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How students in Cameroon are fighting corruption in schools

Shilpa Banerji's picture
Floriane Masso, a student of a government school of Bamendjou. Photo: Shilpa Banerji/World Bank

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I’ll admit there was a tiny part of me that wanted to do that whole Angelina Jolie thing – go deep into the heart of a developing country and be surrounded by a gaggle of school children, whom I would go on to pinch, squeeze, and coddle. Last I checked I was not an UNHCR ambassador (and zero movie credentials), so instead I found myself face to face with four resolute high school students in the western region of Cameroon asking in broken French: What does corruption mean to you?

“It means to give money, to be sexually harassed, to be absent from school and then to pay teachers to say you were present,” said Floriane Masso, a student of a government school of Bamendjou. Masso is one of many students who are part of Clubs d’Education Civique et d’Integration Nationale (Cecine) established under the ZENU Network. With financing of about $15,000 from a Development Marketplace competition organized under a $1.8 million “Banking on Change” Governance Program in Cameroon--funded by the Governance Partnership Facility (GPF)—the ZENU Network set out to fight corruption in 16 high schools across 8 districts in the Western parts of Cameroon. One of the tools used were to put in place “corruption observatories.” The activity focused on victims of corruption and provided a whistleblowing mechanism, while pressuring authorities to impose sanctions for corrupt behavior.

According to a recent assessment, ZENU’s efforts have been fruitful: the whistleblowing system generated 112 claims of corrupt or indecent behavior in 2013 and led to the firing of four staff. Cases were brought against a total of 15 staff, who were subject to administrative sanctions in 2013. But not all cases are successful. “We had an example of a sexual abuse case filed against a teacher and it was not true,” said Masso.

Last month, the network, and other CSOs from around Cameroon (and I), participated in a Governance Forum on Multi-Stakeholder Engagement held in Yaoundé. Over 130 organizations and individuals took part in the Forum, which showcased multi-stakeholder initiatives (MSIs) that are already present in Cameroon or that may bring value to on-going efforts to strengthen multi-stakeholder engagement for improved governance. MSIs such as Open Contracting, Extractives Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), Construction Sector Transparency Initiative (CoST), and Medicines Transparency Alliance (MeTA) were some of the examples highlighted.

Governance is a cross-cutting theme in the World Bank’s Country Assistance Strategy (CAS) for 2010-2014, and challenges include weak governance (Cameroon has been ranked in the bottom 25th percentile for all governance indicators in the past 10 years); inequity in service delivery; and according to a 2007 household survey, around 40 percent of the population are living below the poverty line. Cia Sjetnan, TTL for the governance program, said the GPF funding allowed the team to be innovative and flexible—trying and testing new and various approaches to governance. “We took risks and opportunities, and it really paid off,” she said.

Indeed, it brought together a variety of stakeholders to the table to discuss the role of civil society as well as a recent report published by MSI Integrity on significant shortcomings of multi-stakeholder governance in most countries. In fact, none of the countries, including Cameroon, assessed met all the governance requirements of EITI’s new rules, the EITI Standard.

The ZENU Network wants to be part of the EITI process as well: working with local governance councils and Parent-Teachers Associations, it hopes to establish more corruption observatories for schools and increase awareness among the local population. But even with more resources, how can an entire country take on endemic corruption?

The answer, once again, was from a resolute high school president who was tired of discussing corruption from the classroom to the football field. “Some students don’t believe it is possible to fight those in the government,” said Jean Roger Chendjou. “But the youth must fight. If we fight back, it is possible to have Cameroon free of corruption. We have seen the change in 5 years by denouncing our corrupt teachers.” 

Comments

Submitted by Chhavi on

So fantastic to see students being empowered like this. I wish we could institute such measures in India, where this kind of teacher absenteeism and disinterest is rampant.

