The government of Cameroon said on Monday it was investigating how ministers had spent $335 million in coronavirus aid from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) amid accusations from opposition parties that most of the loaned funds “could not be accounted for.”
“A government statement read on Cameroon state media Monday calls on civilians to remain calm as investigations on missing funds continue. The statement from government spokesperson Rene Emmanuel Sadi states that justice will take its course,” Voice of America (VOA) reported May 31.
Cameroon said on Monday that 15 government ministers “have appeared at the audit bench of the Supreme Court and a special criminal tribunal to account for the funds” over the past week.
The lost funds are part of an IMF loan to Cameroon meant to stave off the negative economic impact of the Chinese coronavirus pandemic. Since Cameroon’s coronavirus outbreak began in March 2020, “the IMF has approved two emergency loans to the central African state totaling $382 million,” according to VOA.
“The IMF approved a disbursement under the Rapid Credit Facility (RCF) of US $226 million to support the authorities’ efforts in addressing Cameroon’s urgent balance of payment needs stemming from the COVID-19 [Chinese coronavirus] pandemic and the terms of trade shocks from the sharp fall in oil prices,” the IMF wrote in a press release announcing one of its coronavirus loans to Cameroon last May.
Cameroon’s government “promised the IMF to use the funds transparently, including by issuing semiannual reports on Covid-19 [Chinese coronavirus] spending, commissioning an independent audit, and publishing the names of companies awarded procurement contracts and their beneficial (or real) owners,” Human Rights Watch (HRW) recalled on April 23.
“However, the government has not yet published any detailed information that would enable meaningful public oversight over its spending,” according to HRW. “The authorities also remain silent regarding the government’s use of a Health Solidarity Fund into which all healthcare centers have paid 10 percent of their revenues since 1993. The fund is meant to serve as a reserve for public health emergencies such as the Covid-19 [Chinese coronavirus] pandemic.”
HRW urged the IMF to ensure Cameroon’s government conduct “independent and credible” audits of the funds’ use before approving a third coronavirus loan to the country, which is reportedly in negotiations.
“The sudden desire to account for Covid-19 [Chinese coronavirus] money is a positive sign that the IMF and Cameroonian government are paying greater attention to transparency and accountability as they negotiate a third loan since the start of the pandemic,” Sarah Saadoun, a senior business and human rights researcher at HRW, said on April 23.
“But unless the audits and investigations are independent and credible, the IMF risks falling for check-the-box exercises,” she warned.