The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has given $382 million to Cameroon since the start of the pandemic. Government bodies allegedly awarded contracts on questionable grounds, falsified accounts, and caused losses of $28 million to the state.
At least 23 ministers have been heard shortly after President Paul Biya okayed a judicial inquiry into the use of money granted by donors to finance the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.
The probe into the use of the 180 billion FCFA COVID-19 fund may well be the biggest embezzlement scandal in recent years.
While some sources claim some ministers went to the Special Criminal Court, a trusted source told Mimi Mefo info that many ministers were discreetly interviewed this week in their offices by investigators from the Special Criminal Court, a court with jurisdiction over serious economic and financial crime.
To prepare their questionnaires, the investigators have access to the audit report of the Audit Bench of the Supreme Court, covering the year 2020, a summary of which was sent to the Head of State last March.
Thus, 23 ministerial departments have shared 128.2 billion CFA francs, or 71% of the 180 billion of the global endowment of the Special National Solidarity Fund for the fight against the coronavirus. Seized by the auditors, only 19 ministries responded to the request for information at the end of September 2020.
Having worked with the data made available to them, the magistrates made an inventory of irregularities, identifying 30 management errors. They recommended the opening of 10 procedures concerning facts which could constitute offenses against the penal code and criminal procedure code.
Under pressure from donors, President Paul Biya then relinquished the government and entrusted the management of the money intended to fight against Covid-19 to a task force housed in the presidency. The Head of State also ordered the Secretary General of the Presidency, Ferdinand Ngoh Ngoh, to use the Supreme State Audit Office to audit the COVID-19 funds.
On March 29, Ngoh Ngoh complied: “I have the honor to pass on to you the high directives of the Head of State, ordering you to accelerate the audit mission of the Covid-19 funds, the report of which would facilitate the conclusion with the IMF of a new economic and financial program, ” he wrote to the Supreme State Audit Office.
At the same time, Ngoh Ngoh asked the Minister of Justice, Laurent Esso, to immediately initiate legal proceedings against the authors, co-perpetrators of embezzlement noted by the Chamber of Accounts in its audit report. Ngoh ngoh however failed to forward the report from the Audit Bench to Laurent Esso and will only do so after Esso wrote to remind him.
To add popular pressure to the struggle for influence between the top government officials, the report was leaked to social media on the evening of May 19. Three actors are mainly targeted by the magistrates’ report: Malachie Manaouda, the Minister of Health, Mohamadou Dabo, a businessman, and Madeleine Tchuente, the Minister of Scientific Research.
Did Malachie Manaouda shift Covid-19 dossiers to Alim Hayatou?
Manaouda was heard on May 19 in his office by investigators from the Special Criminal Court, as is customary for ministers in office. Manaouda was particularly grilled given that he was the one in charge of the commission to award covid-19 contracts.
The magistrates’ investigations were able to establish that a company, Mediline Medical Cameroon SA (MMC SA), benefited from a virtual monopoly in the supply of equipment.
According to the report, the commitments in favour of this company represent, as of December 31, 2020, approximately 24.5 billion CFA francs, or 94.93% of all the credits committed (25.8 billion CFA francs). Out of a total of 1,556,000 screening tests purchased (all types combined), 1,400,000 come from MMC SA, or 89.97% of the tests purchased.
In detail, the budget for personal protective equipment (PPE) was exceeded by 20.8 billion F CFA (20 845 888 219 F CFA) while the initial forecast was 2 941 000 000 F CFA. In the end, if we stick to the mercurial, the prices charged for these PPE acquisitions caused a financial loss of CFAF 1,277,604,763 to the public accounts.
Manaouda Malachie’s entourage ensured that the Audit Chamber received the elements it had requested. Sources in Yaounde exonerate the Minister of Health of any responsibility for the irregularities observed by the investigators. “He has not signed any contract in the context of the management of Covid-19 funds. This mission was devolved to the Secretary of State in charge of epidemics and pandemics, Alim Hayatou,” but he died on April 5.
Mohamadou Dabo, businessman: almost exclusive supplier
This businessman, who is also honorary consul of the Republic of Korea (South Korea) in Douala, introduced the company Mediline Medical Cameroon, exclusive distributor in Cameroon of SD Biosensor, the South Korean manufacturer of the equipment delivered by MMC HER. Dabo is also the owner of Moda Corporation, a company holding shares in MMC SA. Moda Corp, also pinned in the report of the Chamber of Accounts for having applied “disproportionate prices” in return for the transport of Covid tests.
MMC SA charged the Ministry of Health 384.5 million CFA francs not proportional to the quantities of tests delivered, which raised the price of the Standard Q Covid-19 brand screening test. AG Test purchased from MMC SA at 17,500 F CFA per unit, instead of 7,084 F CFA if the Ministry of Health had contacted the manufacturer SD Biosensor.
