Interview: Noël Alain Olivier Mekulu Mvondo Akame

Prevention is not the exclusive responsibility of the State, an Institution, a Company or a Worker alone. All these stakeholders must act together in order to prevent Occupational Risks in the best possible way.”

Speaking of occupational risks, can’t Covid-19 be considered as an occupational risk today?

The coronavirus is a pandemic; therefore a priori, it cannot be considered as an occupational risk in our legal status although some consequences of this pandemic may influence workers. In any case, it is an issue that concerns us as well.

If you hear one of your collaborators at the National Social Insurance Fund or a local company saying: "I am confined to my home" when confinement is not officially declared in Cameroon, can he present this excuse as a risk?

Let us first say that in Cameroon, there is no lockdown as of now as is the case elsewhere. Therefore, workers by themselves cannot decide on this. On the other hand, as far as the NSIF is concerned, we have taken specific measures to confine a certain number of workers from our structure to their homes. Most of them are teleworking.

The NSIF is a social Institution involved in the lives of Cameroonians. Do you feel involved?

Absolutely! Not only has the Government ordered it, but also, we have to apply the measures prescribed by the Government. The NSIF is a social Institution with social responsibility. Therefore, we fully assume this responsibility as much towards our workers as towards other Cameroonian workers.

What is the volume of Occupational Risk in your activities?

It's true that when one mentions the NSIF, they mostly refer to pensioners. Nevertheless, occupational risks remain a fundamental activity as part of our missions and concern us in as much as they lead us to make a number of expenditures. We are fully concerned because we provide prevention services to companies registered with us and pay social benefits for Occupational Diseases and Industrial Accidents, .

How do you respond to those who think that occupational risk is somehow the least activity of the NSIF?

In terms of media visibility, some might think so. But it takes up the bulk of our activities. For example, in 2019, we made 632 visits to companies. We visit companies to ensure that occupational health and safety measures are respected. We give advice on how to optimize this prevention. But also, where necessary, when there are accidents and illnesses in the workplace, we take care of this. In 2019, we paid out approximately three billion Fcfa in social benefits relating to the compensation of industrial accidents.

However, some people still feel that this is not binding enough on employers?

Yes, it has to be said. Unfortunately, it is our legislation that should evolve. It is not the fault of the NSIF, because we do not have the possibility of sanctioning employers who do not comply with occupational risk prevention measures. We limit ourselves, by legislation, to giving them advice to prevent these accidents, which can have serious consequences, including in their operations, so they have every interest. We are committed to demonstrating this to them, to ensuring this prevention.

Mr. Director General, how will the 24th African Day for the Prevention of Occupational Risks take place here in Cameroon?

The Inter-African Association for the Prevention of Occupational Risks (IAPRP), our regional organisation has specifically provided that each member country, in view of the current pandemic situation, will organise in the most appropriate manner, the activities related to this day. Therefore, in Cameroon, we naturally take into consideration the measures implemented by the government. We will no longer hold large meetings, large assemblies. We will do more by online consultation and online discussions. So it will be online discussions. Because we have to limit the presence of many people in the same place. We will refer to the quality of discussions between technicians, between companies and with the NSIF.

The users of the NSIF complain about the fact that the payment of occupational risks is slow...

It's understandable. The NSIF is subject to these "delays" because they are not always under our control. According to our rules, when a file is complete, we ensure payment the same day.

If someone has had a leg amputated, three or four years may go by without being paid, because this situation is experienced daily at the NSIF. Whose fault is that?

It is in the past. Today, there may be some delays because unfortunately the whole chain does not depend exclusively on the NSIF. I take the example of a journey accident with, for example, a worker who leaves home for work or the other way around and there is an industrial accident. The NSIF cannot intervene right away because we need an accident report from another administration. This can take many days or months. As long as we do not have this document, we cannot take charge of the accident. But as soon as all the documents are made available to the NSIF, you can be rest assured that we will take charge of the accident immediately. As soon as the file is complete and submitted, we need an hour to settle the matter. We have been able to do this for about two years. That is why I was saying that the cases that had been dragging on for several years are now in the past. Today, with our information system, we have the possibility of processing information, since all the data of the worker and his employer are in our system, and we can resolve this in a few hours, sometimes even minutes. This is the result of the computer system; it is the digitalization of services.

