(Business in Cameroon) - As of December 31, 2020, public companies’ external debt was XAF452.5 billion, according to the national sinking fund CAA. The Same source informs that that debt was owed by four companies, namely, Société nationale de raffinage (Sonara),Cameroon Airlines Corporation (Camair Co), Aéroports du Cameroun (ADC), and the Port Authority of Douala (PAD).
State-owned refinery Sonara was owing XAF359 billion, representing 79.3% of the overall public companies’ external debt at the time. According to the CAA, SONARA’s external debt was owed to foreign traders and year-on-year, it is down by XAF12 billion. In 2016, the figure was XAF25.1 billion, XAF33.3 billion in 2017, and XAF52.4 billion in 2018. However, at end-2019, it rose substantially to XAF371 billion.
As for state-owned airlines Camair Co, which has been experiencing cashflow problems since its creation in 2011, its external debt was XAF61.6 billion at end-2020, according to the CAA. This is probably the debt Camair Co owes its technical partners. Indeed, in September 2020, the Ministry of Economy published a technical note on Cameroon’s cooperation with Germany revealing that Lufthansa Technik (which was, till 2014, in charge of the maintenance of Camair Co’s planes) was claiming over €2 million (close to XAF1.3 billion) of unpaid bills. "The case has been brought before courts," the note informed.
For the PAD, which is in charge of the management of the Port of Douala, its external debt was XAF18.7 billion at end-December 2020. Meanwhile, ADC’s external debt was XAF13 billion at the time.
Even though those external debts are not guaranteed by the government, they are also a threat to the country’s budgetary balance. Indeed, as the CAA informs in its March 2021 report on the public debt, since the indebted companies are owned by the state and they have strategic economic and social impacts, the government could be obliged to step in to bail them out when the said companies are unable to fulfill their commitments. Hence the term "contingent and implicit government liabilities" used to refer to those debts, it adds.
Brice R. Mbodiam