This is not the first editorial that we have written on the issue of employer delinquency as far as the timely payment of employee NIS contributions are concerned. From what we are told the situation appears to have grown steadily worse over time and the amount owed in employee contributions is now over the half a billion dollar mark.
One should hasten to add at this juncture that unpaid employee contributions does not disqualify contributors as far as benefits are concerned though unpaid employee contributions can mean interminable delays in receiving benefits.
People who work hard and honestly over time ought not to be subjected to long delays in collecting their NIS benefits simply because dishonest employers opt not to pay their contributions. If, in the absence of employees paying up the onus is on the government to pay the benefits anyway, then those payments should be made first and the contribution records regularized later since, in many instances, in cases of illness or emergency, the NIS is the only resort for ordinary workers.
Charges that the government have appeared indifferent to the need to ‘sort out’ the NIS contributions issue certainly appear to have merit given the fact that employer delinquency grows steadily worse despite the fact that the NIS Board continues to be chaired by the Head of the Presidential Secretariat. One would have to be altogether naïve to believe that the Cabinet Secretary cannot cause pressure to be brought to bear on delinquent business houses to ‘pay up’ their outstanding NIS contributions and, in effect, circumvent all the huffing and puffing and frustrating resort to the courts which the NIS must endure.
Not least among the problems that arise from this situation is the loss of revenue to the Scheme. The fact is that much of the more than half a billion dollars in contributions that are currently outstanding are simply not recoverable since some of the defaulters have long been out of business, or else, simply do not have the money to pay.
Whatever the reason, the government has been guilty of a good deal of foot-dragging on the issue of properly protecting the interests of NIS contributors. This much is evidenced in the fact that the reform recommendations, some of which speak directly to the issue of employer compliance are yet to be implemented though it must now be at least a year since the report has been completed.
As far as the delinquent businesses are concerned, their outstanding indebtedness to the Scheme amounts, in several instances, to tens of millions of dollars and this, when one takes account of the persistent pronouncements from the private sector about corporate social responsibility, is nothing short of the worst form of hypocrisy. After all, surely their first social responsibility has to be to the people who work for them.
In the final analysis, however, if the delinquents cannot be relied upon to embrace what is in fact a legal responsibility to their employees, the government has a duty to do everything in its power to compel them to embrace that responsibility and, frankly, the available evidence would appear to suggest that the government too is delinquent in the pursuit of its own responsibility.