Commentary: Grenadians should protest the increase in NIS contributions

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J. K. Roberts is a sound public policies advocate; a premature retiree from the Public Service of Grenada, and author of two books (“Into The 21st Century” published in 1995 and “Management Practices in The Public Service of Grenada” published in 2011)

By J. K. Roberts

The working people of Grenada, especially the lower-class, should vigorously challenge, reject and protest the outrageous and unconscionable intent of the government to increase, as of September 2019, the contribution-payment to the National Insurance Scheme (NIS). 

The increase is from nine percent to eleven percent of salaried income, to be shared one percent each by the employer and the employee. Most likely; this is the first such increase since the introduction of the NIS in April 1983 which was legislated primarily to bring social assistance, equity and security for the people, consistent with the principles and conventions of the International Labour Organization (ILO).

This imperative call for strong protests against any moves pertaining to the NIS, to inflict financial burden, or rather financial punishment, on the people must be taken seriously. To allow the government to have further its ‘uncaring way’ on retiring benefits for the aged is to facilitate poverty and suffering of the people. 

The attitude and the propensity of the government on this essential social issue have been characterized by the industrial struggle of public officers for constitutional pension-entitlements and by the fake pension reforms being promoted. Review the previously internet-circulated article “Undefined Pension Reform touted in Grenada”, which also warns that all workers in both the private and public sectors, as well as returning nationals, would be frustrated and grieved after their productive years into their ‘old and sick’ days, if no serious stance is taken now to grasp the frightening developments.

The woeful situation purportedly faced by the NIS is of no fault of the people. The presentations of the problems and solutions are inaccurate and dishonest. The so-called public consultations held were not thorough and conclusive. Rational and constructive alternatives have not been explored. The proposals and decisions going forward for the respectability and viability of the NIS lack a set of criteria and standards entered and endorsed by the people. 

With the rise in NIS’s contribution, there is still no apparent sense of direction, new plans and good-faith commitment by the government and by the NIS to improve the performance of NIS and to safeguard the pension-funds. Furthermore; what reasonable prerequisites and/or what necessary adjustments are offered by the government to assist in mitigating, or in coping with, the extra financial burden on the people? 

The board of directors of the NIS contends that the low birth rate, the high life expectancy, the size (number of workers) of the labour force, the migration pattern and the productivity level of Grenada are the leading factors currently affecting negatively the sustainability of the scheme (NIS), and that based on the recommendations made in the ninth actuarial review of the scheme, the ‘rescue mission’ for the NIS is to increase the pension or retirement age and to raise the pension-contributions. 

However; within what objective perspectives must those factors be considered? What is the whole story on the management and fluidity of the NIS’s pension funds? 

Meaningful analysis of the debate on the status and sustainability of the NIS can be guided using the documents via https://www.nowgrenada.com/…/future-implications-for-grenadas-declining-birthrate/, https://gbn.gd/low-birth-rate-affecting-nis-reserves/, Grenada. Report to the government. Ninth actuarial valuation.

An opinion piece addressing the contention of NIS’s board has been produced anonymously as “The NIS Saga“; it appears on the internet 

The article tends to show that the reckless policies of the government provide the basis for the poor funds and bleak forecast of the NIS and that this reality must also be brought into play for genuine remedy. There is also the perception that the mode of operations of the NIS, including as relates to its investment ventures, falls in the mixture of the problems. 

Moreover; the submission of virtually no information and/or of misinformation to the people, as well as the absence of prompt and effective actions by the government on glaring signals and professional studies, hastened and expanded the threatening demise of NIS. Sadly, political loyalty and expediency take precedence over the socio-economic welfare of the people and nation. What representation, to serve and protect, do the working people have on the board? 

Indeed, the practice of government’s borrowing, the state of the economy, the cost of living and rate of inflation, employment level, and minimum wages have been pointed-out in various actuarial reports, as having a decisive impact on the prosperity of NIS toward meeting the enjoyment of its beneficiaries. 

