A few more details on the cocoa reforms were announced this week with the appointment of the leadership team for the new governing structure, the Coffee and Cocoa Council. I was particularly interested by the agriculture minister’s comments on transparency.
“The new reforms aim for the following objectives. Firstly, reinforcing good governance and transparency in the management of resources…”, said the agriculture minister, Sangafowa Coulibaly at the press ceremony. Later in response to those who said it looked like a return to the pre-liberalised system, he said, “The new structure is not Caistab v. 2 [cocoa stablisation board which governed the sector till 1999] because we’ve learned from past experiences. In the Caistab, what people criticised the structure for was that it was not transparent enough. This time – it will be transparent from every point of view. The governance will be transparent. You know, it’s not because a structure isn’t transparent – that’s to say that you don’t know that’s going on – that what is going on is bad. Things need to be properly understood. I’m not saying that what happened at the Caistab was bad – it was just that because not everyone knew how things worked, people could imagine all sorts of things. I can tell you that it was a good experience, from what I know. What will happen from now on with the CCC is that what happens will be seen by all so everyone will see what decisions are taken and how they are put into practice.”
Many would question this rather nostalgic view of the Caistab – and as ever, civil servants are somehow able to question with a straight face how we could ever doubt that they had our best interests at heart and never cease to work for the citizens and not their own interests. What’s more important though is whether the word ‘transparent’ will ever apply to cocoa in Ivory Coast. For this to happen, it really needs a small revolution in the blue office block that most people still call the ‘Caisse’.
– Take statistics. Look at the website of the CGFCC which currently governs the sector and whose current head will be the CEO of the new CCC. The site is almost devoid of any data. It’s not that the committee aren’t au fait with the web. You can call them up and no-one will be prepared to give you cocoa production figures even for 1960. It’s all way too sensitive. Don’t even start to ask what they think about the coming harvest, about child labour, about what they’re doing for farmers – you will see the person start shaking with fear and then they’ll quietly tell you to write a letter to the communications person and that’s the last you’ll hear of the matter.
Why does this matter? Well firstly any debate in civil society or otherwise needs real information about what’s going on. One reason people still think that coffee is important for the Ivorian economy is that no-one’s published recent figures to show that the trade has been abandoned by most farmers formerly growing the crop. Secondly, lack of transparency obviously leaves the door open to corruption. The agriculture minister may tease us that we were too cynical in ‘imagining’ all the bad things that were possibly going on behind opaque doors, but without being too negative, corruption is common here and a sector involving massive sums of money with little transparency or accountability is a problem waiting to happen.
Some insiders for instance allege that the cocoa arrivals figures recorded at the CGFCC/CCC are subtly massaged before being passed on to the rest of the government so that some cocoa gets through the system without paying tax. Of course we aren’t to know whether this is true or not because neither the CGFCC figures nor those passed on to the government are public. In a different area, I have it on good information that at least a third of the companies that export cocoa through customs (officially and registered) don’t have the CGFCC licence to export cocoa. But neither list (those with the licences or those exporting through customs) is ever published.
– Take other forms of communication. I have never seen a single interview with the head of the cocoa sector here. That’s right, the head of the cocoa sector in the world’s most important producer has never given a proper interview. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t tens of press officers at the cocoa agencies but what they do is beyond me.
– Take taxes. I’ve never seen the breakdown of cocoa taxes published in an Ivorian newspaper. Those in the know, know that 22% of the export cocoa price is taken in taxes. Few are aware of the breakdown, so here it is, all expressed as a percentage of the export price (CIF):
– 14.6% DUS (government export tax)
– 5% registration fee
– 0.735% CGFCC including 0.48% management structure, 0.06% weighing fee, 0.06% quality control, 0.09% international organisations
– 0.535% rural investment fund (FIMR)
– 0.21% cocoa sacks
– 0.47% sector investment fund
– 0.45% fund to support the reform process
Ivorian journalists should be calculating how many tons of cocoa are exported, at what price, and then working out how much money has gone into each sector and then asking how it was spent. If we take the rough figure for last year’s harvest at 1.5 million tons and at a world market price of say 1,000,000 cfa francs a ton ($2000) then 7.05 billion cfa ($14 million) should be in an sector investment fund somewhere ready to make a big impact on farming communities. Most cocoa farmers never see anyone from the government let alone feel the effect of the high taxes they pay. Even the state agricultural advisers from Anader usually only get seen by the farmers when cocoa companies pay them an additional payment (they already have salaries) to come and start educating farmers.
I guess for the time being we’ll have to give the government the benefit of the doubt as we await the impact of the promises reforms, but I’m not expecting to see much change in the currently opaque nature of things. Time for a Nigerian-style campaign for a freedom of information bill perhaps? What I do worry about is that cocoa reform is taking place for non-cocoa reasons – to get HIPC debt relief from the World Bank, who’ve made cocoa reform one of their ‘triggers’. If that’s the case, as soon as HIPC status gets achieved, expect cocoa reforms to slip down the order of importance.