Substantial gains are being achieved in DRC’s social security system, thanks to the efforts by its National Institute for Social Security (Institut National de Sécurité Sociale, INSS). General Manager Agnès Mwad Nawej explains the progress being made in DRC’s social welfare through the institute both in terms of impressive numbers and the significant impact it is having on the lives of the Congolese people.
What has the INSS achieved recently and how are you helping democratize the social security system in DR Congo?
The INSS was created in 1961; it has been 54 years since the social security system was established. However, with the many economic problems the country has faced – funding for social security services being dependent on the state of the economy – the industry has experienced anything but a constant and steady evolution. Nevertheless, since 2009, until this day the country has seen relative economic stability. The current macroeconomic context helps us to fulfill our main mission, and the social security system as a whole in the country is doing very well. We managed to make an important move forward in regards to social security benefits. We managed to regularize more than 10 years of backlogged dossiers from all over DRC’s territory. Today, we pay all pensions in due time, with no delay whatsoever, for all pensioners.
We have also increased by 35% the minimum rate for retirement pensions. In other words, pensioners can now live in decent conditions, which translates into a substantial decrease in claims. We know that pensions represent an important income substitution, which today helps many pensioners in our country. I have to underscore that at INSS, there are no delays in dispensing payments. I can assure you that there has been a lot of progress in that area.
It is also important to underline our significant contribution to DRC’s development, as the social security system traditionally supports the creation of many state-owned companies through early-stage investment. Unfortunately, because of inflation and some important issues happening in the country, we have hardly made any profits on the investments we have implemented. But we are turning this situation around, thanks to our President, Joseph Kabila, and Prime Minister Matata Ponyo. The peace that exists today in our country and the economic growth we are experiencing are favorable and even necessary for the country’s development.
Nowadays, the Institute is contributing to the country’s socioeconomic development. We contributed to the creation of the Congo Airways airline, and practically are the second main shareholder right after the government itself. We also have some shares within the Cominiere mining company, operating in the Katanga province, and we rehabilitated the Congo luxury hotel in Kisangani, a large upper-class hotel of 95 rooms that is comparable to any five-star hotel of international standard. This hotel stands out in an environment where few real estate developments exist.
Talking about our major projects, we have just begun the construction of a next-generation orthopedic center, with the technical support of Ottobock, a renowned German firm. The President ratified DRC’s adhesion to the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. We noticed that 9 million people live with a handicap in DRC, the majority of which have no access to appropriate care; only 500,000 of these people have access to equipment and other necessities.
Facing such a situation, the government decided to build an orthopedic center through INSS, with the aim of helping all these people living with a handicap. Ottobock is going to house the orthopedic center’s workshop, where prostheses and other useful products will be produced. Some additional services will be available to people who have suffered a stroke, for example, including simulated nerve systems, which can help to heal them. It is an important project which we are also going to operate in Lubumbashi, an important mining city of the country. Due to the number of accidents related to the mining industry such a project will eventually help many people.
INSS has a social stabilizer role in our country, in regard to the services we offer. Through the money given to individuals supported by our organization, we indirectly contribute to creating numerous jobs in urban and rural areas, as millions of dollars are distributed every month into each province.
We also introduced biometric cards: in order to manage our social security system, it was, first of all, necessary to register and classify all those who participate in the social security system. We provide them with a card so that they know to what extent they finance INSS, and what they will be entitled to when they will retire. The idea is to educate workers from the informal sector, and make them want to have a card. Social security is good for every one of us and it is absolutely essential to make sure that everyone has it.
What should be done in order to move away from the informal economy towards a formal one so that workers can benefit from a modern social security system?
It is a fact, people working in the informal economy all have the same problem: they lack job security.
These people may work today, but tomorrow their job may simply disappear. These activities generally do not last for long. DRC, as many of its African neighbors, suffers from a black market labor force. In response to this extremely serious issue, a dialogue on the informal sector has been initiated by the International Labor Organization to find potential alternatives to steer the economy towards a more formal environment.
In DRC, important efforts have been made. Our new Labor Code is explicitly, legally, in favor of a formal and transparent economy, and severely sanctions informal activities.
One of our main challenges is raising awareness, as people tend not to understand the importance of being part of our social security system. For that reason, the government has emphasized the need for good governance in our organization, as good governance will allow us to attract those who are not yet covered by social security.
Paying pensions on time and communicating the benefits that social security allows contribute to raising awareness. Congolese people have to understand that the money given each month to our organization is by no means lost, but rather savings that they will take advantage of during their retirement.
Coming back to the national policy of social welfare, do you believe that it will provide appropriate solutions to the country’s existing needs?
I sincerely believe that it will be the case. Currently, our social security system only covers those who have incomes, which means that there is a substantial part of the population who find themselves outside of it. Our government, conscious of this issue, is doing its best to solve this issue by extending coverage to people who do not have proper income.
The national policy presents an answer to the social security coverage extension problem. We understood that to widen our services, we would have to extend toward health insurance. With universal health insurance, we can reach even the most deprived people.
However, because our organization on its own is not able to cope with the entirety of the Congolese population, social security funds, special regimes and different health insurances may now be privately owned, as in the rest of the world, in order to facilitate and democratize basic and premium health-related services. The sum of all of these funds and mutual insurance companies help to widen the coverage of social security.
What message would you want to convey to the world regarding the new, restructured INSS, considered by many as a reference in the African social security sector today?
I would tell them that social security is a universal right of every citizen. It is difficult for a person to live in a dignified way without an efficient social security system, and it is important for a modern country to develop such a structure as the base of its social welfare strategy. Social development comes through this kind of service, and it is necessary for the people to be aware of the benefits and rights they have.
It is a fundamental right of every human being: working individuals must have a guaranteed pension at the end of their professional careers. This topic is fundamental internationally: men and women should be seen at the core of all organizations.