Finance Minister Dr Ashni Singh has challenged the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) to reintroduce the system of issuing annual statements to contributors to allow for the detection of any possible gaps in payments.
Speaking at the National Insurance Scheme’s (NIS) General Assembly, which was held on Tuesday in observance of its 53rd Anniversary, Minister Singh said in addition to the statements issued to employers within the Public and Private Sectors, the Insurance Scheme should issue every contributor with an annual statement.
“Every contributor should get a statement, once a year, and be encouraged to regularize and fix any gaps that they observe. So, they could go immediately to their employer and say hold on a second man, you are telling me, you are deducting NIS but the NIS is telling me here that for the last 52 weeks, I only got 12 weeks credited but I have been working with you for 52 weeks. And that must happen real time, it must happen immediately,” Dr Singh said.
Noting that it is important for the records of each contributor to be in order, the Finance Minister warned employers that failure to pay over NIS deductions is a criminal offense.
He told the Board, Management and Staff of the Insurance Scheme that contributors, the sick and elderly, must be treated with respect as they utilize the services of NIS.
“When a pensioner comes into a NIS office, we have a long-standing obligation, an obligation that was contemplated and conceptualized by our predecessors several generations ago, by our predecessors at the turn of our independence, we have an obligation to serve the most vulnerable in our society in a particular and by particular, I mean, in a compassionate manner, driven by the high ideals of public service. Nobody walking into a NIS office should be treated with disrespect or contempt,” he said.
He said when the Ramesh Persaud-led Board was appointed approximately two years ago, there were in excess of 14,000 claims pending. That number, according to him, has been significantly reduced to well below 1,000 claims.
Minister Singh said it is also important to reduce the backlog of cases. He said during outreaches conducted in almost all of the Administrative Regions, more than 1500 persons filed complaints, many of them indicating that they were unable to access their pension or in other cases, their claims were languishing in the system for various reasons.
He said there were at least two cases, in which pensioners were waiting for approximately 30 years each to receive their NIS pension. Others, he said, have been on the waiting list for 20 years and some 10 years.
“This is not acceptable,” he said.
The Finance Minister said there are well established protocols that can be utilized to resolve issues that that may bar a claimant from receiving his or her benefits. He explained that where an issue cannot be resolved by a manager or the general manager, it can be sent to the Board for consideration and or the Board of Appeal, or even his Office as the Minister responsible for Finance.
Dr Singh said it is the expectation of the Government that NIS would improve its services. “I am once again tasking the NIS, its Board, its Management and its staff to make the rapid transformation that is necessary to eliminate the need for these outreaches. The quality of service that is provided at the outreaches can easily be provided in the local offices,” he said.
The Minister also spoke of the importance of training to build capacity and the continued implementation of technological solution.