Cameroon: Our retirees are hurting as inflation bites 0

Retirement is usually a challenging period and it could be more challenging in a country like Cameroon where there are no benefits which come with being a senior citizen and the policy environment leaves much to be desired.

Retirement implies the retiree will be losing about two-thirds of their disposable income and if an entire salary could not suffice when they were in active duty; there is just no miracle to demonstrate that one-third of the salary will serve a better purpose.

In Cameroon, public service salaries are derisory and pensions are really paltry which makes retirement in Cameroon a living hell. Most retirees around the world usually have a fixed income, especially if they do not have supplemental incomes which could enable them to cushion the impact of inflation and that of other cyclical events.

Over the last two years, food and housing prices have been escalating and this is really blighting the lives of Cameroonians, especially that of retirees who do not know where to turn to. Time is no longer on their side. Energy levels are down and some still have young children to take care of.

These unfortunate events are creating frustration and depression among the country’s retirees, most of whom are already dealing with age-related diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure.

In well-established systems, retirement at 60 comes with lots of perks. Being a senior citizen brings many consoling advantages such as reduced cost of medicine, highly subsidized flat-rate health insurance, exemptions from certain taxes, reduced transport fares within the country, free gym membership, free diabetes and blood pressure medication and others.

These perks usually reduce the fear of retirement for people living in such societies. Cameroon is still struggling with lots of challenges and bad governance and corruption have made things worse, causing some population segments such as retirees and the elderly to be forgotten in the country’s economic policy planning.

But all is not lost. There will always be issues, but if the country’s authorities are willing and ready to embrace new ways, a lot can change for the better in a short time.

Instead of allowing Cameroonians to scramble for financial solutions when they retire, the government, that is, if it is ready to change its ways, can set up a national registered retirement savings plan for workers across the country which will enable all Cameroonian workers to take home a lump sum when they retire.

This scheme will be different from what the National Social Insurance Fund (CNPS) is currently running.

CNPS manages monthly retirement pension, but the registered retirement scheme will enable each Cameroonian worker to take home a lump sum on the day they retire, while waiting for CNPS to remit their monthly payments.

This scheme will require that each worker pays in a certain amount throughout their working life and this amount will be used for investments which will give them additional income at the end of their careers.

Each worker, be they in the private or public sector, will have to indicate the amount to be deducted from their salary at source.

For example, some people may only have the financial capacity for CFAF 20,000 while others may opt to contribute CFAF 30,000 per month. Informal sector workers may also join if they so wish and this will help them during their rainy day.

A Cameroonian who successfully contributes for 30 years, will be sure of CFAF 7.2 million plus dividends which will be calculated based on an agreed principle.

Going home with almost CFAF 10 million will be heart-warming and therapeutic. For those without homes, that money could be invested in a modest retirement home in the village.

Assuming that, on average, each working Cameroonian pays in CFAF 20,000 per month and also assuming that there are 10 million Cameroonians contributing to the fund, at the end of the month, that fund will have CFAF 200 billion while after a year, it will have CFAF 2.4 trillion, the equivalent of USD  4 billion a year. 

This money could be invested in various sectors for it to generate more revenue. It could be used to build electronic toll routes across the country and even state-of- the-art hospitals in disadvantaged regions of the country.

Money should never be allowed to sleep. It must be made to work. If each  year, such contributions could deliver CFAF 2 trillion, many jobs will be created and life will be better for every Cameroonian, especially for our retirees.

Furthermore, if another scheme – a lifetime health coverage scheme – could be set up to take care if retirees, their lives will be much better when they leave the workforce. Retirement will not be seen as a death sentence.

In this regard, every working Cameroonian could be made to contribute CFAF 2,000 every month which should cover them once they turn 55 years. Such an amount, contributed over 25 years, should guarantee every retired Cameroonian of health coverage for the rest of their life starting from the time they turn 55. This could be supplementary to any other policy they may have had while in active service.

With such a scheme, retired Cameroonians can be sure of their medication, free consultation and highly subsidized admission in hospitals in the country.

With the development of such a plan, there won’t be a need for any evacuation as our hospitals, especially referral hospitals, will be equal to the task. The investment will make it possible for state-of-the-art equipment to be procured and technicians trained to man such equipment. Good salaries for health sector staff will also follow and this will enhance confidence in the system.

Money from this scheme can also be invested in road infrastructure development and affordable housing for city dwellers. This is an investment whose economic and financial impact will ripple out to many sectors and will create much-needed jobs for young Cameroonians.

This is a proposal which if taken seriously, could be a major opportunity for the country and its citizens. These schemes have been successful in well-run countries and they could also succeed in Cameroon, especially when the current government yields its place to a more purposeful and people-centered government.

Cameroonians, be they retired or in active service, need financial security and only insurance schemes can bring the peace of mind they need. For this to succeed, the country’s future leaders will have to engineer a new mind space so that citizens can trust their institutions. Confidence is the cornerstone of every system. Its absence creates lots of problems, including poverty.

By Dr Joachim Arrey