural and historical specificities. In her book entitled, The Constitution and Governance in Cameroon, Enonchong provides the first in-depth and critical analysis of the new legislative texts granting special autonomy status to the two Anglophone regions and the extent to which it provides lasting solutions to the Anglophone problem.

The Law of December 2019 provides for an independent authority called the Public Independent Conciliator (PIC) in the Northwest and Southwest regions. The PIC is responsible for examining and amicably settling disputes between users and the regional and council administrations, defending and protecting rights and freedoms with regard to the relationship between users and the regional and council administration. In application of the provisions of the Decree N°2020/773 of 24 December 2020 to lay down conditions for discharge of the duties of Public Independent Conciliator in the North-West and South-West Regions. As highlighted by Enonchong, the PIC can be considered as the most distinctive and innovative institution in the process of implementation of the Special Status of Anglophone regions. Chofor notes that the introduction of the independent public conciliator is a welcome innovation, which should be applauded. Considering their analysis, we ask the question: How can this innovation help to resolve the Anglophone crisis and contribute to an effective implementation of the process of decentralization? This question is addressed by an analysis of the institution of the Public Independent Conciliator (I) and its role and function in the process of decentralization (II).

I. The Institution of Public Independent Conciliator

The PIC instituted by the Law of December 2019 in its articles 367 to 371 is considered by the government as a traditional institution in the Anglo-Saxon system. It is capable of responding to the problems of governance in the Anglophone region for more autonomy. In fact, PIC is considered an ombudsman, as Chofor Che Christian (143) points out. Choves Loh reports on the launch of the of the Northwest PIC office and talks about Tamfu Simon Faï’s “Ombudsman mission.” It appears that the PIC is a Cameroonian adaptation of the ombudsman model. The ombudsman was introduced in some Commonwealth countries in Africa, starting in Tanzania and Mauritius during the 1960s, and in others during the 1970s and 1980s. The model was exported from Sweden and has been developed differently in Africa with diverse names such as Permanent Commission of Enquiry in Tanzania, Commission for Investigations in Zambia, Public Complaints Commissions in Nigeria, and Public Independent conciliator in Cameroon. According to OECD, ombudsman institutions act as the guardians of citizens’ rights and as a mediator between citizens and the public administration. Despite the importance of this institution in the process of decentralization in Cameroon, Hatchard indicates that the appointment of the ombudsman by the executive is an African specificity. Indeed, in all African countries with the institution of Ombudsman except Sudan, the executive appoints the ombudsman.

In Tanzania, Zambia, and Nigeria, the appointment is the sole responsibility of the head of state. In other countries, such as Ghana, the head of state makes the appointment after consultations with the Council of State and with the approval of Parliament. Originally, parliamentary approval was required for the appointment of the ombudsman. In Cameroon, according to the article 5 (1) of the decree of December 2020 fixing the duties of the PIC, the PIC shall be appointed by decree of the President of the Republic for a six-year non-renewable term, upon the concerted proposal of the representative of the State and the President of the Regional Executive Council. But for Chofor, this modality of appointment is not pertinent. He found that it is not appropriate for the administration to propose the PIC given that he or she is the one who will judge between him and citizen.

The PIC in the Northwest and Southwest regions were appointed by Decree No. 2021/342 of June 10, 2021. By this appointment, in the decentralisation process, the special status of The Northwest and Southwest regions is meant to guarantee the protection of minority status of Anglophones and ensures the preservation of their distinctive identity, specifically in the linguistic, education and judicial spheres.

II. The Role and Functions of the Public Independent Conciliator

The duties of PIC are defined in article 367 to 371 of the law of December 2019 and specified by the decree of 2020. Analyzing duties of the PIC, it seems for Enonchong, that the PIC intervenes where the public authority has initially failed to resolve a complain. It provides that additional level of support to complainants prior to any legal action. In this respect, the PIC may be seen as an institution with the potential to protect the rights of ordinary citizens against encroachment by public institutions. According to Hatchard, the main role of the ombudsman is “Protecting the Public from Maladministration by the Public Service.” Marten Oosting argues that, “the institution of the ombudsman was seen as one of the factors contributing to the evolution of a democratic state governed by the rule of law.” Therefore, the effectivity or the effectiveness of the work of the ombudsman depends on the level of democracy and the economic development. As Cameroon continuous to seek ways of effective democratization, the main task of the PIC is to protect human rights, as the authorities still often fail to enforce them specifically in the context of the war against secessionists. Gottehrer indicates that there are fundamental elements of an effective Ombudsman Institution, namely, independence, impartiality and fairness, credible review process and confidentiality. The PIC must therefore strive to integrate these elements to be effective and restore credibility to the decentralization process. For OECD, the role of PIC is to instil confidence on the citizens and restore the credibility of the government to build democracies that are more effective and ensure inclusive growth.

Conclusion and recommendations

It is quite understandable that we want to preserve the “Anglophone” identity and the institution of a “Public Independent Conciliator” seems to meet this objective. But considering that the practice of the PIC is a mechanism for regulating relationships between citizens and the administration in the aim to guarantee the citizen’s rights and freedoms, why limit it to English-speaking regions only? Don’t the citizens of the others regions need this “première avenue de contrôle de l’administration” ? All citizens should be offered the opportunity to see their rights respected and guaranteed in the face of an omnipresent and omnipotent administration. It might not be a PIC, but an independent administrative authority that would play the same role in the other regions. In addition, we recommend for an effective mission of the PIC:

— Raising the awareness of the administrative authorities and citizens on the missions and functions of the PIC

— Capacity building for PICs on issues relating to human rights and the challenges of the ongoing decentralization process

Prof. NGO TONG Chantal Marie is a Research associate in Governance & Democracy at the Nkafu Policy Institute. She holds a Ph.D. in Political Science, obtained from the University of Nantes (France) in the international thesis co-supervision agreement between University of Yaoundé II (Cameroon) and University of Nantes (France).