Yaounde (National Times) – Today, Cameroon’s President Paul Biya announced “his appointment” of Nsongan Etung Joseph as Head of Technical Affairs at the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications. The appointment is one among thousands of others made by the President of the Republic between in the last twelve months, which are undermining a key bureaucratic principle and government effectiveness in Cameroon.
Cameroon’s constitution gives the Prime Minister, the Head of Government, the power to select and appoint government officials in Cameroon. But traditionally, or on the contrary, the president of Cameroon exercises the power to appointment bottom and top government officials. The President appoints every head of secondary school, universities, ministries, ministerial department, and parastatals.
By appointing top government officials Biya is undermining one key principle of Bureaucracy, Hierarchical Management Structure. The principle of the hierarchical management structure states that “Each level [should] control the levels below and is controlled by the level above. Authority and responsibilities are clearly defined for each position”.
The concept of control, authority and responsibilities are central to any effective bureaucratic structure. Control entails the ability to institute norms, constraints, oversight and other measures on an organization or its members in order to attain particular goals. One of the key elements in every organizational control structure is the appointment and dismissal of members or subordinates since career orientation is a key carrot for most bureaucrats.
Control is tied to accountability and responsibility. I can only be held responsible for my decisions. And appointment is one of the key decisions in public service. By appointing civil servants in public institutions rather than allowing ministers and others to make this appointment, the President is also shielding them away from due accountability standards.
So control as exercised by appointment is one of the key “sticks” every head of a bureaucratic agency can wield. And in the case of Cameroon where the President seems to have taken this power away from bureaucratic, the President is implicitly undermining the efficiency and effectiveness of the bureaucratic structures in Cameroon.
Government effectiveness entails three things. First, the ability to design, set and achieve goals that are in the interest of the public. Second, the quality of public services, roads, schools, healthcare, security, and border management, as well as the quality of those providing these services. And finally, the ability of the system to undergo and sustain its form from both internal and external pressure, which is resilience.
Some may counter than in a country like Cameroon where ministers and other top government officials have been proven to abuse their power by engaging in excessive nepotism and corruption, that is appointing their relatives, friends and selling access to public offices in exchange for funds, centralizing the appointment process, that is putting control into the hands of the president, is the safe way.
That argument is wrong. First, the president does not do the selection. He still relies on the ministerial officers to recommend those he eventually appoints. Which means even if these persons were to recommend their friends and relatives, as they still do, the centralised system will not stop the abuse of power. In fact, the centralize system removes all possibilities of accountabilities from these officials because they can say the President, not I, made the appointment.
Instead of centralizing power, the President should rather build and reinforce the country’s institutions to curb abuse of power. For example, the government can introduce anti-nepotistic laws or degrees, by which all government officials involved in the selection and appointment of another official sign a declaration form stating they are not related to the said person in anyway, they have not received any financial benefit during or before the process that is related to the appointment, and they can testify that this person was the most qualified for the position. In addition, the government can create and empower new or existing agencies to ensure that all government agencies are following the norm.
In conclusion, President’s Paul Biya’s appointment of top to bottom government officials in Cameroon is against the principle that top bureaucratic officials should control their subordinates, and are subsequently controlled by their superordinates. This is primarily because the appointment, not just selection of subordinates, is one of the key attributes of control in any bureaucratic agencies. It is what superiors can use to get their subordinates to do the work. Yes the rule is open to abuse, but by instituting the right processes the abuse can be curtailed. There is no grounds to take this power away from the Ministries. Because in so doing, the President’s actions are undermining economic growth and efficient and effective public services in Cameroon.