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General News of Monday, 4 April 2016

Source: The Median Newspaper

Petition writers set confusion in Pamol PLC

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The smooth functioning of Pamol Plantations PLC, the age-old agro-industrial outfit situated in Ndian Division of the South West region has been rocked in recent months by workers strikes, petition writing and circulation of tracts calling for the sacking of the Interim General Manager IGM, Chief Mekanya Charles Okon.

But the IGM’s supporters have dismissed the allegations brought against their boss, saying it is a conspiracy by his political enemies to smear his image and bring about his fall

In what can be interpreted as playing the advocate for the Pamol IGM, the SDO for Ndian Division in the Southwest Region, Chamberlain Ntou’ouNdong, has described as baseless and unfounded allegations contained in a petition addressed to the Prime Minister, Head of Government in Yaounde by a man passing for an employee of Pamol PLC and the delegated secretary of the Pamol Workers’ Union.

Njibili Molimo Mokanya in his petition, is accusing Pamol’s Interim General Manager IGM, Charles Mekanya Okon of various crimes against the state, the workers of Pamol and the state-run agro-industry.

But the Ndian SDO in a recent outing in Pamol, dismissed all the allegations in the petition, saying they constitute a calculated attempt by some misguided and self-seeking individuals, to incite Pamol workers into rebellion and mislead Yaounde authorities into believing that Pamol is poorly managed.

The SDO was speaking on Wednesday, March 16, 2016 while presiding over a crisis meeting in the conference hall of PAMOL’s Head Office at Lobe estate. Addressing workers and management of the agro-company, the SDO wondered why a man, who claims to be an employee of Pamol, should take upon himself to petition the Prime Minister, Head of Government through the SW Governor and calling for the sacking of his employer and boss, the Interim General Manager.

“I think this is a conspiracy by some persons to sabotage the management of Pamol. But I must state here that the management of Pamol is doing a wonderful job so far and the company is arguably one of the best managed companies in the country at the moment,” the SDO opined.

Believed to be authored by a few disgruntled employees of Pamol, the 8-page petition dated March 4, 2016, accused the Interim General Manager among other things of mismanagement and embezzlement of billions of FCFA meant for the Bakassi extension project; siphoning state funds meant for the expansion and modernization of Pamol; bribery and corruption; theft; victimization; torture of workers; miserable treatment and wrongful dismissal of workers and failing to pay accrued salary arrears owed to workers since one year now.

The Interim General Manager Chief Mekanya Charles has denied all the accusations, describing them as ‘trash.' Chief Mekanya says after analyzing the petition he has come to the unshakable conclusion that it was written by the same ten aggrieved workers who had earlier petitioned the divisional delegate of Labour and Social Security for Ndian division, asking him to urge Pamol’s management to upgrade their status in the company.

But the IGM said when the labour delegate informed him about the said petition he wasted no time to reject the requests of the petition writers. Chief Mekanya said management could not heed the demands of a small group of workers first, because Pamol is not run by the labour department.

He said if the ten employees who signed the petition wanted compensation, they should have directed their demands to management and not to the labour delegate.

Besides, the IGM emphasized that it is not the prerogative of workers to determine the positions they occupy in a company and/or their salaries. He said management would have set a bad precedence if ever she heeded the demands of the ten petition writers.

Chief Makanya boasted that for the three years that he has been at the helm of Pamol, the agro-industry has witnessed one of the most peaceful periods in its chequered history. He noted that no strikes and/or skirmishes have ever happened during his leadership, not until recently.

The IGM wondered why a handful of individuals should undermine efforts being made by management to keep the company afloat and are so desperately bent on jeopardizing the very visible achievements so far recorded and worse still, the peace that reigns in PAMOL this, for very unjustified reasons.

Explaining the issue of salary arrears, the IGM noted that before he got to the helm, PAMOL had been operating a salary scale that did not respect statutory provisions. He said a decision by management to implement the salary scale provided for by law is what has provoked the anger and disappointment expressed by some workers.

He explained further that management took the hard decision just in a bid to generate funds to redeem the outstanding debts it inherited from the former administration, amounting to over FCFA 250 millions.

Chief Mekanya explained that despite the stagnating price of palm oil on the market and despite an ever increasing running budget of Pamol, management has been able to clear the FCFA 250 million outstanding debt and redeemed another debt due amounting to over FCFA 88 millions, all these thanks to stringent and meticulous management.

“Despite our committed efforts to remove roadblocks on the path of the company’s growth and sustainability, some misguided individuals are doing everything to set the workers against the management. They told the workers that government has provided a special financial package to management for the payment of all salary arrears.

This pushed the workers to embark on a strike action last 16 February 2016,” the IGM recalled, however noting that “unfortunately the conspirators could not achieve their desired goal, as the strike was quickly brought under control”.

Defending his boss on the sidelines of the crisis meeting, Pamol’s Human Resource Advisor HRA, Priestly EnowEgbe, debunked the allegations mentioned in the petition against the IGM. He pointed out that those who wrote the petition merely speculated on issues and events.

For example, he said the money given to the SDO for Ndian to demarcate the Bakassi project area was FCFA 43 million and not FCFA 10 million as purported in the petition. He said the money was authorized by government through the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.