However, these responsibilities of the government have not been attended to, and are not ventilated in the public discussions regarding the contribution-incomes and benefit-expenses of the NIS. Throughout the past many years, poor old people (mainly pensioners and retirees) have been mourning and groaning about the ridiculous inadequacy of the monthly NIS’s pensions received; but their plights have not been of any concern to the government, even with the complete and clear knowledge of repeated recommendations for pension-increases (above the last such increase in 1998). 

The issue of corruption and misappropriation of funds is also of significance in debating and signing for increased NIS’s contribution-payment. Why should the people continue to abide with the malfeasance and maltreatment by the government, which has been proving itself to be anti-people? 

Since 2004, NIS’s pensioners are denied the advised increases in pensions-payments; thus: “In 2004, increase pensions-in-payment by a graded scale ranging from twelve percent for those whose pension was awarded in 1998 or before to two percent for those awarded in 2003. Thereafter, pension increases should occur annually in line with average inflation over the previous three calendar years, with the rules that govern the timing and the amount of each adjustment placed in regulations. Similarly, the maternity and funeral grants and minimum pension nominal amounts should be increased by around 12 percent in 2004, and then adjusted automatically each year thereafter”.  

The National Insurance Act (Chapter 205) governs the establishment and existence of NIS and any increase in the contribution-payment is the responsibility of the minister, under who social security and the NIS lie. Particularly, section 28 of the Act provides that the minister may make regulations for contributions and exemptions. For transparency, accountability and fairness then; the value of any exemptions granted by the minister to “insured persons and their employers from liability to pay contributions” must be disclosed fully to the public, to ascertain its impact on NIS’s pension-revenue.

Also, of relevance in understanding the causes which have impaired the health of the NIS, is the value of the pension-funds lost with NIS’s alleged million-dollars investment in the British American Insurance Company and Colonial Life Insurance Company (BAICO/CLICO) financial fiasco in 2009.

Isn’t it baffling and worrying? 

How do the boasted statistics on the great rise in employment and the population over the years, balance with the proclaimed statistics on the great disparity between income and expenditure of the NIS’s pension funds; also bearing in mind that there has not been an increase in pension-payments for almost two decades? 

What impact do the IMANI workers, (re) hiring of retirees, foreign worker-residents, citizenship by investment residents and returning nationals have on those statistics and the lowering of the pension funds? Moreover, what’s about delinquent employers, who take money from workers but are not passing it on to the NIS? What’s about the capacity and strictness of NIS on compliance of obligations? Is there a need to sanitize NIS’s beneficiary-list, to get rid of persons who are not eligible, or not even existing, to receive pensions and other allowances? 

The ordinary people of Grenada will bear the pressure and consequences of the increased NIS’s contribution, but with no substantial adverse effect on the management of the private sector and the government. ‘Only the poor man ah feel it!’; from the late Jamaican reggae artist Peter Tosh. 

The financial proportion for the business employers will be transferred to increases in their products and services, whilst the government would seek to recoup its financial obligation by increases in taxes and levies. Particularly; public officers would be most disadvantaged, as the government would consider the increase in its contribution, as a built-in aspect in the negotiations for salary increases and pension-benefits. Public officers must be prepared to experience tremendous ‘direct’ destitution, since the average yearly increase generally agreed by the government for their salaries is one percent, as compared with the added monthly one percent deduction from the salaries for NIS.

It must never be missed that this proposed increase in NIS’s contribution-payment comes at a time when the people are still grappling with a prolonged austerity Structural Adjustment Programme, led by the International Money Fund (IMF) and are expecting with much anxiety, the presentation of a painful budget for 2020, with indications of an increase in Value Added Tax (VAT) and of the introduction of a mandatory contribution toward a National Health Insurance scheme. 

The social prosperity of the young populace is indeed in jeopardy, with consideration also of the previous internet-articles “The National Insurance Scheme and the Public Debt” and “Grenada’s Pension Reform is under the IMF”.

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2 COMMENTS

  1. If people want the benefits that the NIS provide then they should contribute towards it. With the greatest respect; it is stupid to suggest they should protest against the increase that would make the system viable. The old fashion way of thinking that you can get something for nothing is dead in the water. Grenadians have to continue to look forward (the future) not backwards.

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