Community voices: interview with Jacques Ngarassal Saham, anti-corruption activist in Chad

By Lorena Cotza Nov 04, 2020

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Ahead of the Finance in Common summit, we speak with Jacques Ngarassal Saham, an anti-corruption activist in Chad who works for CILONG (member of the global network FORUS) , about development finance, human rights, and the impact of development projects on local communities.

How are development projects affecting the life of local communities in Chad?

The main projects financed by development banks in Chad are infrastructure projects, such as development of roads or electricity lines, educational projects, and then also in the agricultural and the health sector. And there are some projects in the extractive industry sector that are financed by the World Bank which have had a negative impact for the local population, because of environmental degradation, the impact on arable land and so on.

The main issue is that those implementing these projects are public authorities, and the implementation of these projects is problematic because it’s often based on clientelism and leads to corruption; this is what we call the “weakening of finances” of these projects. 

What’s the role for civil society and what are the challenges for human rights defenders in Chad?

In relation to human rights defenders and their situation in Chad, they’re in a state of unprecedented insecurity. When we pose the question of access to information, when citizens organise themselves in an organisation to demand certain things regarding development activities, us leaders of civil society are stigmatized: we are accused of being close to the opposition or enemies of the nation, just because we’re expressing our opinion on issues related to governance.

We need to raise concerns when there are problems related to projects that concern our population, our future and our youth – we intervene to make the authorities more transparent about this, but today, issues related to governance make civil society be very negatively perceived in Chad. We are living a state of constant, unprecedented insecurity. We live in a place where violence is prominent, and our work brings further risks. But we do this work because of a conviction that this corruption, this misappropriation of funds, this injustice must be denounced, so that the poorest people don’t have to continue living in poverty, and so that certain people can’t continue enriching themselves at the cost of the people. That’s why we do this work.

Today we have a cadre in place for the defence of human rights, but I don’t know…it can’t be trusted. When defenders have been in danger, they have been in contact with institutions in Europe or Africa. But this question of protection of human rights defenders is a question that needs to be treated with a lot of care and positive attention for it to be solved. 

What are the main challenges for an anti-corruption activist in Chad?

I’ve been contacted multiple times regarding corruption in Chad because I work as a coordinator on this issue for an anti-corruption organisation in Chad. I’ve been contacted by the European Union Commission, because they’re involving anti-corruption organisations more to help solve this issue and to ensure that real development can take place today. They know that there are many gaps, and the lack of efficacy and impact of these projects is problematic. Recently, I had a meeting with the World Bank – they realise that anti-corruption organisations need to be involved in their activities. But for this involvement, civil society has to have the means to be able to go into the field, to do investigations, to do surveys on corruption for this or that project financed by development banks, in order to help our country move forward. In cases where they’re talking to the states, they need to have the courage to talk about corruption and violation of human rights, because corruption is a violation of human rights that affects the most vulnerable. Imagine – funds are given to education, and when they’re misappropriated, it affects the most vulnerable, who have the right to education! Banks could research where funds are misappropriated, and this would have a clear impact on results. It’s a question that concerns a lot of people, but civil society needs to be organised to denounce this. It’s everywhere. But how can you organise civil society to be able to ask the banks for the means to do this?

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Lorena Cotza
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