Listening to the trade unionists, there is a question that comes up and makes accusations against companies. How can we force company managers to speed up the prevention of these risks at the level of their structures?

First of all, I will say that I agree with what the trade unionists are saying. The State has several instruments of control. I am going to say that the NSIF is in charge of prevention but it does not have the means to impose sanctions. We cannot sanction a company that does not respect the measures for the prevention of occupational risks. We are getting to the point of repair. On the other hand, there are administrations such as the Labour Inspectorate. So that is somewhat of a role, because there are judicial measures that the labour inspectorate can take when it finds that an employer is not up to date or imprudent or does not take a certain number of measures, it can take legal action, including criminal action against that employer. However, I am not sure whether criminal measures, if any, would resolve this issue. This is the reason for the theme of this year's African Day for the Prevention of Occupational Risks "Working together to prevent occupational risks". It is something synergistic. Of course there will always be accidents, but the objective is to go as high as possible, that companies set up occupational health and safety committees. It is these committees that bring together the employer and the staff representatives, sometimes the labour administration, and it is these committees that can work very actively within the companies. It is not a question of publicity; it is a question of working internally to persuade the workers themselves to apply the measures because it is not easy. I worked in a company in the past where workers had difficulty accepting the wearing of personal protective equipment. It is a long-term job.

Is there not a way to modify the texts in order to bring them into line with prevention?

I agree with you. Most of the texts date from the 70s, 80s. We should modify them. I believe that some proposals are made to introduce, for example, the concept of "Bonus malus", which would mean that companies that comply with the measures by reducing the number of accidents would have a bonus in terms of a reduction in the rate of social security contributions. On the other hand, those with the highest number of accidents would have a malus in terms of an increase in the contribution rate. I hope that this reform will take place.

Mr Director-General, the social security bodies throughout the world are in deficit. How is the NSIF doing?

I would say that the NSIF is doing well, we are in surplus. In order to do so, we have to focus on good management, on making savings in operations and on reducing costs.

They say you make big investments that are earn you a lot of money. Why don't you talk about it often?

It's better not to talk about it too much because money doesn't like noise. Because every time you talk about it, it would provoke comments that don't take place when the main objective is that these investments bring in money that allows you to prepare especially for the future.

You who are in contact with companies, do you feel that the situation has become tense in the last few days?

Not yet. Perhaps we'll see next month. But for the month of March, we have recorded a slight decrease of 10% in the collection of social contributions. We will see in the coming months.

Why are the treatments of family allowance files slow at the NSIF?

Family allowances are the easiest thing to get today at the NSIF. You can get your allowances in thirty minutes as soon as the file is complete. You do not need to go to the NSIF because we pay them through mobile solutions/accounts.

You have the impression that this method of payment suits the users?

It should be convenient for them. It's true that it’s a situation we are observing, there are those who are called illectronics, those who are not very good with the Internet, but our services remain open and we can ensure both their reception and the services they are required to provide.

Why is the payment of family allowances for Camtel staff suspended?

Every time the company is up to date we pay. This is a short-term service. There must necessarily be contributions for benefits to be paid. Unfortunately, there are a lot of companies that are slow in the payment of contributions and a lot of workers do not know that the employer is not up to date. And when they do not receive the benefits, it becomes the fault of the NSIF.

Do you not have to denounce this kind of attitude if the company does not give valid reasons?

We do, but we can't do it with a trumpet, it's not our management style. But when the worker gets information either directly from us or through our website, he can, if necessary, denounce his employer. However, when we are informed through our controls that the employer is not up to date, we initiate controls and coercive measures, where they exist. However, we cannot go beyond a certain level. We are not going to close all the companies because it is not war. We are urging them to pay their social contributions.

        

How is an occupational disease assessed?

