Cameroon’s long list of jobless youngsters in turning to be nightmare for Biyas election campaign.
The latest census indicates that Cameroon has a population of 19.8 million. Out of the 19.8 million around 13 million people are of the age when they can hold a job; which means that there are 13 million youngsters in the country who have the eligibility and the expertise to hold a job.
But sadly there are less than one million people in the country who have proper jobs which means that 12 million people are jobless in Cameroon, which is quite a shocking estimate. These figures are actually the latest, updated on the basis of a 2009 survey by Cameroon’s National Institute of Statistics (NIS).
When President Paul Biya made an announcement of setting up jobs for these youngsters on February 10, 2011– the day before the National Youth Day the people were thrilled. The government then announced that they would take in 25,000 school dropouts into the public service this year. As the final date of submission of the April 14 application came closer, 350,000 school dropouts had already sent in their details.
Since then, representatives of the government and members of an economic review delegation from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have been sending out confusing signals creating a lot of doubts among the applicants as to how transparent and reliable the mass recruitment exercise is.
A lot of experts referred to the move as part of a political strategy from the ruling party to appease the jobless population and to keep them hanging with the promises of a job so as to benefit their party in the upcoming presidential polls. And Biya’s mass recruitment scheme turned out to be just that and was true to the name that the opposition chose to call it by namely “the big employment fraud”.
Over populated civil service
With a highly over populated civil service comprising of over 200,000, Cameroon’s public treasury requires a minimum of 40 billion CFA Francs ($80 million) every month to pay public service workers. This is at a time when revenue has indicated a devastating dip to the extent that last year’s budget of 2,570 billion FCFA ($6 billion) had to be cut down by 50 billion ($109 million) before the end of the fiscal year due to depleting income.
A challenge for the educated
The 2011 budget saw a 0.04 per cent hike to 2,571 billion FCFA ($6 billion) and even the government’s most devoted supporters feel that this figure is too high to be achieved. Even before President Biya had thought about the mass recruitment drive, the Minister of Finance, Essimi Menye had been boring audiences with the difficulties that the government has to go through to get together the cash every month to take care of the salaries.
Recently a touring World Bank/IMF economic review delegation had revealed doubts as to whether the government would be able to put together sufficient cash to pay the monthly salary bill of the latest 25000 more people being inducted into the public service. Since then, the government has been “pussyfootingly” delaying the initial commitment they had made of employing the 25,000.
Only last week, the Minister of Public Service and Administrative Reforms Emmanuel Bonde announced that the “mass recruitment” plan initiated by President Biya in February would be replaced by a “recruit gradually” strategy until the 25,000 mark is obtained.
The government has been juggling around with various option for getting out of its financial crunch that could result from a mountain of unpaid salaries. As at the end of April, about 30 per cent of the public service employees had crossed retirement age. Some of them were supposed to retire almost a decade ago but still have their names on the rolls owing to various under-the-table agreements with Ministry of Public Service operatives.
When current prime minister Philemon Yang took over from former PM Inoni Ephraim in 2009, he gave all ministers a time frame of six months within which every single employee of the government who has crossed the retirement age had to retire. Two years hence the situation is pretty much the same and the Prime Minister has hardly enough power within his means to ensure that the orders are met.
The main option that is being presently taken up is that the president signs an ordinance that would guarantee the retirement of all the employees who are due for retirement in order to ensure that more new people get a chance to come in. However, doing so would be creating more headaches for both President Paul Biya and his ruling Cameroon Peoples Democratic Movement (CPDM) party as well as for the public treasury regarding the salaries to be paid.
In fact, taking these people out of the public service would ramp up, rather than bring down the volume of cash to be shelled out every month as the salary for services. Way back in 1993, the government had slashed down the wages of public service employees by about 70 per cent in the wake of a serious economic crisis.
However the government at the same time overlooked the amendment of the retirement laws which was not rectified to be in tune with the salary revisions. As per the laws if one was employed and retired after the stipulated thirty years, his pension is calculated at 30 years multiplied by two which amounts to 60 per cent of her/his monthly salary prior to the period he/she went on retirement.
A cash problem
The salary computations are undertaken on the basis of the 1993 salary scales because the courts had given the verdict that the mammoth pay cuts were not within the framework of the law. Thus, someone today making about 30 per cent of what he used to earn in 1993 finds himself/herself earning 60 per cent of what he/she used to earn before the 1993 pay slashes. And this could amount to being higher than double his/her salary prior to retirement.
So, instead of the mammoth retirement spree aiming to cut down the monthly salary package, they on the other hand would bring a gaping hole the public treasury would find near impossible to fill. “If one takes into consideration all the political and financial implications of the ‘mass recruitment drive’, one would hardly find any advantages for Biya the politician especially this being an election year”, said a professor of government in the National School of Administration and Magistracy and who did not wish to reveal his name.
“The mass recruitment decision was taken in a panic borne out of the fear of the spread of the Jasmine revolution in Tunisia that has since been spreading to other North African countries and would surely head down South sooner than later,” said another university lecturer.
Mr Nzo-Nguty, an educational psychologist chimed in: “The decision was taken with every intention not to implement it because its implementation would spell disaster for Biya in this election year”.
With ten regions and 250 tribes and an equal number of languages, every Cameroonian is biting their finger nails in anticipation as to the number of people in their families who would be given plum jobs in the public service.