C is for Corruption

Fish pond anger

This is an angry man.  He’s standing in a 4 million CFCA (US$ 9000) fish pond. Well, it was supposed to be a fish pond.

When the last section of the pipeline was laid from the beach at Kribi to the offshore marine loading terminal, construction crews blasted away the reef at Bumé, the fishing village at “ground zero.”  The fish left the area and for the population of Bumé, entirely dependent on fishing, this was a disaster.

The original pipeline plans did not include the reef’s destruction, so there was no mitigation plan in place when the crews came through.  After much discussion, the consortium offered to construct two ponds for fish farming.  Never mind that the villagers of Bumé are fisherman, not fish farmers, and that they have neither the skills nor the resources for aquaculture.  These artisanal fishermen paddle out with their nets out once or twice a day, catching relatively small amounts of fish in the shallow waters. This is subsistence fishing: they bring in just enough to eat and, if all goes well, sell a few fish each day.

Pirogue and net

Fish farming, on the other hand, brings in revenues when fish are harvested.  The fish farmers must have some means of sustaining themselves between harvests. Apparently no one at the consortium thought about this when they offered to construct the fish ponds.  The consortium subcontracted the fish pond job to a local company, who came in, poured some cement — the idea was to dam a spring-fed stream to create the ponds — filled the pond with fingerlings and left.

No one received any training.  Someone told the villagers the fish ate manioc. How much? Prepared how? No one knew. According to the people I spoke with, they tried putting food in the pond, but all the fish died before reaching maturity.  No one knows how to reach the company that did the work; COTCO has not responded to complaints about the fish ponds.

So, this is what $9000 bought:  a few cement blocks in an area now overrun with vines and bamboo.

Fish pond approach

Transparency International consistently ranks Cameroon (and Chad, for that matter), among the most corrupt countries in the world. I’ve heard numerous stories of compensation projects that were ostensibly funded, but that show no signs of having been completed.  I’ve personally seen a number of  unfinished — or barely started — projects along the pipeline route.  ExxonMobil, its partners Chevron and Petronas, and the World Bank were all aware of the level of corruption in these two countries.  Yet, it appears that there was little follow-up on the compensation projects.  Many people told me that they hadn’t seen anyone from COTCO for years.

The anger in Kribi is palpable and I’ll write more about that.  I have to say it’s hardly surprising.

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