In Central Africa, most governments have introduced mechanisms to redirect more of the benefits from the extractive use of forests to the regions where logging is taking place. Several governments are in the process of designing or implementing forestry revenue tax/fee distribution schemes whose objectives are decentralization, poverty alleviation, and promotion of local development. Cameroon has been a leader in this endeavor, with a system that distributes half of its Annual Forestry Fee (referred to herein by its French acronym, RFA [redevance forestière annuelle]) revenues to decentralized public authorities (40%) and villages (10%) that are adjacent to exploited forests. These funds are targeted at furthering local economic development, poverty reduction, and conflict abatement in and among villages adjacent to forests, forestry companies, and the government.
Despite being considered progressive by global standards, Cameroon’s revenue-sharing system is failing to provide the expected benefits to the communities it targets.
This Forest Note summarizes findings from case studies of three rural councils (Bibey, Gari Gombo and Mindourou) and their constituent villages regarding implementation of the RFA revenue-sharing system from 2000-2002. Based on this information and an examination of the strengths and weaknesses of the revenue distribution system, the authors present recommendations to the Government of Cameroon on how to increase the system’s positive impacts on local livelihoods and poverty alleviation and, correspondingly, reduce conflict between villages and forestry companies.
The findings indicate that despite being considered progressive by global standards, in the rural councils addressed through this study, Cameroon’s revenue-sharing system is failing to provide the expected benefits to the communities it targets: those living adjacent to forest concessions. In some cases, revenues did not reach villages at all; in all cases, the amount received by villages was less than what was allocated to them at the national level. Of the almost US $7 million allocated to the three rural councils examined in this study, almost US $2 million is unaccounted for during the period 2000-2004, and of the US $1.7 million allocated for village development within these rural councils, almost US $1 million is unaccounted for during the same time frame. Furthermore, the projects funded were often not those requested by the village representatives, and villagers reported that the costs of these projects were often higher than the accepted cost of implementing such activities by local sources.
Monitoring of the use of revenues by the Ministry of Economy and Finance’s General Treasury and Budget Office was haphazard and made even more problematic by the absence of standardized, transparent accounting systems. Holding decision-makers accountable for the use of funds was difficult, not only because of weak accountability mechanisms but also because of weak law enforcement, lack of political will, capacity, and resources. These factors, among others, resulted in a system that depended primarily on the integrity of the mayor (the head of the elected rural council) and thus provided opportunities for the misappropriation of funds, cronyism, and other forms of corruption.
This study was unable to isolate what impacts, if any, the RFA revenues had on poverty reduction because of the relatively small amount of revenues that reached villages and the lack of comparative data. However, the findings indicate that there is an urgent need to strengthen the governance of the RFA revenue distribution system and the larger system of political representation in which it operates if revenues are to be used effectively for poverty alleviation. This brief builds on previous studies and on findings from three case studies to provide recommendations to the Government of Cameroon on how to improve the RFA revenue-sharing system’s ability to contribute to the government’s poverty reduction objectives.
The Forest Revenues Enhancement Program should set aside 5% to 10% of the total RFA revenues to develop and maintain effective transparency, monitoring, local participation, and accountability mechanisms as well as to build capacity at the various government, rural council, and village levels to implement those mechanisms. More specifically, funds should be provided by the central government from the 50% of the PSRF funds that is not earmarked for the rural councils to:
- develop, implement, and enforce standardized accounting systems set up by the Ministry of Economy and Finance. Implemented through the PSRF, these systems would be used by the rural councils and villages to track RFA revenues and expenditures.
- strengthen existing auditing systems and build operational capacity to audit rural council RFA expenditures annually (to be implemented by the Ministry of Economy and Finance).
- increase the capacity of local villagers to engage effectively
in the decision-making process by:
- defining a democratic process for selecting village representatives;
- developing decision-making procedures that ensure effective consideration of village representatives’ priorities;
- providing training in development planning, basic budgeting, and accounting;
- increasing local representation on Forestry Fee Management Committees that determine project funding; and
- establishing Forest Fee Management Committees in villages where they do not exist (to be implemented by the rural councils through their engagement with local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and the Ministry of Economy and Finance).
- build transparency into the use of RFA funds at the rural council and village levels through the posting of RFA revenues and expenditures in public gathering places, printing them in local newspapers and periodicals, and annual meetings with villagers to present and explain expenditures financed by the RFA (to be implemented by the Ministry of Economy and Finance together with the Ministry of Forests and Wildlife). In addition, mayors should be required to publish annually a full list of the projects funded under the RFA with their locations and costs.
The Environmental Committee in the Cameroonian Parliament, in partnership with civil society organizations, should take the lead in ensuring increased accountability in the expenditure of RFA revenues by:
- acting as an ombudsman for villages with complaints of RFA revenue mismanagement;
- investigating specific cases of the misuse of RFA funds;
- holding public hearings, if an RFA audit fails, that involve all the villages in the rural council area so that the leaders can be sanctioned for their failure to use the funds according to existing laws.
- commissioning a study of the enforcement chain to identify actions to increase sanctions for the misuse of RFA revenues and to strengthen the enforcement chain.
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