The operations and viability of the NIS needs to be addressed urgently

Dear Editor,

Recently the news media carried an article on the operations of the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) arising from a bi-partisan Parliamentary Sectoral Committee on Social Services meeting with the senior officials of the NIS.

Having read the following: “NIS recorded successive deficits since 2015-GM “(General Manager),” “the current fund stands at $31.9B,” “this year, NIS is expected to pay out $23.6B with contributions projected to reach $23.2B.” As a Financial Analyst, what was reported was basically confusing to me. Hence I will enlighten our citizens on my assessment of the operations and future viability of the NIS.

1. I have neither in recent times seen the audited nor unaudited Financial Statements (FSs) in the news media. As a public entity, I am appalled that FSs are not published. Certainly, citizens like myself will be interested in calculating and analyzing Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) in order to assess among others, NIS’s financial position, its performance, its liquidity balance, and its future viability. Some KPIs  which an analyst will need in order to determine the viability of this Scheme are: its net loss/income margin, its return on investment, its debt to equity ratio, its accumulated surplus, its investment portfolio and income (if any) accruing from those investments, and last but by no means least, its funding of the asset deficit to meet future obligations.

2. I am of the view that since the NIS commenced its operations in September 1969, the composition of its Board of Directors leaves much to be desired. Based on published information over the years, this Board is and continues to lack the appointment of a director(s) with experience on Actuarial Valuation of pension schemes.

3. What should have been discussed at length at that meeting (not reported by the news media) is/are the Report(s) of the Actuary. If the Actuary is Bacon Woodrow & de Souza Limited from Trinidad, that firm is known to be doing high quality work on evaluating pension schemes in Guyana. What has been disclosed by the GM and I quote “based on the last actuarial report, the life of the scheme should come to an end in 2021/22. I am worried and confused by that revelation by the GM. It seems to me that NIS may not exist after 2022, which is most unlikely. Surely the Actuarial Reports (normally every five years) over the past two decades have been repeating the same issues, and no serious action is apparently being taken on those pertinent issues.           

4. What is an Actuarial Valuation? It is a type of appraisal of the NIS’s assets and liabilities of which investment, economic and demographic assumptions are used in order to determine the funded status of this pension scheme.

Many variables have to be taken into account in this valuation. On the asset side, the actuary is required to make assumption(s) about the employer’s contribution rates and investment growth rate of the portfolio of stocks and bonds. On the liabilities side, the calculation of such payments are much more complex. The actuary must make assumptions regarding, but not limited to among others, the discount rate which is the rate used to convert future cash flows to its present value, employees’ contribution rates, wages/salaries growth rates, inflation rates, mortality rates, and maximizing the dividend yields on investments in stocks and bonds.

If all the long term assumptions are reasonable, then a realistic funding ratio can be derived. The ultimate funding ratio equals assets over liabilities. The solvency of the pension scheme is when there is a ratio of over 1.0 or 100 percent, which will indicate that pension assets are adequate to cover its liabilities in the foreseeable future (approximately 10 years down the road).

My understanding is that the NIS funding ratio is under 1.0 over at the last two decades. If my understanding is correct, then what positive action is being addressed to have sufficient assets to pay the future benefits?

Mention has been made of GuySuco owing in excess of $1.5 billion, as well as other businesses. The management at that Parliamentary Meeting had indicated that it has been taking action to recover contributions owing which is a positive effort. However, as mentioned above, it is imperative that the authorities need to determine the required contributions needed to fund future benefits over time and in so doing will eventually eliminate the Scheme’s deficit. Persistent underfunding, as it appears to be, will ultimately jeopardize NIS’s sustainability.

5. Besides the actuarial valuation, the efficiency level of the staff needs to be addressed and be improved. For example, why the payment of a benefit has to take 2, 3, 4-months to be made after the documentation has been accepted. Yours truly and I know of many others, who have had this experience.

That being said, the financial position, performance and the ability to pay future benefits are cause of major concern of NIS’s current operations. Our emphasis, among others, has to be on the Actuarial Reports which information is indeed complex and can be difficult to understand for those who are not accustomed to working with this kind of information. It is my view that the authorities, have to reveal financial information such as the extent of the Scheme’s asset deficit, the required contributions percent to clear this deficit, the           period   of time it will  take to clear this deficit, who are to make these contributions, will it be the employers, the employees, the Government or all three parties. These are not easy decisions to make, hence it is imperative that the decision makers have a full understanding of the schemes’ operations and its implications in both the short-and long-term.

I do not see the life of NIS ending in 2021/22. Let’s address the pertinent issues in a prompt and efficient manner, and we will need the involvement of the actuarial firm, and perhaps other financial specialists on the way forward towards this Scheme’s viability.

Yours sincerely,

John Seeram 

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