EnowEgbe also pointed out that the archives at the Head Office building in Lobe estate we constructed with FCFA 30 million and not FCFA 50 million, while the grandstand at Mundemba was built with FCFA 11 million and not 22 million as mentioned in the petition.

Also, the software known as Harvest Plus, was conceived by an Indian Firm and not a company owned by and fronting for the IGM, as stated in the petition.

The HRA also debunked claims by the petitioners that the IGM used part of the money meant for building the security fence round the Pamol Oil Mill to construct his private residence. He said the GM started building his house way back in 1998 when the fence had not even been projected.

For his part, the President of PAMOL workers union, Jonas Eboka has also distanced the union from the petition forwarded to the Prime Minister. He said there is no registered member in the Pamol Workers’ Union called NjibiliMolimoMokanya. Besides, Eboka said the contents of the petition do not reflect the views and aspirations of Pamol workers.

That is perhaps why different workers groups in Pamol have written disclaimers distancing themselves from MolimoMokanya’s petition to the PM. The workers in their disclaimers pledged their support and loyalty to the IGM, praising him for alleviating the precarious welfare situation that reigned in Pamol before his designation as IGM.

The workers noted among other things that water and electricity have been provided in the camps; latrines and health facilities rehabilitated while senior staffers are also provided car maintenance bonuses. They also hailed the IGM for forfeiting some of his natural advantages like the use of several kitchen and service cars.

However, while some commentators are arguing that there can be no smoke without fire and that the grievances of the petitioners might be objective and real, other observers believe that Pamol is well managed and that the petition writers are driven by only one motive: to get the Interim GM dropped from his post this so that they can have room to perpetrate their private, self-serving agendas.

Privatization option evoked

It should be mentioned that the troubles in Pamol are rearing their ugly head at a time when the government is contemplating whether or not to finally privatize the age old agro-industry. The Median got it on good authority that a French multi-national – GroupeAvril, has already submitted its letter of intent to government proposing to take over at least 80% of the stakes of Pamol.

The French investors have also indicated that should government accept their buy over proposal, they will completely restructure the company and appoint a new management team headed by somebody of their choice. GroupeAvril has other interests in the Njombe-Penja area of the Littoral region.

The interest of the French investors for Pamol comes after that initially manifested by the Dutch multi-concern, Cagille Group. It should be mentioned that Telca Cocoa Company is the Cameroon subsidiary of Cagille Group. But the Dutch Group has not yet submitted their letter of intent to the government, we learnt.

Government in a dilemma

Yet, what appears tricky here is the fact that though the government is seemingly reluctant to privatize Pamol and other agro-companies like CDC and SOCAPALM, she is at the same time not oblivious that these companies need urgent and huge financial investments if they must continue to survive, especially given their bloated man-power.

Very dependable sources at the PM’s Office have affirmed that the government cannot readily afford the kind of money needed to salvage these agro-industries. Yet the foreign investors are brandishing ready cash to inject into the sector and this only on condition that the government gives them a free hand to manage these companies.

CDC’s bitter-sweet example

It should be understood that the recent restructuring or better still, nationalization, of the CDC by the government was because the government wanted to render the CDC credible enough as to attract foreign private investments. With its ageing plantations, CDC badly needs money to create new plantations and also diversify its activities.

Because the government cannot readily finance these activities, one of the options open for her was to transform CDC from the development venture that it was to the totally state-owned corporation that it is today. Following this ‘restructuring’ the government can now confidently surety CDC whenever it seeks funding from foreign financiers.

Though this might augur well for CDC, it at the same time augurs ill for the indigenous populations of Fako and the Anglophones in general. This is because the nationalization of CDC has compromised the privilege treatment that the indigenous Bakweris in particular and the Anglophones have so far enjoyed in the management of CDC.

With CDC now wholly and legally owned by the state, it will not be surprising that a Francophone becomes the next General Manager and/or PCA of CDC, why not?

And with the problems evoked by the petition writers in Pamol and the anxiety that seems to have gripped the company’s management, it may not be unlikely that the CDC-styled restructuring is copied and pasted in Pamol.

But it must be borne in mind that the objective of any private investment is to maximize profits. So if ever Pamol is handed to foreign owners the first action they will take will be to drastically cut down on the workforce. This is because much of the activities would become mechanised.

And this will only create a dangerous unemployment situation. It will engender untold suffering in the very enclaved and highly underdeveloped Ndian division. For one thing Pamol remains the one biggest employer in Ndian apart from the government and perhaps the CDC and Korup.

The way forward

Be it as it may, any attempt by the government to hand Pamol to private investors will only be preposterous; it will hardly meet the aspirations of a majority of the workers of Pamol, especially the unskilled labourers.

For one thing, foreign investors are only out to maximize profits. Whether or not the indigenous workers are satisfied will not be their primary concern. Cameroonians working for Chinese companies all over the country can explain the point better.

That is why many are of the opinion that government should hasten and put order in Pamol by either confirming the Interim General Manager IGM in his post, so as to afford him the credibility, authority and serenity to concentrate on his job, or a new GM be appointed and given very firm directives on how to put an end to the wrangling and anxiety that presently reigns in Pamol PLC.

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