CLAIMS: The Compensation Commission for Occupational Diseases has a backlog of 106,000 claims, commissioner Barry Kistnasamy says. About 400,000 former mine workers still need to be traced. File picture: SUNDAY TIMES
CLAIMS: The Compensation Commission for Occupational Diseases has a backlog of 106,000 claims, commissioner Barry Kistnasamy says. About 400,000 former mine workers still need to be traced. File picture: SUNDAY TIMES

IT WILL take 19 years to clear the claims backlog at the Compensation Commission for Occupational Diseases if it continues working at its current pace, commissioner Barry Kistnasamy told MPs on Wednesday.

His frank admission highlights the mammoth task facing the government as it seeks to improve compensation for mine workers and former miners affected by heart and lung diseases.

The fund has a backlog of 106,000 claims that have been approved by its Medical Bureau for Occupational Disease that have yet to be paid out, he said.

Despite measures being put in place to turn around the ailing institution, it had managed to pay just 1,775 claimants for the year to March 31, he said.

And an estimated 400,000 former mine workers still needed to be traced and assessed, Kistnasamy said.

Kistnasamy later told Business Day he was talking to industry players about raising more funds to help eliminate the backlog. He estimated it would take between R300m and R500m to do so.

Kistnasamy, who was appointed by Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi in 2012, said he had found an under-resourced and dysfunctional organisation when he took charge of it.

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Rooms were piled high with paper files, there was no system for tracking claims and the auditor-general had not given the fund a clean audit for more than a decade. Since then, extra staff had been recruited, a new IT system implemented and external auditors appointed to get the fund’s financials in order, he said.

Kistnasamy said the fund was working closely with the Chamber of Mines, unions and other government departments to clear the backlog and trace former mineworkers who were potential claimants, but progress was slow.

The medical bureau, which determined whether people qualified for payouts, had approved just 7,233 claims for the fiscal year ending March 31, and only 1,755 of these were paid out, he said.

The first quarter of the fiscal year 2016-17 had seen better progress, with 4,754 claims certified and 633 paid, he said.

However, DA health spokesman Wilmot James questioned the feasibility of the government’s plans to devise a single legislative framework for compensating injured workers.

The fund, which is overseen by the health department, deals only with mine-related lung and heart conditions, while all other work-related injuries are compensated by a fund overseen by the Department of Labour.

"The funding models for what are two types of schemes, combining the equivalent of long-term and short-term insurance, must be confirmed. On face value, the system will easily go bankrupt," he said.

Dr Motsoaledi said the current system was unfair, as miners who had lung diseases got smaller payouts than injured workers.

"The situation we are faced with is quite untenable," he said.