The season of Christmas is here, and with it comes the time when I want to remember those things that made me enjoy my childhood and actually fashioned my life. It is the time when I look at the less fortunate and see their smiles as though they are rich beyond compare.
Indeed, the poor are happier than the rich; they do not have and they do not know what it is to have, so their life is one of contentment with whatever they get that makes their lives slightly better. However, this is something that I will be talking about in the coming weeks. Today I am focusing on those who are also poor and who look forward to the little pension they get from the National Insurance Scheme (NIS).
I am one of those pensioners, but I allow it to pile up so that when I receive it I do get something substantial. Indeed, my pension should have been greater, but there are some missing years from my contributions.
I worked from the time the scheme came into existence and I began paying what was asked of me. Those were the years when the employer was required to buy stamps and I had my book. At any time I could have asked the headmaster of my school to allow me to check on my contributions. But that book system changed; the world eventually went the way of the computer so the clerks, wherever they happened to be, simply noted my contribution and made the requisite recordings.
Today, there are people nearing the time when they are supposed to be collecting whatever they should and like me, there will be the missing records. It is strange that the government is allowed to make the kinds of mistakes it does with impunity. If for some reason I had slipped up with income tax or even the NIS contribution I would have been punished, even prosecuted.
So the NIS is actually saving money by not paying me for the missing years and earning an interest on that sum. And there are many like me who contribute doubly to the Scheme. This must be a tidy sum, but the scheme is telling the nation that it is operating at a deficit. It is paying out more money than it is receiving.
An individual who is living in this way would attempt to control his spending, although there are those who continue along their merry way and end up in so much debt that they simply cannot pay. I have known some of them to end up in court, but because they owned nothing, there was nothing that the debtor could levy on.
The NIS could easily be placed in this category of spenders. I remember going to Berbice to see the $69 million construction that to my mind should have cost so much less. Right next door was a building that had three times the floor space on a foundation that was superior to the one that the NIS constructed. That building was being sold for $33 million and the owner was making a healthy profit.
There and then I realized that the Scheme wasted money, some of my money. But what was more disturbing was the fact that the Scheme, in the quest to invest and so build on its deposit base, made a substantial investment in Clico. Clico collapsed, and with that collapse, many pensioners were placed in a position of not being able to collect what was due to them.
Scarcely a day goes by without people telling me that they are being pushed around by the NIS. And the Scheme has every good reason to push them around. If it is paying out more than it can collect then it must do something to cut back on the payout.
The Chairman, Dr Roger Luncheon, actually said to me that the Scheme has a large deposit and that there is no way that it would run out of money in the immediate future. Well if that is the case then there should not have been so many complaints. Indeed the Scheme had told people that once they paid their contributions it would record the payment and deal with the employer. But even this is a problem.
When one considers that the NIS put some US$4 million into the construction of the Caricom Secretariat and another large sum in the Berbice River Bridge, one should have been feeling proud of the Scheme. But when it is realized that the Scheme is getting no return from the Berbice Bridge, even as private investors are, then one must worry about their money.
However, there is a plan to compensate for the wasted money. People are going to be asked to pay more and others are going to have to wait even longer to qualify. One reality is that many did not live to qualify at sixty. Now that the proposal is for the retirement age to be extended to sixty-five, even more people will not live to qualify.
I now understand the saying, “You win some and you lose some.”
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