By Leonard Gildarie
A key ruling of the High Court earlier this month is likely to impact how the state’s National Insurance Scheme (NIS) handles late payments from self-employed and other persons.
It could affect thousands of persons who said they paid late to NIS with the expectation they would have received their full pension but were rebuffed.
The case was filed late last year by attorney-at-law Randalyn Rowe for NIS and concerns the entity asking the court for guidance.
The Fixed Date Application specifically wanted a determination of a question of law on late paid contributions and would have wanted an interpretation of the National Insurance and Social Security (Determination of Claims and Questions) Regulations.
An opinion was said to have been rendered earlier this month by Chief Justice (ag) Roxane George.
Among other things, NIS wanted a declaration by the court that it acted in accordance with regulations when it disapproved the use of late paid subscriptions in the computation of old age benefit when a contributor has paid late contributors close to the age of 60 and thus for the sole purpose of qualifying for the old age benefit.
The NIS would have also wanted the court to weigh in instances of where negligence played a role in the contributions being paid late or scenarios where there was collusions with employers not to remit contributions to the scheme.
According to NIS officials, they are awaiting the written decision of the court which was read out earlier this month.
In essence, the court said that NIS cannot accept late contributions and refuse to pay as it could mean double jeopardy for the contributor.
Rather, there could be legitimate expectations by the contributor that he or she would receive the benefits (pension) once NIS accepts those late payments.
NIS is awaiting the court’s decision to guide its way forward, the newspaper was told.
This particular case was spurred by the determination of one man—William Lewis.
Lewis claimed last year that the non-calculations of his payments affected his pension.
The Golden Grove, East Bank Demerara resident reached the pensionable age of 60 on September 3, 2017.
He said he has been battling NIS since 2017.
In June 2017, he was written to by NIS, demanding he remit over $1.2M in unpaid contributions.
Lewis complied, thinking that he would then receive his full pension.
The pensioner wrote President David Granger last year complaining that he has not received his NIS benefits despite honoring all his outstanding payments as a self-employed person.
The President, in March, responded to Lewis indicating that he was investigating the matter and has asked the Minister of Social Protection to follow-up.
NIS, in late March, in a report by Randalyn Rowe, its Legal Advisor and Corporate Secretary to Minister Amna Ally, Ministry of Social Protection, said that Lewis after reaching 60 in September 2017, submitted a claim for Old Age Benefit.
He received a grant of $206,000 based on 639 contributions.
However, an unhappy Lewis filed an appeal.
“The total number of contributions on his record is 1501 which were paid during the period 1973 to 2017. However, 862 of the self-employed contributions were excluded from the computation of his benefit in accordance with Regulation 9 due to late payment; those contributions were paid on August 22nd 2017.”
NIS explained to the minister that the use of paid computation of Old Age Benefit is a reserved question for the NIS board.
“Mr Lewis’ matter was discussed at the 513th National Insurance Board meeting and it was decided that the late paid contributions would not be utilized. Since the Board’s decision, Mr Lewis has sought ministerial intervention on this matter through the Ministry of Finance.”
It was disclosed that the Minister of Finance, Winston Jordan, in reviewing the matter, asked the NIS board to revisit the matter urgently.
Jordan was of the view that the pensioner was advised by staff to pay the late contributions in anticipation of a pension.
“This matter has been resubmitted to the National Insurance Board for deliberation and a decision is expected at its next statutory meeting.”
A frustrated Lewis then approached Kaieteur News.
A senior NIS official, familiar with the case, when contacted last year, disclosed that the matter was being addressed.
She explained that the issue of late payments and the calculations of contributions have been dogging NIS as many self-employed would miss payments and try to make up for it later.
Under NIS’ regulations, those late payments don’t count.
Lewis said he had engaged several persons in his bid for a resolution.
Among them were NIS’s Chairman, John Seeram; General Manager, Holly Greaves; union leader, Lincoln Lewis; and he even wrote and visited Minister Jaipaul Sharma.
During his campaign, Lewis said he wrote Director General of the Ministry of the Presidency, Joseph Harmon, and even delivered copies of his records to Minister of Public Security, Khemraj Ramjattan.
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