NIS re-examining investment in Berbice Bridge, GM says

-Scheme records deficit for 2017

General Manager Holly Greaves yesterday said the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) is re-examining its investment in the Berbice Bridge after dismal returns over the past few years.

“…We have something that we are looking at the moment,” Greaves said when asked about the investment yesterday by reporters.

She had earlier indicated that the returns on the investment have been poor, which has warranted a review by the Scheme’s Board.

Asked directly if the Scheme will be pulling out of the company, Graves said she preferred not to comment further.

For years there have been poor returns on the investment and in 2016 the Scheme had said that while it recognised that something needed to be done, it had placed its faith in the three directors it had on the Bridge’s Board at the time as well as the terms of its contract with the entity.

The Scheme’s Finance Controller Jacqueline Scotland had said at that time that it had not yet been paid dividends on the $80 million worth of ordinary shares, nor dividends for 2014 and 2015 on the $950 million worth of preferred shares owned.

Holly Greaves

“We had invested $2.5 billion in the Berbice Bridge through contractual arrangement. It is true that we have not received any dividends for our ordinary shares, but the bridge did not declare any dividends on those shares in any year. Also, dividends on the preferred shares are outstanding for 2014 and 2015,” she had explained at the time.

Deficit

The Scheme’s investments have faced scrutiny over the years due to its successive annual deficits. Its unaudited accounts for 2017 have revealed that it once again recorded a deficit instead of the surplus that was projected for last year. However, Greaves said the Scheme is hopeful that 2018 will be different.

At the NIS’ anniversary celebrations last year, Greaves had said that it was projected that by the end of 2017 total income would be approximately $21.4 billion, while the projected expenditure would be approximately $21.1 billion. It meant that the scheme was projected to collect a further $7.8 billion in revenue during the period September to December, which was expected to allow it to surpass its revenue target by $1,249,817,000.

This, however, did not materialise and Greaves could not say by how much the scheme’s expenditure went over its income.

Greaves, who was speaking to reporters soon after the Scheme had launched its new live webchat service on its website, also confirmed that NIS will suffer loss in its income following the retrenchment of over 4,000 sugar workers from the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo).

NIS Public Relations Officer Dianne Lewis-Baxter earlier this year told Stabroek News that the retrenchment would see a “significant” decrease of the annual income of the Scheme since GuySuCo has been its largest single contributor.

While Greaves could not quantify the loss yesterday, she pointed out that Scheme will be taking steps to cushion the effect and she encouraged the retrenched workers to continue to make contributions to the NIS even if they become self-employed.

According to GuySuCo’s 2015 annual report, which was laid in the National Assembly in December, the company, which at that time employed about 17,000 persons, had contributed $1.28 billion to the Scheme. A similar contribution of $1.288 billion had been made in 2014

Asked about GuySuCo’s delinquency in making payments in the past, Greaves said the NIS has been working with the corporation to bring its records up-to-date and so far progress has been seen.  She said the Scheme has also been working with other defaulting entities, some of whose names have been published in the past, to ensure that their employees’ contributions are made.

The defaulters include the Mayor & City Council and Greaves said she has met with Town Clerk Royston King and they were able to come to an amicable agreement which has seen City Hall settling current payments and an agreement for the backlog payments to be paid over a period a time was worked out.

Live chat

Meanwhile, the Scheme yesterday launched its live chat service for its website (http://nis.org.gy/), which it described as an expansion of its services provided to the public. This system is expected to allow persons to get information in real time as there will be a support team available to answer queries during live chats.

Persons will be asked to submit their names and email addresses before they can commence chatting and the service can be accessed between 8 am and 12 pm and from 1 pm to 4.30 pm. Persons who have queries about their contributions can ask questions through the chat service and receive information almost immediately.

Greaves described the service as a means of assisting the public in accessing their facilities. She said more and more people are depending on the NIS for their livelihood and as a result it has to continue expanding and bringing the service to the public.

There was a demonstration of the chat, which saw a query about contributions being answered in less than a minute.