To mark the 49th Anniversary of the National Insurance Scheme Kaieteur News Editor and Columnist Adam Harris devoted his September 30, 2018 column with the paean to Forbes Burnham with the opening line reading “Forty-nine years ago, Prime Minister Forbes Burnham conceived the idea that there should be a National Insurance Scheme.” In his second sentence Mr. Harris, wrote “Whatever sparked the idea I would never know because the thought process was not documented.” These two sentences are serious cause for concern.
First, Burnham did not conceive of the idea of the NIS in Guyana. The idea goes back to British Guiana in 1954, which the PNC Labour Minister Winslow Carrington acknowledged in introducing the NIS Bill in 1969. And second, although the NIS is not a popular subject for academic interest, the diligent researcher – or journalist – has no major difficulty in finding quite useful and at times counterintuitive information on the NIS, thus avoiding any quixotic search into some dead person’s head.
It would be harsh to suggest that the misstatements in the column were deliberate or an attempt to rewrite history. Still, the column states rather loosely and dubiously that the then political opposition protested that Burnham was taking money from the poor people, without acknowledging that despite their criticisms of the Bill that the pensionable age of 65 was too high and that casual workers and domestics should be covered, the parliamentary opposition, miniaturised in the first of a series of rigged elections one year earlier, voted in support of the Bill.
The columnist must also be aware that the Government eventually reduced the pensionable age and ironically, that it was the perpetuation of Mr. Burnham’s economic policies which first placed the NIS in difficulties in the eighties.
Moving to contemporary matters, Mr. Harris also reports Ms. Holly Greaves, General Manager as “insisting” that everyone gets their entitlement from the NIS. Having served the NIS in a senior capacity for decades, Ms. Greaves would be acutely aware of the serious deficiencies in its maintenance of contribution records.
While there have been some commendable improvements, there are still hundreds of thousands of contributions which for various reasons have not been credited to the respective workers. But perhaps even more serious are the number of workers’ contributions which were deducted but not paid over to the NIS by employers who the NIS did not pursue.
The law requires that such contributions be recognised and credited to the workers. Perhaps out of concern about the financial impact arising from claims from thousands of affected persons, the NIS has been resisting such claims despite compelling evidence of which the NIS management is aware.
Taking the General Manager at her word, I would like to ask that the Board and the management of the NIS make a public declaration and invite persons who have been deprived of their entitlement for years and years to go into the NIS and establish their claims by providing reasonable evidence of their employment history. To expect them to have better records that the NIS is unreasonable, irrational and callous.
I would also like to see the Board and the management must pursue not only those companies, but also their directors and officers, which have conspired to cheat and rob the workers of the country while threatening the viability of the NIS.
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