The long-term viability of the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) is deeply worrying the administration.
A number of measures, including the recovery of over US$26M invested in the now bankrupt CLICO, are being targeted, to ensure thousands of Guyanese that depend on the scheme are protected, Government says.
The scheme is facing tough times with its annual payouts on level with the contributions from workers. With a falling number of contributors, especially from self-employed persons, and benefits likely to increase in the coming years, NIS is facing a major challenge – how to raise its revenues.
While it has billions in cash, the growing deficit is what is worrying.
It is already in a big hole, with $5.2B invested in the Trinidad-owned CLICO in limbo after the company’s Bahamas sister company collapsed in 2009, pulling down the others with it.
NIS, with a large chunk of its monies invested, was left on shaky ground. A court case has gone nowhere.
On Friday, Finance Minister Winston Jordan in his 2016 budget presentation acknowledged that the scheme has been facing several challenges over the years, including a lack of compliance by both employers and employees, combined with unprofitable investments.
“In 2016, the Government intends to examine options for repayment of $5.24 billion owed by CLICO. To this end, the Government will start discussions on the modality of an arrangement that will see NIS recovering this money over the long term,” he announced.
Additionally, it is the intention for the management of NIS to “work diligently” to ensure greater compliance through the enforcement of the laws.
“This year, management will be targeting delinquent businesses and employers, in order to recover the $1.3 billion in arrears owed to the scheme. The NIS will also be examining an appropriate investment policy to guide its investments to ensure that future investments are profitable.”
The minister noted that NIS plays an important role in enhancing the capacity of the poor and vulnerable to manage risks such as unemployment, disability, sickness and old age.
“Given this, as well as Government’s commitment to reduce poverty and inequality within our society, we will ensure that profitability is restored at NIS, over the longer term,” he promised.
But getting NIS back on track, especially with regards to that US$25M investment in CLICO, may take some doing.
In October 2013, Guyana learnt from the then government under the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) that CLICO (Guyana) had already been liquated and the money secured from the sale of its assets had been paid out to more than 4,000 policyholders.
One of the properties that NIS received was the one on Camp Street where the current headquarters of the Guyana Revenue Authority sits.
How NIS decided to invest US$30M in CLICO, which later transferred out the country under questionable circumstances, has never been answered.
What is known is that soon after CLICO (Guyana) went belly-up in 2009, its local chief, Geeta Singh-Knight, was appointed a key official in the US$40M Berbice Bridge. She was also placed as a marketing official in the troubled Guyana Sugar Corporation.
Several big policy holders were allowed to cash in and recover their monies, including close associates of the former PPP/C government.
Despite complaints, both the Jagdeo and Donald Ramotar administrations had refused to carry out an inquiry similar to investigations being done in Trinidad, where angry politicians had called for heads to roll.
In 2010, the CLICO Bahamas Liquidator reported that his “preliminary view of the documentation suggests that policies were never issued by CLICO Bahamas. Moreover, the premiums received from Guyana and Suriname were never paid to CLICO Bahamas.
“It appears that the funds were remitted directly to a bank account held in the name of CLICO Bahamas at Ocean Bank, Miami, Florida, and to another account held by the company in Trinidad.”
In his third report to the Bahamian Supreme Court on the life and health insurer’s liquidation, Craig A. ‘Tony’ Gomez, the Baker Tilly Gomez accountant and partner, said the US$34M and US$15.5M claims submitted by CLICO Guyana and CLICO Suriname had not been approved.
“After further consultation, I have rejected the above claims received from Guyana and Suriname,” Gomez said.
Guyana had appealed the matter which is still pending, but to date Guyana is yet to receive any of the money invested by CLICO (Guyana) including more than US$34M belonging to NIS.
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