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If there is one institution which is of significant importance to every Barbadian, it must be the country’s social security system – the National Insurance Scheme (NIS).
It has been a huge success since its implementation 51 years ago, with thousands of senior Bajans, the disabled, survivors of deceased workers, and women after childbirth all dependent on it.
Without the NIS, many Barbadians would spend their golden years in poverty. It would be a disastrous situation.
The new directors were named last Friday, and it was rather disappointing that the recently elected Barbados Labour Party administration did not institute meaningful change to that board. It should have brought a new National Insurance and Social Security (Amendment) Bill, and allowed for public comment.
The appointment of a Government backbencher, parliamentary representative for St Michael West Central Ian Gooding-Edghill, as chairman of the NIS does not send the right message. No one can question his competency in human resource management, especially in the hospitality industry, nor the experience gained as a member of the previous NIS board, where he served as the representative of the Barbados Employers’ Confederation.
The big question is whether in a lopsided Parliament you want every Government MP in a key position.
Professor Avinash Persaud’s appointment as deputy chairman is also worrisome. There is no doubt that he possesses expertise in investment matters which the NIS board needs at the strategic level, but not someone who is also the chairman of the Financial Services Commission. Some may argue that there is precedent of someone serving on a regulatory agency and the NIS at the same time. But that was not right either.
This raises the issue of who regulates and monitors the NIS, given that its board members are, in fact, trustees of pension funds.
By appointing Mr Gooding-Edghill and Professor Persaud, the Government also seems to be suggesting that there are too few qualified and/or experienced people to fill available board positions.
The NIS board has traditionally had representatives from special interest groups – the Barbados Workers’ Union, National Union of Public Workers, Barbados Hotel & Tourism Association (BHTA) and Barbados Employers’ Confederation (BEC), a tripartite approach which has worked well for many years. However, it needs to be reviewed.
The labour movement should have one representative chosen from the groups affiliated with the Congress of Trade Unions and Staff Associations of Barbados (CTUSAB). And there is no justification for the BEC and the BHTA each having a representative on the NIS’ board. The BEC as the umbrella body should represent the private sector.
What has changed significantly since the inception of the NIS is the growth of the island’s elderly population. They should have a seat at the table through their umbrella organisation, the Barbados Association of Retired Persons.
Small businesses operators are just as critical, be they medical practitioners, hairdressers, lawyers, entertainers, truck owners, small farmers and a huge range of other entrepreneurs. The Small Business Association is the ideal body to represent this range of business people, a large number of whom need to understand their statutory obligations, including to the NIS.
Appointments to the NIS board of directors must be of more than passing interest to the public. (ES)