By Ajong Mbapndah L*
There must be a vigourous fight to rid Cameroon of corruption but using the fight to settle political scores is not the right way forward fumes Chief Pierre Mila Assoute a former high profile member of the ruling CPDM party. The former CPDM Central Committee now in opposition to President Biya says where as there is ample evidence to buttress instances of mind boggling corruption with the actors well known to the public, targeting only individuals perceived as political threats while letting others off the hook makes the current fight an exercise in futility. Chief Assoute who claims to have survived assassination attempts, incurred the wrath of the ruling party when he led other cadres in 2004 to launch a blistering critique of the tribalism, culture of corruption and cronyism that was derailing the party’s vision for Cameroon. Perharps with the exception of Victor Ayissi Mvodo, there are few CPDM cadres who have so openly challenged the CPDM leadership like Chief Assoute did in 2004.
Chief Assoute who now leads the Democratic Movement for Modern Cameroon –DMMC wades it into the recent high profile arrests of top government officials and the excitement generated by letters from former Territorial Administration Minister Hamidou Marafa Yaya in an exclusive interview with PAV. It is troubling to have almost an entire government in prison, Chief Assoute says. Speculating on the ultimate motives of the Marafa letters, Chief Assoute says it is an indictment of the leadership of President Biya. Assoute who has tried unsuccessfully twice to contest in Presidential elections also sheds more light on the bribery scandal involving Communications Minister Issa Tchiroma as highlighted by Marafa in one of his recent letters. The sums involved are quite huge Assoute says with facts to suggest that the scandal goes beyond Tchiroma .The government owes Cameroonians a lot of answers Chief Assoute affirms.
PAV: Chief Assoute, the reason for this interview is to get your views on recent developments in Cameroon, what do you make of the arrest of Former Prime Minister Inoni Ephraim and Former Territorial Administration Minister Marafa Hamidou Yaya?
Chief Assoute: In a state of law which is what I want for Cameroon, everybody is equal before the law. If a Minister becomes a thief as is said of those currently under arrest,while waiting for justice to take its course, such a minister faces great risks of being arrested in a state of law. For justice to have any value, what is to be closely examined in a country like ours where the citizens rights are constantly trampled upon are the charges against the former ministers, directors and former prime minister under arrest. There are perhaps certain people amongst them who nurse Presidential ambitions but not all of them. However we must seek to know why they were arrested. The case of Marafa and Inoni simply add up to other cases. There were already Ministers of State in prison such as Atangana Mebara the former Minister of State and Secretary General at the Presidency. We have to ask ourselves what crimes they committed.
PAV:As a former high profile Central Committee Member of the ruling CPDM, you must have known Inoni and Marafa, are you surprise with the charges against them and the fact that they have been arrested?
Chief Assoute: I know Marafa and Inoni Ephraim very well. We were members of the same political party. I am not surprised that certain high ranking members of the CPDM are being arrested. I had already said in the manifesto of the modernists in 2002! We clearly said that embezzlement, corruption, and tribalism had become a collective sport among the high ranking members of the party known as resource persons. You know how I was treated. People only need to read the “white book” of the modernists to refresh their memories. But this will always remain a surprise for the human community, by this I mean the arrest of a Minister or Prime Minister. Even when one has a family member who is seriously ill at a ripe age, one is always surprised at his or her death. It is human
PAV: You may not know everything but you certainly know more than many ordinary Cameroonians do, in your view is the operation epervier all about fighting corruption and how comes some of the people believed to be amongst the most corrupt in the country continue to walk around freely while others are in jail?
Chief Assoute: It is necessary to fight corruption. The problem in Cameroon is that the fight is neither equal nor just for everybody. I think that certain people use the fight against corruption to settle political scores but this does not mean that the accused are totally innocent of the charges. What is neither fair nor equal is to choose some and leave others who are well known. That is why people think justice is teleguided.
PAV:A Prime Minister in jail, several Former Secretary Generals at the Presidency in jail, Ministers, Directors, in short an entire government in jail, what does this say about the ruling party and the leadership of President Biya?
Chief Assoute: I have already answered that question. It is the fall of the regime which is beating itself. When all branches of a tree are rotten, then the tree trunk which remains must also shed its bark because the bark cannot hide the rottenness of the trunk. If Paul Biya appointed thieves he knows why he did that. Therefore how can he alone be as white as snow in the midst of his own thieves? Perharps that is the true message of Marafa’s letters.
PAV: Unlike others who have opted for silence, Minister Marafa has sent out a series of memos to President Biya with very embarrassing revelations, are his letters a positive or negative development for the cause of change in the country?
