Peeping Tom
Kaieteur News
May 11, 2007

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A report in the media indicates that the President of Guyana will be meeting with the senior management of the National Insurance Scheme, following complaints he received during an outreach to Berbice.

If this report is true and if the meeting does materialize it will beget the question, “Does the President of Guyana have nothing better to do than to be meeting with managers of a body governed by a Board of Directors?”

Incidentally, the Chairman of that Board is Dr. Roger Luncheon, the Head of the Presidential Secretariat, a position akin to a Presidential Chief of Staff. One would have expected that the President would have directed his concerns to the Chairman and if he is not satisfied either with the explanations or the response, then Dr. Luncheon should be removed as Chairman.

Where Boards exist and where there are concerns to be addressed, outside of the normal and routine request for information, then politicians should as a rule forward those concerns through the Board and should not be meddling in the affairs of the entity concerned. No President of Guyana should be meeting with the management of the NIS .

The very purpose of having Boards of government corporations and schemes is two-fold. The first is to create a governing body separate and distinct from the political directorate, thus providing a form of insulation from direct political interference in the day-to-day affairs of the corporation. The second is to create a governing body to which the management is ultimately accountable.

The principal responsibility is to ensure that government's policies are executed. Those policies can only be carried out if they are clear and capable of being transformed into workable actions and plans. It is the duty of the government to advise the Board of government's policies and expectations and it is for the Board to ensure that these are communicated to the management and developed into workable goals and objectives.

When it comes to the NIS , what compounds the difficulties is that the very person who has to communicate government's expectations is the Chairman of the Board. Instead of sitting at the helm of the NIS , Dr. Luncheon should therefore play the role of a watchdog ensuring that the government's policies are being carried out. He should not be on any Board since he is the Head of the Presidential Secretariat and there is bound to be conflicts with his oversight role and the fact that in the case of the NIS , he will have to oversee himself.

Why would such a busy person as the Head of the Presidential Secretariat who is also the government's Cabinet Secretary and the Head of the Defence Board and the de-facto political head of the Public Service want to add to his over-taxed schedule, the position of Chairman of the Board of the National Insurance Scheme? It is asking too much of one man to hold all these responsibilities. It is asking him to be a superman.

The President should as a priority, therefore, identify a new Chairperson of the National Insurance Scheme since it is asking too much of Roger Luncheon to continue to hold responsibility as Chairman of an entity that is bedeviled by problems. The NIS is in need of revamping far more so than the West Indies Cricket Team.

The National Insurance Scheme should have by now been an effective medical and social security insurance scheme. It is not. Despite the billions that it collects each year, the government still finds itself having to spend billions from the Consolidated Fund to provide less than ideal health care when given the resources at the disposal of the National Insurance Scheme, that entity should have significantly underwritten the national health bill.

The NIS employs hundreds of persons and has offices scattered across Guyana . It would be interesting to know the administrative cost of collecting contributions each year. This will give an idea of just how efficient the method of contribution collection is, and by extension, the management of the Scheme.

Over fifty per cent of the employed labour force of Guyana is not contributing to the scheme, even though by law many of them ought to. There are tens of thousands of construction workers and labourers, for example, who do not contribute to the NIS and thus receive no benefits from the Scheme. This in part can be explained by the nature of the employment and the fact that there is in the case of the self-employed in this sector, no settled employer.

Equally, many self-employed vendors are not contributing. An attempt was made earlier this year to register market vendors in Berbice but many of these vendors resisted being registered on the grounds that they are too old and therefore would never meet the 750 contributions required to receive a pension at age 60 and secondly they simply could not afford the contributions given their earnings.

Many other workers, including technicians, mechanics, miners, loggers, domestics, persons in the hospitality sector, farmers and even some shop owners, are not in the Scheme and therefore do not receive any NIS benefits.

This is the great tragedy of the NIS . There is huge bureaucracy to administer a relatively small number of contributors. Yet, there are complaints from the public about the service received from the NIS and these problems seem to be never ending.

However, what seems like the most intractable of problems can be resolved with simple solutions. While a complete overhaul of the Scheme is needed, some small adjustments can make a world of difference to the fortunes of those contributors who have problems.

Presently employees can apply to the NIS for a record of their contributions. I would suggest that as a matter of policy that at the end of each year, the NIS post out to every contributor a summary of the total contributions made for that year as well as that person's accumulated contributions. In this way, contributors can check to see whether the companies with which they work have been remitting their contributions to the NIS .

This is a small step that I believe will solve many, but not all, of the problems that NIS claimants have. Instead of waiting for the applicants to apply for their records, these records should be sent out once each year and the contributor can keep this statement as future proof that their contributions were duly received by the NIS .

It very easy for us, however, to cast all the blame on the NIS for their shortcomings, but the fact is that many contributors only take an interest in their contribution records when they are ready to apply for their social security pensions. If throughout their term of employment they were tracking their contributions, they would ensure that something is done for those years in which they worked, but for which there is no contribution record.

The second step should be for the NIS to start getting serious with employers who are not abiding by the regulations. All it will take is for a few employers to spend some time at Lot 12 Camp Street and you would be surprised at how many others would begin to comply. More importantly, they would save the President from having to meet with the management of the National Insurance Scheme to discuss contributors' concerns.