NIS must improve delivery of services to contributors – Finance Minister

…says financial deficit must also be addressed

Finance Minister, Dr Ashni Singh with the new NIS Board

The National Insurance Scheme (NIS) has long been dogged by complaints about its sluggish system and by criticisms of the delays involved in processing benefits for contributors and pensioners. According to Finance Minister, Dr Ashni Singh, these are problems that must be fixed as quickly as possible.
In an exclusive interview with this publication, Dr Singh identified the internal systems of the NIS, as well as its macro-economic problems, including a recurring financial deficit, as issues he has charged the new Board of Directors with addressing.
“I met with the new Board of NIS. It’s a board that has right-based representation. Representatives of labour, the Private Sector, and I emphasised to them two particular things. At the macro level, the Scheme now finds itself in a position where its long-term viability is in threat,” Dr Singh said.
He noted that he has emphasised to the management that there is need to work together to identify ways in which the long-term viability of the Scheme can be addressed. “But of equal importance are the micro-level problems that are faced by contributors in the Scheme,” Dr Singh said.
According to the Minister, it is easy for persons to get carried away with the macroeconomic financial position of the NIS, which last recorded a deficit of income over expenditure of $1.5 billion.
“But to an individual pensioner who has been contributing all his life, and who expects that when he reaches retirement age he will be able to get his pension, or a contributor expecting to get their benefits when they fall ill, delays in the payment and honouring of those claims to that pensioner is a deeply traumatic experience, and it’s not acceptable,” he also said. “So, I’ve made it completely clear to the board that there is no tolerance or patience on the part of the Government for the type of inefficiencies we observe in NIS. And I said to the board they need to take urgent and immediate action to correct these problems.
“We know there are thousands of people who complain every day about the problem they have accessing their benefits, and it’s not acceptable. I’ve made that clear to the board and management.”
According to the NIS 2019 Annual Report, the Scheme raked in a total income of $24.864 billion, as compared to the benefits it paid out during 2019: $23.887 billion. Total expenditure was $26.367 billion, which means that NIS recorded a deficit of $1.503 billion.
When it comes to the deficit, Dr. Singh expressed alarm.
“NIS has been recording deficits in recent years, which is extremely alarming. Because they are the custodians of people’s pension contributions, and they have a legal obligation to pay pensions. So, this annual incurrence of deficits is at the heart and soul of the problem concerning their financial viability. And something has to be done to fix it,” the Minister said.
It was only a few weeks ago that President Dr Irfaan Ali, on a Presidential Outreach, had cause to intervene in a number of longstanding issues pensioners had with the NIS, ranging from pensioners being unable to collect their back pay of old age pension since last year to others who received a royal run-around.
During a Presidential Outreach to Region Two, the Head of State heard multiple complaints about the NIS at the Regional Democratic Council (RDC) office in Anna Regina. He then instructed NIS General Manager Holly Greaves, who was among the high-level team that was at the public event, to “fix it now”.
The Head of State posited that all Guyanese should be treated fairly, and that all agencies and Government offices should be working to enhance the people’s lives and the services they provide.
The new NIS Board, which was appointed last week, is Chaired by former Private Sector Commission (PSC) Chairman Ramesh Persaud. The other members of the Board are General Manager Holly Greaves (ex-officio); Faizal Jaffarally; Yvonne Pearson; Maurice Solomon; Satanand Gopie; Kathleen Jason; Seepaul Narine and Gillian Burton-Persaud.