Chief Assoute: Cameroonians love revelations. In a country where secrecy reigns, it is normal that scoops spark public interest. But only public commentaries will follow. Paul Biya does not give a damn about commentaries. Marafa sends letters while in prison. What matters to Biya is Marafa in prison; he does not care about his letters
PAV: Cameroonians are excited about his letters, the newspapers are busy, Government Officials are nervous , the SDF is sending Lawyers to defend Marafa etc, is there any possibility that the Marafa drama may be the beginning of something bigger that could crack the regime?
Chief Assoute: It is good to embrace whatever can make the regime weak. But remember that Titus Edzoa also made certain revelations at the beginning of his prison term and even before he was arrested. What happened? Let us wait and see if our mentality has evolved. I doubt that our countrymen have changed in the meantime. However nobody will come to help free us ourselves.
PAV: In one of the letters he indicted current Communications Minister Issa Tchiroma for bribes he took from a South African Company servicing Camair, planes and argued that this led to poor maintenance of the planes resulting in the 1995 crash of the Nyong, what do you know about this since you were quoted as saying Tchiroma actually received kick backs?
Chief Assoute: There were two levels of corruption. When Tchiroma was minister of Transport, he gave the contract of the maintenance of CAMAIR planes to SAA (South Africa Airways). He said he favored South-South Cooperation. It is from there that Tchiroma received money and a Mercedes car. This happened in 1994.In 1998, I bought a company called ATT (Advance &Techniques Trust) from a Lebanese National. It is this company that introduced SAA to Cameroon on the basis of a lobbying contract.SAA owed money to this company ATT, and it was not paying. I therefore filed a complaint against SAA in court in South Africa. That is when SAA replied to me saying that it was not going to pay because t had used money to corrupt the authorities in my country. That is how the names of certain personalities came to light.
I then informed President Paul Biya and proposed that he follow up SAA to reclaim the $65 million that CAMAIR had disbursed since 1994 within the context of the execution of the maintenance contract, simply because International Law states that any contract tainted by corruption is null and void. Cameroonian and ATT Lawyers pursued ATT SAA to the arbitral tribunal under the directives of Paul Biya who had appointed Foumane Akame Jean, his Legal Adviser to follow the proceedings in Paris and London before the arbitral tribunal.
It was agreed by the contract that Cameroon had to pay 10% of the amount recovered from the proceedings to the ATT. We also asserted that SAA having used corruption ,could also be responsible for the Nyong crash in 1995 in which 71 lives were lost and the fall of a jet engine from a Boeing 747 aircraft in the sky above Paris. The state asked for damaged and interests from SAA .I know that Cameroon was awarded 32 billion, 500 million frs cfa in Paris. This money was deposited at SGBC in Paris where Foumane Akame had opened an account to receive the money. But this money disappeared .My company was never paid, not even a dime because I had become an opponent, so they said!. The victims of the crash did not receive anything either.CAMAIR which could have balanced its budget did not receive anything. Marafa was Secretary General at the Presidency at the time. Therefore, Paul Biya and his Adviser and brother from the same village Foumane should be asked about the money. They all know where the money is. Marafa also knows about it, I have the account number into which the money was paid by South Africans before it disappeared. I am ready to produce it for any investigation.
PAV: So given what you knew about Tchiroma then, was there anything you did to alert the authorities because but for Marafa’s letter, I wonder how many Cameroonians actually knew about the scandal.
Chief Assoute: I have been speaking about this since 2005 but nobody was listening to me. All the newspapers in Cameroon spoke about it. I filed a complaint in France etc.It was sufficient for Marafa to speak about it for people to believe, nevertheless, I have been speaking about it for 7 years. Read the newspapers or do a Google search or even listen to my interview with Journalist Thierry Hot of Africa 24 channel in 2009.
PAV: It is an open secret that there is a quiet battle going on for the succession of President, what are the possible scenarios for his succession and how do you see the future of the country
Chief Assoute:I cannot read from the crystal ball like a magician but we are preparing the liberation of Cameroon at our own level.
PAV: Last question Chief, the last time we caught up with you, there were plans for you to return to the country to continue to the struggle, you are still in France, what happened?
Chief Assoute: You know I was suppose to return during the elections. My candidature was rejected for no reason. For a man who has been the victim of a political assassination attempt, and who is on political exile, I am well informed to know at what time to return to the country to confront the dictatorship. You know that my security deposit as a Presidential candidate was confiscated for no reason. This shows the level of hatred I face in my country where I preparing all the same to return no matter the consequences.
PAV: Thanks for granting the interview
Chief Assoute: Thanks for the opportunity to share my thoughts.
*Translation done by Cyprian Chongwain,email firstname.lastname@example.org,email@example.com