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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Africa: The Hunt is on for Defaulting Polluters

by Marie-Noëlle Bertrand

Africa: The Hunt is on for Defaulting Polluters

Translated Saturday 6 October 2018, by Jane Swingler

The Cameroon government has published a list of 395 companies who are in contravention of environmental law and who are taking their time in paying their fines.

At the end of last week, the Cameroon government started to get tough on pollution. Tired of waiting for companies based in their country to get round to complying with environmental law, officials published a list of those companies that were flouting it.

Almost 400 establishments – 395, to be exact – have been ordered to pay fines, ranging from one to fifty million Central African CFA francs (1,500 to 76,000 euros). The sums may seem derisory, unless it is made clear that many of those being levied are small local enterprises, like shops, bakeries and dry cleaners. Most have been sanctioned for continuing to give out non-biodegradable plastic bags between 2013 and 2015. In this group, penalties are generally no higher than two million CFA francs, with only one fine reaching fifteen million.

“More than 4,950 establishments classified as dangerous”

There are, however, bigger fish to fry. Several hydrocarbon production and civil engineering companies have been issued with fines for ignoring environmental protection law in the day-to-day running of their business. Such is the case with Buns, the country’s top asphalting company, Green Oil, Cameroon’s petrol distributor and even Petrolex, an energy conglomerate which covers a large part of Africa.

Institutions like healthcare providers or even abattoirs have themselves been caught for illegal disposal of waste products. And there are some even more surprising faces on the list: Orange Cameroon is also ordered to pay a fine of five million euros for “environmental degradation and deterioration of air quality.”

None of this should come as a surprise to them. “Across the national territory between 2013 and 2015, environmental inspectors had cause to visit more than 4,950 establishments which were classified as environmentally dangerous, unsanitary and problematical,” explains Aoudou Joswa, head of the National Brigade for Environmental Inspections at the ministry responsible for the protection of the natural environment and sustainable development, in an interview with the “Cameroon Tribune”. Among the most common breaches that his service discovered were the absence of an environmental impact audit or study, cases of air, soil, subsoil or surface and underground water source pollution, or poor waste management.

Orange’s non-payment goes back to 2014

There is nothing new in this breach of rules. However, those companies whose names have just appeared in the official press were particularly slow in settling their debts. In Orange’s case the fine goes back to 2014. The telephone service provider has clearly gone too far. The Cameroon Minister for the Environment, Pierre Hélé, in exasperation, is now threatening to place Orange before the relevant territorial legal bodies.

A tax haven which provides a welcome for nature’s destroyers

On Monday 13 August, the scientific review “Nature Ecology & Evolution” published a report on the environmental impact of offshore companies. It reveals that 70% of companies responsible for industrial fishing and illegal deforestation conceal their profits in tax havens. This study singles out illegal fishing, which is depleting fish stocks but it also mentioned livestock and soya, which are responsible for much of the deforestation of the Amazon. Between 2000 and 2011, more than twenty-one billion euros were placed in tax havens by these companies.

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