Dec 03, 2023 Letters
Judge Damone Younge’s ruling in favour of Mr. Shariff Zainul, a carpenter, is a deserved slap in the face of the NIS management, the Ministry of Finance who supervises them, and the NIS Board – an outfit which fiddles while NIS pensioners burn.
I wish the Judge could have imposed punitive damages too. Judge Younge is my new hero. I will vote for her if ever she chooses to run for something. With this ruling, she has done more for the working class than those unions whose employees face the brunt of NIS transgressions, done more than the Ministry in solving problems, and done more than other unions silent while some of their employees who paid dues to them caught hell trying to get pensions that they contributed to and deserved.
In 2019, Justice Younge had also ordered the NIS to revisit the claims of a 66-year-old widow, after NIS had disallowed her the payment of survivor’s benefits, saying she filed too many years after her husband died. We need to change the rules to allow for late filing. NIS was set up to provide “social security” in a person’s most vulnerable years, not terrorize them. (See “Justice Younge orders NIS to pay Toolsie Persaud Limited staffer,” KN, Nov 29, 2023).
This latest ruling vindicates President Ali’s directive to the NIS to process all NIS backlog cases by year end. Thank you, Mr. President! You now have the leverage from Judge Damone’s decision to order the NIS to pay people such as my cousin waiting 28 years for his pension. This is a landmark ruling that pronounced on the obligation of the NIS and the employer for the maintenance of accurate and complete records. That’s their job. That’s not the employees’ burden. You cannot blame the victims for the failure of NIS to do its statutory duty in ensuring that timely contribution statements were being submitted by employers.
A top Ministry of Finance official had told me, “If your cousin wants to sue, be my guest.” The Board Chair said to me, “If your case is solid, the courts should be pursued.” These rich, heartless folks had no empathy or sympathy for old workers trying to get their benefits. It is very callous for the working-class Government side to tell working-class folks to sue for your benefits. NIS can push people around for a long time knowing most people will not have the resources to retain a lawyer to sue them, that they will go away when NIS tells them “We don’t have records that you worked for the time you claim.”
It took Mr. Shariff 12 years to finally get justice through Judge Younge. Thanks to Mr. Shariff for filing this case. Thanks to the courageous lawyers at the Christopher Ram and Associates firm, especially Mr. Christopher Thompson. Now the taxpayers have to pay to cover the ongoing blunders of the NIS folks. Heads should roll at NIS, and the President must not allow this opportunity to pass to now do major revamping of the NIS system with utmost urgency. So how did Mr. Shariff make out during that time? How did he feed himself and family? Many NIS claimants have died “not receiving the promise.”
What can a poor person do if NIS tells him or her, we don’t have your records that show you qualify for a pension? Which agency is set up to help? Where can a rural applicant or an interior applicant go to for help? There are no mechanisms. So, President Ali had to intervene and give the NIS an order because the Ministry was not getting the job done. Many people were dying and not receiving their benefits before they die. My cousin is 88 years. Mr. President, you lead with the heart. Please intervene and ensure my cousin gets his benefits speedily to enjoy it before his time expires.
The facts of this Shariff case showed that for decades the NIS has embarked on frolics of its own, taking the law into its own hands and denying benefits to old-age workers. It seemed they did everything to make sure Mr. Shariff was not paid. But as was noted in the news article, “This pensioner’s win over the insurance scheme would not only be seen as a victory for him, but for countless other pensionable members whose complaints against the scheme are all too similar.
The court ruling will therefore be used as a precedent. Justice Younge in her ruling delivered on Monday, made it clear that an applicant should not be made to suffer for failure on the part of NIS and employers to reconcile their records or to have an accurate record of the contributions made by an applicant—or for the failure of employers to pay over their employees’ contributions to the insurance scheme. In fact, the Judge in no uncertain terms blasted the NIS which she said has become ‘notorious’ for inaccurate and incomplete contribution records which are ultimately unreliable…Justice Yonge asserted, ‘as the instant case pellucidly demonstrates, contribution Schedules can and sadly are often inaccurate or incomplete… It is most unfortunate that NIS contribution records in the possession of the Respondent have become notorious for its unreliability.’ Minister Singh himself is cited in numerous articles in newspapers lamenting the mess and missing contribution records at NIS.
Some important findings in the Shariff case are:
I implore President Ali that given this ruling; the government should move quickly to issue new guidelines on what to do about missing contributions to the NIS for processing all benefit claims speedily. If you are a “Victim of NIS,” please send your story to “[email protected]”
Dr. Jerry Jailall
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