The Autonomy of Municipal Councils in Cameroon: A Case Study of the BUEA Council
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The main purpose of this study is to assess the autonomy of municipal councils in Cameroon, a case study of the Buea Council. One of the most complex and critical problems facing organized societal actors in Africa today is the need for political space to mobilize autonomously from the state and from the party in power. Those organizations that have asserted the greatest autonomy have generally been able to select their own leaders, push for far-reaching agendas, and involve themselves in politics to a greater extent than organisations that have been tied to the regime and/or dominant party, either formally or through informal patronage networks. From findings, a majority of respondents were in total acceptance to the fact that the central government should allow local councils to make their decisions so that the Buea council should fully enjoy its autonomy as provided in the Cameroon constitution. The quantitative research method was used in this study. 84% of the respondents were in total acceptance of the fact that the central government should provide Funds to local councils so that the Buea council should fully enjoy its autonomy as provided in the Cameroon constitution. Findings from questionnaires again show that an overwhelming majority (94%) of the workers were in total acceptance to the fact that the central government should allow local councils to implement their decisions in accordance to the fact that the Buea council should fully enjoy its autonomy as provided in the Cameroon constitution. Finally, the majority of the workers were in total agreement with the fact that the central government should decentralize powers so that the Buea council should fully enjoy its autonomy as provided in the Cameroon constitution.
The autonomy of municipal councils (thereafter referred to as local councils) has become one of the key features of any local government system in the past few decades (Kuhlmann and Wollmann 2014). Indeed, decentralisation reforms devolving political power and responsibilities towards levels of government closer to the citizens have silently been sweeping the globe since the 1980s (Ivanyna and Shah 2014). Both local autonomy and decentralisation have been advocated by many important European and international institutions as a key tool of “good governance” (UN-Habitat 2009, UCLG 2008, White 2011, OECD 2004, Hunter and Shah 1998) to enhance local democracy and efficiency. 2 This happens through growing involvement of citizens in the political process, an increase in the accountability of the decisions, the improvement of economic efficiency, and the encouragement of healthy local competition/cross-functional coordination, the support in policy experimentation, and the protection of macroeconomic and political stability (Hankla 2009, Treisman 2007, Andrews and De Vries 2007). For example, the Council of Europe adopted in 1985 the “European Charter of Local Self-Government” (henceforth: “the European Charter”), an international legal instrument ensuring the protection, evaluation and promotion of decentralisation and local autonomy principles, which “entails the existence of local authorities endowed with democratically constituted decision-making bodies and possessing a wide degree of autonomy with regard to their responsibilities, the ways and means by which those responsibilities are exercised and the resources required for their fulfilment” (Council of Europe 1985a, preamble).
The existence of local government (Municipal councils) has always been defended on the basis that it is a crucial aspect of the process of democratization and intensification of mass participation in the decision-making process. No political system is considered complete and democratic if it does not have a system of local government. Local government serves a two-fold purpose. The first purpose is the administrative purpose of supplying goods and services; the other purpose is to represent and involve citizens in determining specific local public needs and how these local needs can be met. Local representative government is a process that spans and connects representation and administration at local levels within local government structures. In order to understand the function and structure of local government, it is important to define local government and understand the meaning of local government democracy and values. The significance of local government will be addressed. With these aspects of local government in mind, attention will be directed towards the typical structure of local government as the administrative structure of local government forms the basic framework where in local public policy is determined and implemented. Therefore attention will be directed to the composition of councils and their activities.
Cameroon is divided into ten administrative regions. Regions are in turn divided into divisions (départements), which are further divided into sub-divisions (arrondissements), which correspond to the 374 local government councils. There are three main types of councils: city councils, sub-divisional councils (within a city council), and councils. However, Councils lack the status granted to city councils. All councils are headed by a directly elected mayor who is supported by a team of councilors; their number depends on the population size. The council can appoint commissions to work on any relevant issues, and membership can include non-councilors and must be convened during the council’s first year. Typically, their remit would include planning, public works, education, markets and other facilities, or health.
Section 55 (2) of the Cameroon constitution of 1972 with amendments through 2008 states that regional and local authorities shall have administrative and financial autonomy and shall be freely administered by elected councils.
One of the most complex and critical problem facing organized societal actors in Africa today is the need for political space to mobilize autonomously from the state and from the party in power. Those organizations that have asserted the greatest autonomy have generally been able to select their own leaders, push for far-reaching agendas, and involve themselves in politics to a greater extent than organisations that have been tied to the regime and/or dominant party, either formally or through informal patronage networks. In Cameroon, the problem identified in this study is the fact that municipal councils do not enjoy full autonomy that they ought to enjoy. The issue of autonomy of municipal councils in Cameroon is based on the fact that municipal councils do not exercise their autonomy fully because of governmental intrusion. Powers are being centralized, government does not respect the law on local authority which gives councils the autonomy to carry out crucial administrative decisions in their area of competence
The research questions of this study have been divided into main research question and specific Research questions
What is the autonomy of municipal councils in Cameroon?
1.3.2 Specific Research question
How does the centralization of power and government intrusion hinders the autonomy of municipal councils in Cameroon
What are the obstacles faced by the Buea municipal council in exercising its autonomy
How can we ensure that the Buea council should fully enjoy its autonomy as provided in the Cameroon constitution
The following are objectives of this study
1.4.1 General objective of the study
The main objective of this study is to critically examine the autonomy of municipal councils in Cameroon
1.4.2 Specific objectives of the study
- To examine government intrusion into the activities of municipal councils and the politicization of municipal councils in Cameroon
- To identify the obstacles, stakes and challenges faced by the Buea municipal council in exercising its autonomy
- To bring out measures in which the Buea council can fully enjoy its autonomy as provided in the Cameroon constitution