Good Afternoon, on behalf of the Board I would like to extend congratulations to the management and staff of the NIS on our 47th Anniversary.
As I mentioned last year, the NIS at its core, is a SOCIAL SECURITY SCHEME.
It provides a SAFETY NET, in many cases, it is the ONLY resource that keeps a pensioner out of poverty and from starving.
I would like all of us to imagine something for a minute. Think about the salary you currently earn. Now for a second, imagine you retire next week. How many of us can survive on 40-60 % of our current salary? Now, worse yet, imagine if we only have our savings to live on whilst our NIS pension is being processed.
Let us reflect on where the Board met this Scheme one year ago. The 2012 Actuarial Report had indicated that the Fund is threatened. There were over 70 recommendations between the Actuarial Report and the Reform Report. Sadly, the previous Board chose not to implement many, for reasons that are unclear.
The forensic audit of the NIS revealed a number of actions that were inconsistent with the needs of the NIS. It is therefore fair for the new Board to conclude that the NIS was going in the wrong direction and was on a downward spiral when we assumed control last year.
Now what I say next will be considered unpopular. However, whilst the actions of the previous Board can be called into question, Management cannot be absolved of its responsibility. It is Management that prepares the budget, it is Management that determines its priorities and it’s Management that executes. Therefore, as I have said to the Management of the NIS and I say again, we the Board are there to provide DIRECTION and GUIDANCE. It is however Management’s job to MANAGE the NIS.
Today I pause to thank Ms. Doreen Nelson for her years of service to the NIS and whilst it would be fair to say that the road she has travelled at NIS has been a tumultuous one, she has dutifully stayed the course. Today I take this opportunity on behalf of the Board to thank her for her years of service to the NIS and wish her well as she enjoys her retirement.
What are some of the NIS’ achievements over the last year that we are particularly proud of:
• We have launched the Online Contribution Checking System.
• We have published online every annual report available since the inception of the Scheme
• We are on a data cleansing project with Guysuco
• We are on phase two of testing an online submission of contribution schedules for employers.
• We have changed the requirement for Life Certificates for pensioners resident in Guyana who receive their pensions in the bank to once a year instead of twice a year.
Now at the last anniversary address I made a promise to the staff of NIS. I said that the Board acknowledges that you are working in less than acceptable conditions and I am proud to say that management brought to the Board a recommendation to retool the approved capital budget for 2016 so that ALL needed repairs to the Brickdam and New Amsterdam offices could be effected.
I am pleased to report that the BOARD has approved that retool, and Management now has in its hands the authority to proceed with the necessary procurement and tendering process to get the repairs done. So next year, when hopefully I am still standing here, the staff can say yes, Management and the Board do care and have improved the working conditions!
Now for the remainder of offices, we did not forget you. Some, if not all is in the 2017 budget that has been sent to the Ministry of Finance. Now what about salaries and benefits! Again I am pleased to say that the new Board respects the concept of collective bargaining. I am happy to report that Management with the assistance of the Board are, in what we hope, are in the final leg of negotiations with the Union.
In addition, this is not only a proposal about salaries but proposals about a BENEFIT PACKAGE. I would like to speak now directly to staff. It is imperative that staff recognize that the “only constant in life is CHANGE” The NIS cannot continue to function in the manner it has always done. We continue to provide unsatisfactory service to the public. I would like to bring to your attention three cases that were brought to the Board’s attention:
The First; a woman who lost her husband to an industrial accident, received compensation from his employer in July 2013. She also applied for Death Benefit. Can you image that her application is still at the out of town office in Berbice. Three years later it is still in the Local Office. That is deplorable customer service and the fact that Management has allowed that reflects incompetence, because it reflects that the Managerial Staff is not keeping an eye on the staff they are supervising.
• Second case, a pensioner has a printout from the NIS that states she has 781 contributions. She has however received a grant instead of a pension. She has written the NIS and we still have not fixed it. That again reflects poor management and deplorable customer service.
• Finally last week I visited the Pension Section, I asked our elders who were sitting there how many of them are aware that they can receive their pensions monthly into the bank, about 50% had no idea. That ladies and gentlemen is a colossal failure on our part.
NIS Management and Staff need to recognize that we are not doing a favour to beneficiaries when we provide a benefit, we are merely the custodians of the monies that were paid by these contributors and we have a moral and legal obligation to fulfil those claims.
I am therefore asking Management and the Staff of the NIS spend this weekend reflecting on what are our roles in our Organization.
We are a service provider! We are providing benefits that are enshrined in law and that are due to each contributor!
We need to immediately begin to provide better customer service to the people whom we serve. If as you reflect on this you don’t think that this is the right place for you, then make the right decision and find the right place for yourself. No one should be working in a place or in a job that they are unhappy with.
Now let’s get back to the financial status of the NIS. The current status of the Scheme is that the Scheme continues to spend more that it earns from contributions. We are taking monies that we are earning from our investments and using them for benefits and operations. That is not sustainable.
We are tremendously grateful that the Government of Guyana has crafted a debenture agreement that assures the Fund of receiving 20 annual payments that would liquidate CLICO’s indebtedness to the Scheme and brings closure to the CLICO debacle.
Now to BBCI. I am pleased to report that the NIS now has appropriate representation on the BBCI’s Board and is taking the lead role in moving the entity towards profitability so that the NIS funds that have been invested will eventually bear fruit. However, this will not be enough to save the Scheme. The NIS budget for 2017 does not reflect a significant change in the employment level in Guyana. This, and the fact that advancements in health-care have resulted in increased financial strain on the Scheme continue to be a challenge.
Therefore in the New Year the Board will be bringing to the table NEW strategies to enhance the rate of return on the NIS investments.
We have recognized that the NIS has to be restructured and reorganized. We will need to embrace and actually utilize the technology we have. I have always held the philosophy that every staff needs an email, and every staff needs a computer at their desk and we need to move to a more digital environment and less paper.
The 2017 budget reflects a 27% decrease in the budget for printed stationery. I hope next year I can report a further 50% reduction.
To the media, here I would like to appeal to you to help the NIS get the word out. Please tell every pensioner that he or she can receive their pension directly into the bank. Let us set ourselves a goal of achieving 90% lodgment of pension in the bank by this time next year.
Again, to the media, help us get the message to EVERY contributor that they need to sign up at our website so they can view their contributions. Let’s get to 150000 persons signed up by this time next year.
In closing let me reiterate that the NIS will not be allowed to fail. We will also not tolerate incompetence and poor customer service. We are keeping up our end of improving your working environment and benefits. You, the
Staff, need to keep your part of the contract. We cannot continue to treat our own people, our own Guyanese and our pensioners this way. It is unacceptable and it is wrong!
So let us all freshly commit to being better in the year ahead.
Dr. Surendra Persaud.
National Insurance Board.