NIS woes…Govt. is to be blamed, Luncheon must resign – AFC
“Our information is that the government officials heading and controlling the scheme do not want to see their family, friends and favourites being investigated and prosecuted. This is the institutional corruption that the AFC knows about.”- Khemraj Ramjattan
The Alliance For Change (AFC) is calling for the immediate removal of Board Chairman, Dr. Roger Luncheon, as worry continue to mount over the future of the National Insurance Scheme (NIS).
Non-compliance by contributors coupled by a dwindling workforce will see the scheme recording a $1.4B shortfall this year, and policy makers are scrambling to find ways to raise NIS’s income in a hurry or face bleak prospects.
Last week, Luncheon, who is also Head of the Presidential Secretariat, warned that solutions have to be found quickly to solve the scheme’s woes.
Thousands depend on the social fund for their pensions and other benefits, including spectacles and disability.
NIS is currently celebrating its 43rd anniversary.
AFC’s Leader, Khemraj Ramjattan, feels that NIS is not stern enough on the non-compliant contributors and there may even be corruption involved.
“Penalties should be meted out to those employers not remitting the due contributions. Compliance sections of the NIS Act authorize this, but our information is that the government officials heading and controlling the scheme do not want to see their family, friends and favourites being investigated and prosecuted. This is the institutional corruption that the AFC knows about.”
According to Ramjattan, who heads the AFC opposition faction in the National Assembly, government has been claiming that business is flourishing in Guyana, but the NIS situation is clearly suggesting otherwise.
“Only recently we heard the propaganda that there is a flourishing of businesses. This came from the Finance Minister (Dr. Ashni Singh) and President Donald Ramotar. This development disproves what they have been saying, because it is a rule of thumb that increases in business activities will see a scheme such as the NIS collecting more revenues. We are getting false statements from the Finance Minister and the President.”
Ramjattan, a former senior official of the ruling People’s Progressive Party/Civic, was harsh. “Quite frankly, what goes on at the NIS is the most cogent, compelling, irrefutable evidence of institutional corruption.”
He called for a shakeup at NIS.
“Dr. Roger Luncheon should have been removed a long time ago from the Board. There ought to be an actuarial review by a reputable, internationally recognized expert to give an independent opinion as to whether this scheme in its present state is solvent or not.”
Such a report will assist in the Guyanese public knowing whether the NIS can meet the commitment to stakeholders in view of dereliction by contributors, he said.
“Outside of this, we can make very wrong assumptions on NIS. This is also good for the government of that institution.”
Yesterday, NIS hosted a General Assembly at its Brickdam headquarters, where Luncheon urged staffers to up their game and hinted at countrywide consultations to find solutions to the NIS situation. This will have to include all stakeholders including contributors, government and NIS.
He noted that it is no simple task to manage the NIS, in which income and expenses add up to over $1B monthly.
The official called for continued striving for better attitudes by staffers, as a “scowl”, “suck teeth” and “snarl” could send the wrong message to pensioners and others.
Over the weekend, in a published message on the fund’s state, General Manager, Doreen Nelson, said that NIS is facing a massive $1.4B shortfall this year.
Between January to August, 2012 contributions totaled approximately $7.736B while total expenditure over the same period was around $8.393B. The projections to the end of the year show that income from contributions would be $11.553B while the projected expenditure $12.952B.
NIS operates out of 14 offices countrywide, providing social security to over 45,000 pensioners. Some 66 percent of these, the General Manager said, are old age pensioners while about 28 percent benefit from survivors’ pensions.
Another worrisome factor is that while over the years NIS registered 27,000 employers, only 6,100 are remitting contributions to the scheme on behalf of their employees. For employed persons, the number registered to date is over 650,000 with the active being approximately 117,000, less than a fifth.
With respect to the self employed, there are over 29,000 registered to date, but just approximately 8,500 or 30 percent are active and remitting contributions to the scheme.
According to Nelson, the trend continues to show that as predicted in the last Actuarial Review of the scheme, the organisation’s expenditure on benefits and the management of these benefits already exceed the income received from contributions and that unless there are immediate interventions, the gap will widen.
Several reasons have already been advanced for this scenario.
Inclusive in this are “an apparently dwindling structured workforce, an expanding informal workforce that is not complying with the NIS regulations, non-registration of employees by certain industries and the reluctance of many self-employed persons to register and remit contributions in accordance with the law.”
According to the NIS official, these together with an ever-aging population and smaller return on investments are causes for concern about the future of the scheme.
Several long-serving staffers were honoured and NIS is planning to reward its oldest pensioners in the various regions.
Twelve students were also awarded bursaries for their performances at recent examinations.