Earlier in 2013 there was extensive public outcry about the declared financial predicament of the NIS, including from organised stakeholder consultations, consistent with similar cross-country interactions some years ago. No strategic plan emerged for the sustainability, and indeed improvement, in the viability of this important social security net – not only for pensioners, but also for the too often overlooked medical benefits claimants. There has since been a deafening silence with which defaulting contributors were certainly comfortable.
There is no question that the current crisis was predictable – a fact which was officially recognised in 2008, when a highly representative Reform Committee was appointed, and reported not only on the gravity of the situation, but also made implementable recommendations for the financial salvation of a restructured NIS organisation.
Now allegedly ‘celebrating’ its 44th Anniversary, the NIS reports further declines in the statutory contributions of employers – even though there may be evidence (some five storeys high) to suggest a significant growth in economic activity, and by implication an increase in employment – both in the private and public sectors.
1.) In the case of the latter there should be no excuse for public service agencies, statutory bodies, and various public corporations defaulting in this regard. The situation would appear to invite a programme of specific performance audits – preferably by the Auditor General, who should of course pay particular attention to the relationship between the range of ‘contracted employees’ (inclusive of those in donor-funded projects) and the NIS. The self-employed are still required to comply.
2.) One important supportive role various private sector organisations can play is to comprehensively survey not only their membership, but equally non-member foreign employers, with a view of ascertaining the degree of compliance with the legal requirements of the NIS. In short the private sector must walk the talk.
3.) But the other official stakeholders who should be concerned and who could make critical contributions in monitoring compliance, include the following:
a) The Guyana Revenue Authority
b) Ministry of Labour, Human Services and Social Security
4.) Few in the governance structure of say, two parliaments ago, would recall, if at all they knew, of the well donor-funded project aimed at inter-connecting GoInvest, the Deeds Registry, GRA and the NIS – in order to facilitate the digital transmission of relevant information about registered investing employers (and their prospective employees). The project of course has become one of too many for which there has been no subsequent accountability – in any case leaving the management of the NIS under-informed and isolated.
5.) Stories have been circulated of deductions being made from hapless individuals but which are not matched, and remitted by employers. The media can help in the campaign for the survival of the NIS, verifying the inspectorate of the Ministry of Labour, who are normally tasked with the accuracy of employees’ terms and conditions of service, and they should now be particularly motivated to assist, as they monitor the very employers for compliance with the recently enacted National Minimum Wage Order.
6.) Another organisation which statutorily registers employers is the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission. It should not be too exotic an idea for it to be invited to collaborate with the NIS be reporting claim-holders and their relations, amongst whom are increasing members of foreign explorers (if not exploiters).
It is clear that the Board of the NIS is indisposed – with some members qualifying for retirement benefits, assuming the necessary funding is available, but only after they have accounted for their inadequacies; individually and severally.
Concerted action is, however, long overdue by the following stakeholders, amongst others, to effectuate a viable strategy for the Scheme’s sustainability:
i) all representative employer organisations, inclusive of the banking and insurance sectors;
ii) all trade unions particularly those who represent the largest groups of workers (sugar);
iii) Ministry of Labour, Human Services and Social Security;
iv) Medical Association, and related practitioners;
v) Bar Association;
vi) women’s organisations;
vii) human rights organisations;
viii) religious organisations;
ix) media organisations; and not to omit
x) senior citizens’ organisations.
Politicians not welcome.
E B John