“Interviewed by Mirabel Azangeh Tandafor
Prior to its creation, many people believed ELECAM was going to fill all the holes existing in NEO, and to go even further. But Barrister Eta Besong Jr. strongly believes that ELECAM is just another white elephant project, "fashioned by the government to perpetuate its stay in power". For instance, one of its clauses ensures that ELECAM becomes operational only after the Council and Parliamentary elections, a clear indication that those in power are taking contingency measure to consolidate their positions.
Barrister, how do you evaluate ELECAM?
I have heard people say that ELECEM is a step in the right direction. Whether it is a giant step or a small step is another question. But I think that it is a step in the right direction. Are you saying it is a welcome initiative? It could have been better. But as I said it is a step in the right direction. There is no time when you can have a perfect all-embracing law. But I think that in making laws one should go as far as one can towards giving a law that is satisfactory to the greater number of people in the country, and which can foresee events that can come in the next three or four decades. It is not good to keep changing because one wants to change. If there are possibilities of including issues now that would avoid inclusion after five years it is necessary to do so now.
Can ELECAM fill all the holes found in NEO?
To say fill all the holes is an overstatement. But I think that the law creating ELECAM and the provisions and functions of ELECAM by far outweighs what existed under NEO. NEO was just a window dressing.
How do you compare the two?
NEO did not organise, manage and supervise elections in Cameroon. It was an observatory. With an observatory you observe with your eyes and there is nothing you do further. But ELECAM is not just going to observe. It is going to organise, manage and supervise elections from registration and that is where the real headache is. From registration of voters ELECAM would take responsibility. This is by far more than NEO could ever dream of doing because NEO was never empowered to do that. The fact that we have a general Directorate of elections in provincial, divisional, sub-divisional and council areas is also important because this did not happened with NEO. There are many advantages with ELECAM than NEO presented and could present.
Was there a political will in the creation of ELECAM?
There is a political will but how far that political will would be carried out is another question. There can be a will but the zeal to execute that will is not there. It does not just matter to have a will. You can have a will but you do not have the desire to execute the will. I think that ELECAM has its strengths as well as its weaknesses. Looking at the law there are things I do not agree with.
What are some of weaknesses of ELECAM?
For example the law says that the Minister of Territorial Administration would have a permanent liaison with ELECAM and that ELECAM would give its report to the minister. This is like making the minister the supervisory authority over ELECAM, and that does not make ELECAM independent. This is a sure weakness of the law. The fact that the president of the republic would consult with political parties and the civil society before appointment of members of ELECAM is not good enough because there is no way to ensure that those who would be appointed by the presidential decree are the products of that consultation. The president can consult and still appoint his supporters especially as the members would be paid by the state. When the president consults, a consensus list should be arrived at by the political parties, civil society before the president goes ahead to publish the list by presidential decree within the next two or three months.
What are your proposals on the functioning of ELECAM?
If I was consulted, I would have told the government to make ELECAM go operational in two months. Secondly, to understand that it is easy to do voter-registration. If Buea, for instance, is divided into 30 polling zones, polling officers would register voters and issue them stamped receipts indicating that they have duly registered while awaiting the cards. The cards would be issued later following the number of those registered in a given zone. This would ensure that voters have confidence that their names would appear on the electoral registers. I don't see what is difficult in that. It would also ensure that names cannot be expunged from the list. You know what happens in Cameroon. Voters register but their names never appear on the electoral lists, and there is no way you can indicate you duly registered. The receipt will greatly solve this problem.
Could the feet-dragging in implementing ELECAM be a deliberate government ploy?
It has already fashioned it in its favour by making sure that ELECAM becomes operational only after the Council and Parliamentary elections. Take for instance, the Electoral Board. It has a life span of three years. But the General Directorate is for four years.
Why the discrepancy?
The Directorate reports to the Board, but the lifespan of the Board is less than that of the Directorate. You now see that the whole thing has been done to favour those who want to remain in power.