PUBLIC INTEREST LITIGATION (Cameroon Court upholds Locus standi and the rational for PIL)
This is a public interest action which concerns Environmental impact Assessment (EIA), Public Participation in decision making, and Access to environmental information, Precautionary Principle, Rights of Local Communities, Access to Environmental Justice and Locus standi.
The case was commenced by the Foundation for Environment and Development (FEDEV) against the China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC) before the Court of First Instance Batibo, in the Momo Division of North West Province.
The brief facts are that CRBC has been awarded a contract to construct a major road from Widikum (North West Region) to Mamfe (South West Region). The company discovered a quarry site in Widikum and applied to the Senior Divisional Officer (SDO) for Momo for grant of land. In 2008, the SDO granted a large area in Widikum measuring 11854m2 to the company for three years, for the exploitation quarry. It was a top down approach in which the administrative authorities took the decision considering that all unregistered land is national land and managed by the state, without the participation of the resource dwellers. There was no public hearing and participation of the impacted communities in the process. The company started the quary exploitation without the prior Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) as mandated by the environmental laws of Cameroon.
They never consulted with the local resource dwellers or make any arrangement for payment of royalties as required by the mining code. The law is to the effect that the promoter or owner of the project must conduct an EIA with accompanying environmental management plan before commencement of the exploitation. Quarrying has been listed as one of the projects that requires a madatory EIA. The site of the quary project has an upper boundary with the main highway from Widikum to Mamfe, which road is densely used by thousands of Cameroonians who travel during the day and nights. In addition, the ecosystem of the area is host to varieties of biodiversity resources, including rare species of flora and fauna, it is a source of fresh water which nourishes several down streams and springs. Part of the area is use by the local communities in Widikum for cultivation and other varied livelihood activities. FEDEV then commenced the matter (CFIB/004M/09) before the Court of First Instance Batibo,requesting the court to restraint CRBC from exploiting the quarry if they fail to conduct the required EIA. FEDEV further requested the court to order CRBC to conduct an EIA with accompanying environmental management plan as required by the law, to carry out public hearing/consultation with the widikum population in the EIA process and to provide regular and adequate environmental information to the public during the entire project period.
At the hearing, the Counsel for the respondent together with the learned State Counsel, raised a preliminary objection against the case, on the premise that FEDEV lacks locus standi to institute the action. FEDEV is represented by a team of Public Interest Lawyers headed by Barrister Nchunu Justice Sama
On the 06/03/3009 the Honourable court presided by Justice Awasom Florence handed down a landmark decision on locus standi in public interest litigation. The court held inter alia that:
“Public interest litigation is intended to promote and vindicate public interest which demands that violations of constitutional or legal rights of large number of people who are poor, ignorant or in a socially or economically backward position should not go unnoticed or un redressed….From the forgoing, I therefore hold that as per section 8 (2) of the law under review, the applicant herein have a locus standi to institute this action. …This court deems it expedient to state that public interest litigation is an efficient tool to seek judicial redress and subsequent government action to socio-economic challenges of the powerless segment of the society who due to their financial constraints and ignorance are unable to access justice. The preliminary objection is accordingly overruled”