Sunday, April 21, 2024

EDITORIAL: Security of NIS a must


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There is perhaps no government agency which touches and impacts on the lives of each and every citizen of this country as does the National Insurance Scheme (NIS). So, how it performs will be of interest to the majority of people and not just financial experts.
As our main social security programme, it is and will be the only safety net for many at the end of their working lives. It has also served many well over the years, some during periods of unemployment and even those who get a non-contributory pension.
It is to our forefathers, particularly our first Prime Minister Errol Barrow and trade unionist Sir Frank Walcott, that we give credit for the scheme. Having foreseen its importance they ensured that it moved from talk to reality. This a legacy which we treasure and must preserve.
Social Security schemes in many parts of the world are under severe pressure for various reasons, ranging from mismanagement to political interference. As a result many people cannot look to social security to be there for them during their golden years some have been left in total financial misery.
We cannot afford such a situation in Barbados. Our social security system must at all times be soundly managed, and those in charge must be always accountable while its operations must be transparent. One of the best ways to ensure that best corporate governance practices prevail with our NIS is by having detailed timely audits, both internal and external. There must be no lag in this area of compliance.
The Auditor General in his annual report this year again highlighted the issue of audits not being up-to-date. This situation has subsequently led to an outcry and a public debate on the danger in this tardiness. The Board overseeing the Scheme has thankfully not continued to ignore the public comments. It was gratifying to see in last Friday’s edition of this newspaper an advertisement giving an update on the NIS’ financial statements. There can now be some relief knowing what steps have been taken to resolve the problems.
We look forward to the promised updates and hope that such reports go beyond the financial statements. The public needs to know that the Management Information System is delivering the required results; that there has been no fraud; that investments are yielding good returns; that the Scheme can adequately deal with the rising requests for early pensions, and plans for the next actuarial review.
The NIS is simply too critical to the well-being of this country since there is much at stake, both for the individual citizen and the financial system. The Scheme’s accountability and compliance must include its Board reporting to all stakeholders on a regular basis – at least half yearly.


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