Osasu Obayiuwana: CAF’s failure to pay officials opens body up to new integrity threats

CAF headquarters

With just days to the start of the knockout stages of the CAF Champions’ League and the Confederation Cup, with eight very tough quarter-final matches in both competitions, the quality of officiating from the referees, as well as the pre-game preparations of CAF’s match co-ordinators, and their support staff, will be key in ensuring that the matches go without incident. 

But it is very hard for them to give their best – and not to be put in the way of temptation from possible match-fixers and match-manipulators – when those in charge of CAF’s matches are not being paid their match fees and allowances on time, or not at all.

At the moment, several referees and match officials are owed, by CAF, allowances for several Champions League, Confederation Cup and even AFCON qualifiers, going back several months.

It is gobsmacking that CAF’s chieftains have failed to deal with this matter with the urgency this deserves, if only for the purpose of enlightened self-interest – which is to protect the integrity and reputation of its matches from corruption.

“We are not happy with this situation, at all,” one of CAF’s match co-ordinators told me.

“As it stands now, people working during CAF games are often having to use their own money to pre-finance a part of their travel to games. And we are waiting for months to get a refund, as well as our fees,” the official complained.

“Each time that I, and my colleagues, contact the Finance Office of CAF, asking for our money, we are told that it is coming in a few days. But the money never comes in time, if at all.”

Many in the organisation blame the financial reforms carried out by Fatma Samoura, FIFA’s Secretary-General and the organisation’s General Delegate to Africa, from August 2019 till January this year, for the problems they are currently facing.

Before her arrival, match officials were able to secure “cash-in-hand” payments, some of which the officials received while at CAF’s Cairo HQ for other matters.

But the new regulation  – that all allowances must be paid by bank transfers and not through ‘cash-in-hand’ payments – has caused a new problem: the inordinate delay of match allowances.

In the light of the PwC forensic audit, that has revealed CAF’s accounts are “unreliable,” due to “several manual entries,” the new rule put in place, during Samoura’s time in Cairo, is desperately needed – if only to ensure that CAF’s financial transactions are properly documented, for the purposes of good governance and accurate accounting.

But there is a complication with the implementation of the new regulation – the lack of sufficient personnel, in CAF’s accounts department, to manage the large number of payments due to referees and other match officials, over the extended period that the Champions’ League and Confederation Cup is played, every season.

“It is very clear that the accounts department of CAF lacks the capacity to process our payments on time,” said another match-coordinator.

“I understand the need for CAF to have transparent financial practices. But I think that they should have put the staff capacity in place to deal with the added demands that would be put on the accounts department, to make these payments promptly.”

The decision of FIFA to take up the responsibility of putting 20 of the continent’s top referees on a full-time salary, that the world governing body will pay, from the end of March, will certainly help to end the complaints of the people at the top end.

But this doesn’t take away the problems facing CAF’s other match officials, who will not benefit from FIFA’s intervention and simply want the CAF payment system to work in a professional manner, as it ought to.

It is unacceptable that people can be owed their entitlements for months, even having to spend their own scarce funds to finance the work they do for CAF, while the chieftains of the organisation live large on the money that is meant for the efficient management of the continental game.

African football’s governing body is supposed to serve as an example of good governance to its member federations. But it cannot possibly command any authority or respect, within the continent and outside of it, when it cannot get basic things, like paying those who work for them on time, right.

But I suppose that with the gravely disturbing revelations from the PwC audit, which shows the terrible state of CAF’s financial systems – and the lack of respect by its chieftains for laid-down procedures, the failure of the organisation to pay, promptly, those who keep the wheel of African football running, is no surprise.

One can only hope (I do realise that this word, hope, is a huge word to use, in the prevailing environment in Cairo) that the CAF President and General Secretary, in conjunction with Sheriff Elkhadem, the newly-appointed Finance Director, will put an end to the agony of those without whom Africa’s club and national team competitions cannot run.

As the old saying goes, a labourer deserves his pay. And there are many ‘labourers’ waiting for CAF to honour its financial obligations to them.

Osasu Obayiuwana, a lawyer and BBC broadcaster, is one of the world’s leading journalists on African football. Follow Osasu on Twitter @osasuo