Keeping the faith in NIS
THE DISCLOSURE by Minister of Labour Senator Dr Esther Byer Suckoo that the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) is meeting all its financial commitments is comforting. However, for many Barbadians the anxiety about the long-term viability of the scheme remains if only because of public debate that would have left the average citizen at times perplexed and often afraid.
All Barbadians want to feel assured that their social security scheme remains financially sound and not facing any danger, be it now or in the future. The NIS itself needs to weigh in on this debate by providing the facts and not dismiss critics as playing political football or simply stupid.
Social security is this country’s fundamental safety net for those in old age, the disabled and for others in various other ways. Despite all the negatives that are at times hurled at it, the NIS is accepted by all as a reliable bulwark upon which most of this island’s citizens can depend.
It is therefore critical that as the NIS moves towards its golden anniversary Barbadians be assured that the scheme is not only properly managed but will grow even stronger.
Unfortunately, NIS benefits are often overshadowed in what has become a contentious debate among politicians, economists, accountants and many others who simply do not understand but voice an opinion nevertheless. In some regards, such debate makes it all the more confusing and unsettling.
What we can least afford in any debate on the NIS is one loaded with misinformation and political attacks. Yet, the concerns about borrowing from the scheme by various Governments over the years are genuine matters that must be addressed in a dispassionate manner.
This must be part of a wider discussion which must involve the NIS shareholders – its contributors, who must keep properly informed. In an era when greater accountability and transparency are required, the NIS’ board and leadership must understand why they must be committed to giving accurate and timely information on the scheme’s performance.
The public should know when and why the next actuarial review will be done and its results; the total sums spent on the scheme’s troublesome information technology systems; when it will have current annual audited accounts prepared and published; and when it will publish via its website relevant information on critical aspects of its activities of the past year.
Just as financial institutions have been mandated by the law to publicly disclose certain information, so must the NIS be made to meet the same requirements.
The NIS must be this island’s most efficient and secure source of retirement income and disability insurance. We need to have an unshakeable commitment to securing this most important safety net. This can only be achieved by enhancing its operations.