The report concludes that “this induced a difference of 10,415 F CFA between the price charged by MMC SA and that set by the manufacturer SD Biosensor, thus resulting in an opportunity cost for the public treasury of 14,581,884,800 F CFA. “. In other words, the Cameroonian State could have achieved an equivalent saving on all the contracts awarded in 2020 with MMC SA, if the order had been sent directly to the manufacturer SD Biosensor.
“It was the Prime Minister who instructed the Ministry of Health to grant him the delivery of 3 million tests and the Ministry of Finance to pay for this order. These letters, we have them,” Manaouda is said to have told state auditors.
Madeleine Tchuente, Minister of Scientific Research: the lemon grass woman and the Indian scam
Pharmacist trained at the University of Strasbourg, member of government for 17 years, the Minister of Scientific Research and Innovation proposed and obtained from the Head of State the local production of drugs such as chloroquine and azithromycin. The project was budgeted at 4.05 billion F CFA.
But the Institute for Medical Research and Studies of Medicinal Plants (IMPM) has never been able to produce these drugs.
However, as of December 31, 2020, an amount of 657,088,524 F CFA of expenditure had already been carried out under this activity that the IMPM presented as the manufacture in Cameroon of 5 million tablets of hydroxychloroquine.
But the auditors are categorical: “In reality, the IMPM instead proceeded to the acquisition in India of five million tablets of hydroxychloroquine, 500,000 tablets of azithromycin and 300 kilos of inputs of azithromycin delivered on July 29. 2020. He then proceeded to their repackaging in packaging purchased and printed with the mention “Purchased by Zaneka, [a fictitious company according to the report] packaged by the IMPM” even though the drugs had entered Cameroon in packaging respecting good manufacturing and packaging practices. (…) As of December 31, 2020, no medication had been transferred to the Ministry of Health”.
In addition to these two members of the government targeted by the report, a dozen other ministers and their eternal services have been grilled on issues related to the use of the same Covid funds.
IMF calls for independent audit on the management of Covid funds
If the report of the Audit Bench of the Supreme Court reveals irregularities, it does not yet satisfy the International Monetary Fund, in discussions with Yaoundé for the conclusion of a new economic assistance program.
The fire has been circulating since May 19 on Cameroonian social networks. Produced in March, the summary of the Audit Chamber report of the Supreme Court on the use of funds allocated to the management of the health crisis reflects the irregularities observed within the Ministry of Public Health and in that of Scientific Research.
“This is not an audit, but an overview covering only 30% of the 180 billion CFA francs (274.4 million euros) allocated to this special fund. Moreover, not all the ministries involved have caught the attention of this jurisdiction,”regrets a local auditor.
“It would have been appropriate for the Chamber to go further, each time highlighting the procedures which have been violated, ignored or simply bypassed, for the sake of education and prevention, in order to limit the occurrence of this kind. of drifts in the future. It is not ignorance of the rules and procedures of public procurement that is at the origin of this slippage, but rather the greed of some…. », Adds an analyst.
Transparency in the management of Covid funds is a point of friction between Yaoundé and the IMF, currently under discussion for the conclusion of a new program. “The concern of the IMF does not relate to the suspicions of distraction of the funds, but on the production of an external audit which was a precondition”, recalls a source familiar with the matter.
A requirement that also holds the attention of civil society in front of the Cameroonian authorities’ eagerness to take legal action on the scandal, on the basis of the document produced by the Accounts Chamber, in order to quickly conclude negotiations with the IMF. “But if the audits and investigations are neither independent nor credible, the IMF risks getting caught up in the game of simply ticking boxes,” Human Rights Watch noted in April.
In his letter of intent of April 28, 2020 to Kristalina Georgieva , the Minister of Finance made a commitment to transparency.
“(…) We undertake to publish a semi-annual report on expenses related to Covid-19, to commission an independent audit of these expenses at the end of fiscal year 2020 and to publish the results. We also undertake to publish documents relating to the results of public contracts awarded by the government and the beneficial ownership of companies benefiting from contracts on expenses related to Covid-19 ”, wrote Louis-Paul Motaze.
Even the Audit Bench recognizes in its report that an “independent audit” must be produced, recalling the texts drafted in this direction by President Paul Biya , Prime Minister Joseph Dion Ngute and Louis-Paul Motaze.
To follow up, Gilbert Didier Edoa, Secretary General of the Ministry of Finance, on February 16 launched a notice of expression of interest for the preselection of cabinets. “We are still waiting,” slips one of the postulants. Given the scale of the task to be accomplished, given the number of ministries to be audited, the option of recruiting more than one firm and distributing work in batches would be preferred.
Ministers involved with the management of the covid-19 funds are now holding their breath as their journey to prison appears to be a matter of wait and see.