Submitted by Shilpa on

thanks for your feedback. yes, teacher absenteeism is a huge problem and India is only behind Uganda and Kenya. see http://blogs.worldbank.org/education/hidden-cost-corruption-teacher-absenteeism-and-loss-schools

Submitted by Willem Struben on

This reminded me that for some year now the Partnership for Transparency Fund (PTF) has also been involved in such training in Cameroon, and that the NGOs involved are still “going strong”.
It is useful to take note of the good practice experiences and while various NGOs could be mentioned, I will limit myself to the one I personally was associated with, the Action Group for Democracy and Good Governance (AGDGG).
AGDGG is a relatively small NGO, which, in partnership with the International Peace Commission (IPC), submitted a proposal to PTF in 2011 to help fund an Education Resource Management Project, aimed at improving the capacity of the school management committee (SMC) and students to curb corruption and increase transparency at the Government Bilingual High School in Limbe. Although schooling is supposed to be free of charge, in practice parents pay substantially, and both government and parents’ contributions for school operations (teacher salary supplements, chairs, classroom improvements, etc) were poorly managed by the SMC, resulting in considerable “leakage”. The experienced and committed school principal, keen to remedy the situation, reached out to AGDGG.
They agreed upon a comprehensive project, including training in budget tracking, designing and signing a code of conduct by the stakeholders, and arranging field assignments where SMC members were taught to check and monitor school budgets and expenditures. AGDGG then submitted this to PTF for financial and technical support. Its total cost was about US$24,000, funded by a PTF grant of US$21,300 and with AGDGG contributing the rest. The project was implemented in six months, faster than foreseen. This was helped by its relatively small size, collaboration and provision of training materials by the more experienced IPC, active support of the school principal, endorsement by all stakeholders, including education authorities, and substantial and clever media exposure.
As a result, all stakeholders are now involved in the school resource budget and monitoring process, and they have signed off on a newly designed and agreed code of conduct. The latter was also welcomed by the regional education authorities, and is expected to become a model to be applied elsewhere in the region’s secondary school system.
PTF’s project completion assessment concluded that 1. Citizen organizations can provide input and assist with strategies to promote accountability, 2. School managers mostly lack functional competencies to combat corruption and should be trained, 3. Student stakeholder groups were ignored, but should be involved and 4. Multi-stakeholder approach is required to fight corruption in a non-confrontational way.
Building on the Experience
After the project’s completion, the school principal was promoted to another, larger school, the Government High School in Buea, where she initiated the same reforms, while her earlier deputy was promoted to principal at the Lycee in Limbe, where she implemented similar kinds of reforms. Meanwhile, AGDGG was planning to scale up its activities with further PTF support. Unfortunately, this was stymied by PTF’s own funding constraints.
However, based on the earlier finding that students should have played a more substantial role in dealing with the education system’s substantial resource misallocation issues, AGDGG approached Indigo Trust of the UK for support of a project called “Building the capacity of students. How to use ICT tools during non-violent conflict and fighting against corruption practices on campus” at the University of Buea and two high schools, the Government High School in Buea and the Government High School in Limbe.

With a UK₤ 6,900 Indigo Trust grant , the project has just been completed. It consisted of training of university and high school students and staff in how to recognize corruption and violence on their campuses, how to organize non-violently, and how to use social media to report (SMS, voice and email) on issues.

The most recent activities included a major workshop at the University of Buea, chaired by the University’s Vice Chancellor. She reportedly stated that she considers the students’ ability to use ICT as a tool to report on fraud and to suppress violence on campus essential and valuable to maintain academic discipline, as well as to build the students’ civic responsibility. It should also be noted that the University is preparing a diploma course on anti-corruption, called “Advanced Certificate in Public Service Governance and Corporate Corruption Management”.
AGDGG is still involved with students, guiding them on how to respond to new corruption reports and threats of violence. This has already resulted in the criminalization by school administrations of illegal fees collected from students by “school gate keepers”, student prefects and teachers. Indeed, one of the school prefects was just dismissed for this reason. Similarly, a student was removed from school for violence. In turn, these corrective actions contributed to increased student interest in the non-violent and ICT training activities.

It is only disappointing to note that, so far, the organizations described by Ms Banerji and me have not joined forces. The CSOs in Cameroon are quite active and competent, but increased cooperation would help them to scale up their activities and, thus, results.

Submitted by Andrew on

Thank you very much for this Shilpa. It shows what can be really accomplished when people are motivated to do right because it is right and take a noble stand. Congratulations and well done !

Submitted by Nkweti roland Ticha on

Empowering youths in the fight against corruption is vital since they constitute the future elites. They will grow into posts of responsibility free of corrupt tendencies.
National President, Cameroon Anti Corruption Youths Movement (CACYM)

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