Mr. Adebayo Somefun assumed office as the Managing Director/CEO of the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund about two months ago. In this interview, he speaks about his four-point agenda to reposition the fund, and build on the achievements of his predecessors. Damilola Oyedele presents the excerpts:
What agenda is the new management team setting for the NSITF?
We were appointed May 2, 2017 and we have come up with a four point agenda. One isconsolidating on the past achievements of previous administrations by improving upon existing systems. There are systems that have to be improved upon. We cannot say the past administrations did not do well so we want to consolidate on their achievements. The second agenda is to increase our revenue base to achieve our statutory responsibilities. When one talks about improving on existing systems, for instance, getting this place fully automated.
If the NSITF is fully automated, then it will take care of many things; contributions will be online, there will be transparency, people will pay as at when due. Thirdly, we intend to rebrand the NSITF to improve acceptance and public enlightenment on what we do. These we have already started, we will let the public know what NSITF stands for and what it is doing. Lastly, we intend to work on motivation of the staff and improvement of their welfare. That is out four point agenda, which shows our commitment to increasing social insurance advocacy in this country. We are very committed to that.
One of the biggest challenges to the Employees Compensation Scheme is the refusal of employers to make their mandatory contribution. Your predecessor chose the path of dialogue. Would you be towing the same line?
Yes, dialogue is very important, we will try to persuade them and also use the apparatus of government to mandate them. I will not talk about enforcement per say, but it is mandatory. Where persuasion has failed, one way or the other, we can try to mandate them. I am aware some circulars have been written but we still have some recalcitrant employers. We will sit and persuade them and enforce when necessary. Unfortunately the provision of the Act for the penalty on defaulting is so small, it is about N10,000. So I believe this Act needs to be amended to provide stiffer penalties, which we would propose after due consultations.
In pushing for amendment of the Act before the National Assembly, what exactly would you be asking for?
There are several defaulters, we would propose for the government to mandate them to make their contributions. We are supposed to enforce by taking them to Court, but once we do automation, we will get everything right. Any company that does not contribute to the scheme, would not be able to secure any government contracts. Corporate Affairs Commission is in the picture, and we have collaboration with them. When a company wants to bid for contracts, it must present several certificates, which also includes the NSITF certificate.
But at several investigative hearings at the National Assembly, there have been revelations where companies without these certificates, including the NSITF certificate, get contracts running into billions from government entities. Some of the companies are not even registered by the CAC. So what assurances are there that things would be different?
That has been because some things were not done properly. This is a change administration and you have heard about the executive order and it will take care of most of this things. People are now being informed, it will get better. If we put this in place it will take us higher than where we are now. By the time most of these laws are enforced and scapegoats are made, people will begin to conform.
Do you have collaboration with other related government institutions, particularly on the Executive Order on the Ease of Doing Business?
We have collaboration with labour and we are going to have collaboration with CAC, PenCoM (Pension Commission) , FIRS (Federal Inland Revenue Service) when we start. We will link up even with the ITF (Industrial Trust Fund). All these agencies are going to be on board with this new management. When we talk about raising the revenue base, if all these things are done, the revenue base will be raised to make sure our statutory responsibilities are fulfilled. We want to be as transparent as possible; we want the public to have confidence in us and this new management
There have been proposals towards expanding the scope of the NSITF, to include unemployment benefits scheme. There is however an office in the presidency currently handling that. Would you be pushing for the program to be transferred to the fund?
Basically, what we are pushing for now is the passage of the social security bill, and once that is passed, it takes care of everything.
Has the fund ever encountered fraud such as false claims of injury for compensation, probably in collusion with an unscrupulous employer?
We should have had some cases in the past but if we take care of automation, it will take care of fraud and all that. The employer will not be able to under value what he is supposed to pay. We go to CAC to know the number of companies that are registered, by the time we have this stakeholders in place, there will be nothing like fraud. The most important thing now is to get this place fully automated, by the grace of God we are already on the process.
Is there a limit to the compensation, to how much NSITF can pay beneficiary under the ECS?
Yes, Part 4 of the Act, section 17(1) talks about scales of compensation. 17(1) says “when there is an injury to the employee, compensation will be paid to the deceased dependant of the employee, where the deceased employer leaves a dependant wholly dependent on his earnings, a widow or widower and two or more children, of a sum equal to 90 percent of the sum total of the contribution.”