Cameroon ups state wages, cuts prices after riots

March 10th, 2008 by bobebill

Sat 8 Mar 2008
By Tansa Musa

YAOUNDE (Reuters) – Cameroonian President Paul Biya has raised state salaries by 15 percent and suspended customs duties on basic foodstuffs like fish, rice and cooking oil to ease discontent over high prices which provoked riots last week.

In two presidential decrees broadcast on state radio late on Friday, Biya increased the wages of civilian and military personnel from April 1 and raised their family allowances by 20 percent of the monthly basic salary.

The radio also said custom duties on cement would be cut to 10 percent from 20 percent until the end of August, to ease an acute shortage of building materials which has led to a doubling in the consumer price for cement in recent months.

Biya also urged the government to settle its payment arrears, maintain salary and pension advances, strengthen youth employment programmes and recruit more part-time teachers.

In the medium term, he demanded a review of the pricing of fuels, telephone rates and bank charges and he urged the government to press ahead with stalled industrial, mining and agricultural projects.

“I urge the prime minister to scrupulously carry out with celerity and efficacy the instructions I have just given. I will not tolerate any failure in their execution,” Biya said.

Neighbouring West African countries have announced similar measures to counteract the effects of high food prices.

Niger on Saturday announced the suppression of all taxes and customs duties on rice imports for three months, and said it would increase government stockpiles of rice and cereals.

Burkina Faso also announced a reduction in customs on basic foodstuffs last month after several towns were hit by protests. IMF Director General Dominique Strauss-Kahn, visiting the region last month, said the Fund would support measures to counteract the price rises.

The measures in Cameroon came in the wake of a February 25-28 taxi drivers strike to protest at fuel price hikes in the central African country that degenerated into rioting in several towns against the high cost of living and Biya’s intention to extend his 25 years in power.

The government put the death toll from the clashes at 24, although human rights activists put it at over 100, most of these shot dead by the police in the economic capital Douala.

The government said 1,671 people were arrested, about 200 of whom have so far been tried and sentenced to serve between six months and three years in prison. Rights organisations denounced the summary trials behind closed doors and heavy jail terms.

Meanwhile, union groups criticised Biya’s announcements.

“For us, these are just cosmetic measures and a non-event,” said the president of the Cameroon Teachers Trade Union (CATTU) Simon Nkwenti. “What we want is the restoration of salaries to their pre-1993 levels.”

In 1993, as part of IMF-backed reforms, Cameroon cut wages by 70 percent and, one year later, the CFA franc currency was devalued by 50 percent, slashing consumer purchasing power.

In the early 1980s, Cameroon was one of sub-Saharan Africa’s most successful economies, with annual growth of over 7 percent.

But the country was plunged into a prolonged economic crisis in the mid-1980s by a collapse in coffee, cocoa, and oil prices, which exposed the weakness of economic policies.

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