To assess an occupational disease there are two conditions. First, it must be a disease contracted during or in the course of an occupational activity. It does not necessarily have to be on the day you are in the office. But, through your activity you contract an illness. It could be an infection or something else caused by your activity. Then, this disease must be included in the list of occupational diseases which is established by a decree. It is true that even if the disease does not appear on the table of occupational diseases, the National Hygiene and Public Health Commission can note this disease, declare it and propose its inclusion on the table of occupational diseases.

When an employee leaves the company at 3:30 pm, the closing time of public services in Cameroon, he has time to go home. Around 5 p.m., he is victim of an accident somewhere in town. Can we consider that he is still in the health risk slot?

This is a rather complex question which is usually settled by the judge. But what can be said from the explanation taken directly from the texts in force is that when you go home, there is a usual route that you have to follow. If you do not follow that usual route, we can assume that it is not a journey accident. So it's not an industrial acciden. It is true that if you deviate from this route for legitimate reasons, from the necessities of everyday life, it is understandable. The investigation makes it possible to determine by assessing the conditions of occurrence whether or not it is an industrial accident or not.

Why does it take so long for pensioners to start collecting their NSIF pension?

As a general rule, if you retire today, you have the pension for the current month and arrears in your bank account for the entire period. If you are not entitled to arrears, the next day you are entitled to your pension when the file is complete. This is possible as we have taken measures making it extremely easy to compile the file. A few years ago, it took about 15 documents to put together a pension file. Today, there are only three, so you need three documents. So you can put complete a file in one day. However, it is understood that unfortunately some companies are not up to date with their contributions. So the problem can no longer be at the level of the NSIF, because process files in real time, it's a maximum of one month.

How do you get recruited at the NSIF?

You submit an application. If your profile the profile that corresponds to our needs, we call you for a job interview. If you perform well, we can recruit you. Obviously, if we have 1000 files, we can't recruit 1000 people.You submit a file. If your profile matches our requirements, you are called for a job interview. Once you perform well, you may be recruited. Obviously, if there are 1000 applications, we won't recruit 1000 people.

Where are you with the cleansing of your personnel data at the NSIF?

The issue of fake certificates are over. Because today when you are recruited, we check the authenticity of your certificates with the competent administrations. However, we have a staff situation that does not quite correspond to the activity we carry out. In this respect, we have just launched an operation of voluntary departure. Those who want to leave; we grant them a relatively substantial allowance so that they can settle elsewhere.

Some people feel that the Director General of the NSIF is a little distant from his Staff....

I'm not a football star to fall into everybody's arms. The Director General has a job that takes up a lot of his time. I can arrive at the office at 6:45 am and leave at 9 pm sometimes later. You understand that I don't have a lot of time to go and hug everyone. Having said that, we have work tools that allow us to be in contact with each of our workers. I send them messages almost daily. Everyone knows that I'm watching and can know those who are not working and those who are not. I can call their attention so that they feel my presence as I feel theirs.     

Didn't these trade unionists and staff representatives make life a little bit unpleasant for you at one point?

Yes, they have. I certainly felt it because I was new. Sometimes there is a balance of power in all human activity which is established as soon as people who do not know each other come to face each other. It must also be admitted that some people perhaps had claims with things that were either illegal or illegitimate and that the Director General did not intend to perpetuate. Things that a Director General who wants to take on a certain amount of responsibility cannot accept.

Do you feel today that you've won this arm wrestling match?

It's not a problem to win. I think everyone has understood the value of the measures that have been taken. On an individual level, I'll give you some figures. When I arrived, the median salary was 280,000 to 300,000 CFA francs. That is to say that at least half of the staff received a salary of more than 280,000 CFA francs. Today, the median salary is about 600,000 CFA francs. This means that at least half of the staff of the NSIF has a salary above 600,000 Fcfa and an average salary of 580,000 Fcfa.

What has led to this evolution?

It was necessary both to reduce costs and expenses. We have gone from annual operating expenses of 17 billion Fcfa today to less than 4 billion Fcfa. That's because we have to tighten the screws. It's not that spending before was done on a cookie cutter basis. But, given the management methods that the Director General that I am has put in place, there are expenditures that were no longer necessary. Therefore, these savings are reflected both in the results and in staff salaries. A few days ago, we have just distributed more than a billion CFA francs in profit bonuses to our staff. So they benefit from them, everyone ends up understanding that serious and rigorous good management also benefits all the staff.  

