Cameroon Fuel Increase Wahala: Unclothing Collective Peter to Clothe Selective Paul

The Colbert Factor:

Cameroon Fuel Increase Wahala: Unclothing Collective Peter to Clothe Selective Paul

Colbert Gwain

In the ’60s and ’70s, a certain Bobe Bawula had one of the best traditionally structured engineering houses in Muteff village in Fundong Subdivision of the Boyo Division of the North West Region of Cameroon. Since raw materials did not come in short supply in the community,  the house was conceived, designed, and realized entirely with local materials. As he settled down to contend himself with the edifice that had become the center of attraction in the village, other villagers took the challenge to erect more attractive and sustainable structures in the community. After years of self-glorification and neglect, the structural integrity of the building began to be seriously compromised. Rather than undertake a comprehensive redesign or refurbishment of the edifice to avoid a complete collapse, he opted for piecemeal patchwork.

When he found out that the thatched roof was leaking, he would look for any rejected corrugated iron sheet and place it there with the support of stones. When a crack developed on the wall, Bobe Bawula would look for any used and abandoned rags and insert them on the fault lines even if that would widen the crack further. When the foundation was giving its way and the building was tilting on one side, he would simply look for sticks to support the structure from giving way. No sooner would he finish mending one crack than multiple faults would develop on the once-embellished configuration. With Bobe Bawula far advanced in age and without any further room for ideation, it usually took the mercy of God for the patchwork to survive the slightest windy night.

Not that Bobe Bawula was the first person in society to indulge in the patchwork culture. Patchwork enjoyed a widespread revival during the Great Depression as a way to recycle worn clothing into warm quilts in the United States of America. Although with serious efforts at rebuilding the economy patchwork witnessed a decline after World War II, it was again revived during the American bicentennial. With the economy long stabilized, patchwork was long transformed into quilt art. That is when a country jumps on transforming every challenge into an opportunity.

Instances of patchwork can be seen in Edgar Allan Poe’s work entitled “The Fall of the House of Usher” where an unnamed narrator says he approached the house on a ‘dull, dark and soundless day’, only to observe that the house seems to have absorbed an evil and diseased atmosphere from the decaying trees and murky ponds around it. Like in the case of Bawula’s house in Muteff, Allan Poe’s narrator notes that although the house is fairly solid, individual stones are not only disintegrating but there is a threatening crack from the roof to the ground in front of the building. Although Roderick Usher called in his friend (the unnamed narrator) to assist, it got to a level where the slightest wind could blow and open the doors of the one-solid Ushers House with the entire house cracking along the break of the frame and the house crumbling to the ground.

In our situation, we are still trapped in the Cameroon mansion where things are being patched up daily as cracks develop on the walls. No sooner do the leaders try to patch one crack than another quickly develops.

Robbing Peter to Pay Paul:

“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. Otherwise, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse”, Mark 2:21

There is no gainsaying the fact that last February 2, 2024, increase in fuel prices in Cameroon was a demonstration in triumphant detail that rather than fighting poverty, the government of Cameroon is fighting the poor. In its bid to rob (unclothe) the collective Peter and pay (clothe) the selective Paul, it announced a 5% increase in the salaries of civil servants. When one thinks of the fact that the Cameroon civil service employs less than 350000 civil servants and that Cameroon today has a population of over 28 million inhabitants,  the increase in salary does not concern the 27,650, 000 other Cameroonians. It is the 27,650,000 ordinary Cameroonians who live on a basic monthly wage of less than 41000 that have been further taxed to pay for the expensive lifestyles of those running the government in Yaounde.

Added to the fact that those in government have been running cars with petrol paid for by the ordinary taxpayer, they have never explained to Cameroonians what happens with the petrol produced in Cameroon and how comes it about when prices are dropping in petroleum-producing nations, ours are skyrocketing. And as Hon. Cabril Libi and one SDF analyst have questioned: How can a government that levies 26 taxes on petroleum products be talking about subsidies?

A Patchwork:

For a government that just passed the 2024 Finance Bill that had 13 other taxes and fines on the road transportation sector alone to claim during the fuel price increase that it was engaging with stakeholders in the sector to reduce taxes, is ridiculous. This is a patch-up measure.

This particular measure announced by the government does not add up especially when we take into consideration the intervening variables in the transportation sector. Take the numerous checkpoints in our cities and on the highway. If we consider that from Mobile Nkwen in Bamenda, North West of Cameroon to Fundong, Divisional Headquarters of Boyo Division; there are no less than 12 checkpoints and if extrapolated into the other six Divisions it means the North West alone counts some 84 police, and gendarme checkpoints. Also, consider the fact that the North West counts over 1000 taxis and transport vehicles. For every blessed day, the transporters spend at least FCFA500 to “settle” the road.

Mathematically, this means 4.200.000 is collected from transporters each day from these numerous checkpoints in the North West Region alone. In a month, this amounts to 126,000,000. In one year,  almost 1,512,000,000 (1.5 billion) are lost to the multiple checkpoints by transporters in the Region alone. If this is again extrapolated to the other nine regions of Cameroon, we would be talking about a conservative figure of FCFA 13,608,000,000 (13 billion 608 million) lost by ordinary transporters to police and gendarmerie checkpoints in Cameroon each year. Interestingly, all these “daily collections” end up in the pockets of individuals and not in the state treasury.

Added to this, authorities in Yaounde have increased fuel prices by 110 frs for super and 108 frs for diesel oil. With figures from the Cameroon Hydrocarbon Price Stabilization Fund better known by its French acronym as CSPH, indicating that Cameroonians consume about 80,000,000 liters of super and 100,000,000 liters of diesel every month, it means the state would be making monthly savings of 19,600,000,000(19 billion 600 million) each month from the fuel increase and about 235,200,000,000(235 billion 200 million) each year.

The other patchwork measure that concerns the 5% salary increase for civil servants and state agents beginning this February payout, speaks to an average of 11000 of the basic salary. Experts in the domain say that although the state will be spending an additional 46,200,000,000 on salaries, it will be saving 235,200,000,000.

The bigger question is about the minimum wage for the rest of the Cameroonians who are left to grapple with a basic salary of 41000 as their counterparts in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon take home 128000 and 150000 respectively. The two above-cited countries also sell their gasoline at 450 and 650 respectively, while Cameroon, another oil-producing council sells at 840 FCFA.

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