YAOUNDE, CAMEROON — A visiting joint International Monetary Fund/World Bank delegation says high levels of corruption have left the populations of Chad, Equatorial Guinea, Cameroon and Gabon out of the benefits of their nations’ huge petroleum resources.
Economic growth in the six-nation Central African Economic and monetary community, CEMAC, has stagnated at 2.2 percent this year, 50 percent less than the 4.4 percent forecast made by the regional Bank of Central African States.
A joint IMF/World Bank inspection mission left Cameroon during the weekend. Its leader, Mario De Zamaroczy, said such a mediocre economic performance has made the CEMAC zone one of the poorest in the world.
“It is not sufficient to reduce poverty. The revenue was below expectations and we do hope that revenue will be as planned by the end of the year,” said De Zamaroczy.
Among the issues that reduced the economic performance of the six-nation economic block, made up of Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Chad, Congo-Brazaville and Gabon, are prolonged drops in oil and commodity prices and a slowdown in global growth due to the world financial crunch.
De Zamaroczy added that five CEMAC countries produce oil that accounts for 40 percent of the regions Gross Domestic Product and close to 90 percent of total exports, but huge debts and amounts paid as subsidies to local consumers have been having negative impacts on the economy.
“We think that the generalized subsidies in gasoline (petroleum) prices is not an optimal way in our view to use scarce resources and we recommend a possible reform in that area. And, finally, we fully support the major projects that are being implemented, but we need to accelerate the implementation of these projects," said De Zamaroczy.
Chaos in the Central African Republic since Seleka rebels ousted Francois Bozize from power and heightened security risks with pirate attacks in the Gulf of Guinea also weakened the economy.
The IMF and World Bank are projecting that with a probable increase in oil revenues in Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and Chad, there will be a 5.3 percent growth rate in the region next year.
But economists like Professor Fondo Sikot, a lecturer at the University of Yaounde, think that such a growth rate will not improve living conditions in the CEMAC Zone.
“NEPAD (New Economic Partnership for African Development) had some years back tried to say that African economies need to grow at seven percent and above continuously over a five year period before they will begin to cut down on poverty...,” said Sikot.
Sikot added that Cameroon projected a 6.2 percent growth rate this year, but the Country's 2013 growth rate is ending up at 4.6 percent.
“The economy is not yet showing signs of an economy with a potential to emerge because the growth rate is still very low and poverty and unemployment are still extremely high, which means that something has to be done. At the rate of 4.6 it will take maybe close to 30 years or so before Cameroonians begin to feel that the economy is growing,” said Sikot.
The Word Bank and IMF mission says high levels of corruption and arms imports are preventing the economies from having sustained growth.
Cameroon Prime Minister Philemon Yang has promised his country's parliament that Cameroon will place emphasis on infrastructure in 2014, such as completing construction of hydro-electric dams and fixing major roads.
All the CEMAC countries have plans to become emerging economies between 2020 and 2035. Economists say such dreams can only be realized if the countries attain a double digit growth rate by 2015.