Does this mean that the losers are the ones who don't want to go at this pace?

Exactly! They are the losers. They are few of them. Those who break the rules are immediately identified.

How do you deal with the sabotage campaigns against your personality carried out from time to time in the media and on social networks?

You'll notice that I don't talk about it much. What I am most interested in is the well-being of our social insured. These are the pensioners who get their pensions on time; those who are compensated quickly, who are given family allowances on time and who are well cared for in our hospital facility. For me, this is the most important thing.

Is it because there is now enough money at the NSIF that you have undertaken the renovation of the Institution's Head office Building?

Yes. We can afford that today. It's a pretty heavy cost. Our medium- and long-term cash flow plans make it very easy for us to see this work through to completion. It's true that we are behind schedule in the delivery of the construction site. In principle, the work should be completed in June. We hope that the pandemic will not further delay this work.

The 24th African Occupational Risks Day is being celebrated. But we will not have an event because the present context of things. In celebrating this day, what is the message that the Director General of the NSIF of Cameroon wants to convey to companies?

The message is very much in line with the theme “working together” Prevention is not exclusively the responsibility of the State, an Institution, or even the company or the worker. It is all these stakeholders who must act to prevent occupational risks on the best possible way. The Coronavirus today also gives us an example of this. The State enacts measures, but some are reluctant to apply them. It's synergistic; everyone has to play their part. The NSIF must not be alone. The employee must apply the preventive measures. The employer and all those concerned, especially the media, to promote and disseminate the preventive measures. This is the only way to achieve optimal worker protection.

Speaking of health, you have a number of NSIF Health Centres throughout the Republic. Is it true that henceforth you have instructed that there is an obligation of results in terms of finances in these structures?

We have clearly understood that results are necessary because a company that operates without results is doomed to perdition. I am not sure that Cameroonians want our hospital facilities to be closed down. We need results and for that there are parameters and indicators that we monitor and that those in charge of these facilities try to follow. I take the example of the Essos Hospital Centre in Yaounde. Some time ago, we had a deficit of over $5 billion there. That is to say that every year we had to take money from other benefits to make up that deficit. With the enacted measures that we are trying to implement to the best of our ability, we are now at a deficit of less than $3 billion. As you can see, this is a reduction on the cash flow of the NSIF. We continue to subsidize, but to a lesser degree. You will notice that the quality of services has improved. This means that the two are not exclusive. We are reducing expenditures and at the same time improving the quality of service. Of course, we cannot receive everyone without exception. Nevertheless, we have a social assistance envelope. When certain indigent people come to us and we find that they are indigent, we take care of them as much as possible.

Over the next 30 years or so, Mr. Director General, are you comfortable saying that the NSIF can survive?

Absolutely. There's no doubt about it; we can survive. As long as the management method remains just as rigorous, as long as the economic parameters don't change because the current study as we've done it is based on economic conditions. If they are totally turned upside down, you understand that things will change. But all other things being equal, I would even say that we can go for the next fifty years without any particular difficulties.

What is your assessment of the Voluntary Insurance operation that was designed to interest students and people working in the informal sector in subscribing to the NSIF?

The results are rather mixed. They came but not at the level we expected. Unfortunately, we have about 180,000 voluntary insured persons. We are expecting much more. I would even say a few million because this operation is aimed at the informal sector, which is relatively large. Of course, the measures we have taken to sensitize and get people used to trusting us to register and pay contributions are sometimes limited by legislation which, here again, I hope, will evolve to enable them to benefit from so-called short-term benefits. Today, voluntary insured persons can only benefit in the form of a pension. Cameroonians find it difficult to project themselves over 15, 20, 30 years. Therefore, if we combine short-term benefits such as family allowances and perhaps even occupational risks, they might be more interested. Clearly, if these measures are adopted, I think that these figures

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Last modified onWednesday, 15 April 2020 09:15

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