BY NORBERT WASSO BINDE and ATIA TILARIOUS AZOHNWI
With about twenty thousand contracts of employment and a related monthly wage bill of about FCFA 2.5 billion, the crisis in the North West and South West Regions is taking a heavy toll on the Cameroon Development Corporation, CDC.
The General Manager of the CDC, Franklin Ngoni Njie was speaking during a press lunch at the Bota Head Office of the company. He said “the crisis is taking a toll on the socio-economic situation of workers as several establishments are no longer in operation given that workers, out of fear and threats on their lives no longer go to work”.
Workers have been maimed in the plantations, while others were pulled out of their homes and gravely injured. The rubber, banana and oil palm plantations have since not been attended to. With crop production nose-diving, the factories and mills have also had to shut down with only the mill in Idenau working above 50 percent.
CDC dark days
When the Anglophone crisis started in 2016, it only mildly affected the CDC until 2017, the GM said. He furthered that during this period, lateness, absenteeism, and low worker productivity.
GM Njie says as 2018 opened, the crisis started hitting the CDC directly. On February 9, 2018, two CDC vehicles were attacked – one transporting cash to the tune of FCFA 29 million at Mbonge destined to pay Illoani workers, and the other transporting drug worth FCFA 500, 000 attacked at Kwa-kwa. Both vehicles were later set ablaze after they had been emptied.
The GM used the no-holds-barred meeting to says that out of seven oil palm estates, only the Bota and Debundscha palm estates are operational – Bota at 50% and Debundscha at 75%. The crops are being processed at the Idenau Oil Mill.
The Palm estates in Boa and Illoani are not under the control of the CDC with offices and houses occupied by non-CDC workers, management says.
By April 2018, plantations in Mondoni, Mungo, right to Kumba have been abandoned. All palm nurseries, except that in Bota are history.
The rubber sector was hit on April 27, 2018 with several deaths. Out of 11 rubber estates, only four are operational in the Mungo area – Mukonje, Penda Mboko, Matouke and Kompina. The Tiko factory is operational but does not have crop.
Franklin Njie: “CDC is not a battlefield”
In keeping with the resolutions of the November 29, 2018 meeting, the General Manager of the corporation, Franklin Njie held a working lunch with media professionals at his Bota Head Office on Friday, January 18, 2019.
Franklin Njie reechoed the readiness of workers and management to resume work in earnest, but said certain conditions have to be met for this wish to come true.
“The first requirement is the strong desire from the side of workers and management to get back to work. I am very convinced that that condition is met already.
“The second prerequisite is that as a result of what has happened over the last couple of months, where our plantations have been abandoned because of security reasons; vast portions of our plantations require rehabilitation.”
For this rehabilitation process to pull through, the CDC needs close to FCFA 30 billion plus security guarantees. According to the company’s General Manager, the cost of rehabilitating the oil palm plantations is estimated at FCFA 7.7 billion, about FCFA 7.8 billion for the rubber plantations, and circa FCFA 14.1 billion for the banana plantation. He says this funding can be got through government grants and/or support from partners through loans.
“If we look at the second option of support from partners, it should be on the basis of business plans which we have already elaborated. An integral part of every business plan is a repayment schedule because every partner who gives you money is interested to see how and when they are going to get back their money.
“A repayment schedule imposes very clearly without condition that we must return to activity. We can only repay with revenue generated from the plantations,” Njie said.
Security concerns galore
Franklin Njie says that, “The third and very weighty prerequisite [for work to resume] is that of security. We need security. We are in the business of plantation agriculture. The actor is the plantation worker who stands outside of the plantation. The task of the CDC rubber tapper is to tap about 500 trees on one hectare of land. One hectare is vast. It is 100 metres by 100 metres. No worker can effectively tap a tree if he or she is not certain that someone is not standing behind them with a machete or a gun. Same applies to the banana harvester and every other plantation worker. Security is a prerequisite. We need it on our plantations, we need it urgently, we need it now.
“It is true that CDC has been absorbed into a general problem. But what we are establishing is that whatever battle, political conquest does not require to be fought on the plantations. That is our position. Politics should be done through exchanges, through dialogue by concerned parties. CDC is an economic operator in the area of plantation agriculture. and a prerequisite for us to be able to do what we have to do is that we need security so that we don’t have incidents like in the past where workers have been killed, maimed, lost their property, pushed out of their areas of residence.
“The battleground should not be CDC. Before the players who are concerned would define modalities for addressing the issues that are at stake, as an economic operator, we think that the battleground should not be our plantations.”
The GM traced the history of the CDC, furthering that the history of Cameroon and that of the CDC are inseparable, reason why the company is dear to many a Cameroonian. It is for this reason, the GM continued, that workers still have the strong willingness to go out and work beyond all odds.
Gratitude to the media
General Manager Franklin Njie had in his opening statements expressed profound gratitude to the press for what has so far been done. He said the CDC has seen and survived difficult days like in 90s during the economic meltdown, and since 2012 when the price of rubber nose-dived.
He praised the workers for always being there to see to the survival of the company and the media for always seeing to it that one of Cameroon’s treasured heritages remains afloat.
The General Manager was accompanied to the press lunch by some top management staff notably Becke Henry, Director of Human Resources, Otto Lyonga, Technical Adviser to the GM for legal affairs/Communication and Public Relations Manager, Madam Mafany Claudine, Public Relations Officer and Madam Melanie Ideng, Communication Officer amongst others.
Madam Ideng says CDC wants to partner with the press for its survival, aside its usual openness to the media.
The Divisional Delegate for Communication for Fako, Olive Ejang epse Ndumea had in an earlier intervention lauded the CDC for her open-door policy towards the media and for taking her communication policy to new heights. She said the furtherance of CDC’s outreach to the media would go a long way to banish and clear misinformation.