By Tikum Mbah Azonga
This article is an adaptation of an earlier one I broadcast on the Cameroon Radio Television (CRTV) National Radio Station on the 26th of June 2003. The paper was conceived as a reaction to an article published in READERS` DIGEST, analyzing the workings of the public service system in France. It is one of hundreds of articles I broadcast on the same channel between 2002 and 200, on the early morning prime time national and world news broadcast.
The data collection mechanism used is the public opinion poll and the country in question, France. Both methodology and country are significant for Cameroon. This is because opinion polls have for long, stood the test of time in terms of serving as a fairly reliable yard stick for gauging public opinion and also because France is a longstanding partner of Cameroon. Furthermore, because of the historical ties between the two countries,the Cameroonian civil service is largely modeled on that of France.
The survey, conducted exclusively by CSA/CAPITAL before being reported in the Readers` Digest, asked respondents whether they were happy with the country’s public service. Sixty five per cent of those polled said, “Yes”. Of all the sixteen services on which the poll was conducted, the National Electricity Corporation (Electricité de France, EDF) was the one with which French people expressed the most satisfaction, scoring 14.7 out of 20. For Cameroonian observers, such a revelation must come as a puzzle and a paradox, especially as Cameroon’s own power supplier is such a big disappointment to the nation and might be somewhere at the bottom of the league table, if a survey was carried on it within the Cameroonian context.
The reasons for EDF`s high ratings from which Cameroon’s AES SONEL could learn some lessons include the fact that EDF runs a non-stop 24 hour-a-day telephone service for customers and that it’s technicians turn up in record time when there is an emergency. It is reported that in 1999 for example, when a storm blew out lights, the speed with which the corporation restored them was breath-taking. EDF does not disconnect the customer for non-payment of bills without first giving the consumer adequate warning time. For years now, EDF customers have an electricity consumption watchdog which does protect the interests of the consumer. The corporation goes the extra mile to educate the public on the risks of electricity-related domestic accidents. In a nutshell, EDF is present, transparent and caring to the French consumer.
According to the survey, the justice system of France is the worst rated of the sixteen services polled. One woman told the READER`S DIGEST: “I have personally never had anything to do with the law, but my general feeling is that the justice system functions poorly. One sees it in the media. The State makes decisions but the decrees are not applied or vaguely applied. The police arrests delinquents and the justice system releases them. Too often, no follow up is given to reported offences.”
After the Electricity Corporation at the top of the league table, in number two is Local Government services; followed by the Post Office, and hospitals in fourth position. Fifth is France Telecom; sixth is the Health Insurance Company, (CNAM) and in seventh place, the Family Allowance Corporation, CAF. The Police is number eight; Divisional Offices, number nine; National Education, number ten; the railway corporations, RAPT and SNCF, number eleven; taxation, twelve; the Unemployment Insurance Fund, thirteen.
Interviewees strongly felt that the State and not the private sector should be in charge of key services such as the maintenance of law and order, job protection, education, the mail service, public health, water and electricity. On the other hand, they felt the private sector should be in charge of areas such as transportation, culture and the media.
When asked what interviewees thought could be done to improve service, most said administrative procedures ought to be simplified. This view is hardly surprising, for one person remarked that trying to get served in France is like offering oneself as anything but a client, which is what one ought to be. Another user recounted her ordeal when she went to the mayor’s office to obtain a French passport for her child born abroad. After being asked to prove she was French, she duly produced her birth certificate and passport but was shocked to be told that she must show her National Identity Card, which was of course, the only document she did not have at the time.
Surely, if Cameroon needed a partner with which to compare notes on where to go from here with the public service, then here at last is a golden opportunity.