The minister responsible for NIS is not the President but the Finance Minister

I applaud the initiatives in Friday’s Stabroek Business for persisting with certain issues that do not seem to receive much attention in the other sections of our newspapers. I must however take issue with the editorial in the Stabroek Business of May 8 in which the writer called on the President “to make clear his personal concerns over the particular transgression” regarding the non-deduction/payment by employers of NIS contributions for their employees.

Such a call is not only ill-informed but is also dangerous. Why do we need the President’s “personal concerns” when the minister responsible for the National Insurance Scheme is the Finance Minister? And the writer must surely know that the Attorney General, who just shifted chair back into Cabinet, can with proper respect for the principle of separation of powers among the arms of the state, raise the concern with the Chancellor.

It is also dangerous because as a paper of record Stabroek News should avoid endorsing the improper but regular practice of having the President interfere in matters completely outside his portfolio. We have seen what a mess he makes even when he speaks of matters within his portfolio, such as the Integrity Commission affair. Let me mention an example of the President speaking on the NIS. In 2007 before I resigned as a member of the NIS Reform Committee I wrote the President asking for particulars supporting an announcement he had made in Berbice that “thousands of persons” were being deprived of their pensions because of the state of the records in the NIS. After several weeks, the list I got back had just over 20 names, and on investigation, many of them did not qualify and were therefore properly denied.

While non-deduction/payment is indeed a problem, the NIS faces real and disastrous consequences from Cabinet’s failure to act on the recommendations contained in the 2001 and 2006 Actuarial Reviews and the unlawful and high-risk investments in Clico and the Berbice Bridge, apparently made under a paper baptised by Cabinet. The Head of Cabinet of course is the President himself, while his chief-of-staff Dr Roger Luncheon is the Chairman of the Board of the NIS.

Finally let me say that the scheme continues to act unlawfully or not act as the law requires with its misguided Ministry of Labour/NIS Memorandum of Cooperation. That seems to be the brainchild of someone who has not read the National Insurance Act or who does not have real work to do. Ironically any otherwise delinquent employer could challenge any action by this “inspectorate team” as being unlawful. Oh, what a mess we make!

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